24 Hours of Le Mans - The art of driving in the rain (4): Porsche 935, 1979
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24 Hours of Le Mans - The art of driving in the rain (4): Porsche 935, 1979

Over its 90-year history, rain has often been a troublemaker at Le Mans. It has also produced some unexpected results, like when the Porsche 935 won in 1979.

The year 1979 race goes down in history as the one when the Porsche, Mirage and Rondeau prototypes failed to impress, leaving the way clear for the Porsche 935 to claim victory. The 935 was the racing version of the 911 and was developed in 1976 to comply with the new regulations known as “group 5” rules.

The factory 936 prototypes dominated the early part of the race but later gave way to the n°41 935 K3 driven by Klaus Ludwig and Don and Bill Whittington. Half-way through the race, as the circuit was under torrential rain, the other 935 (the n°70), driven by Paul Newman, Rolf Stommelen and Dick Barbour gave chase. On the Sunday morning, when Don Whittington had to stop for an emergency repair, the crowd and the media began speculating on a win for Paul Newman, nine years after Steve McQueen’s failed attempt. But the n°41 managed to get to the pit. The n°70 closed the gap down to three laps, but then had technical problems of its own and the positions remained the same until the end of the race.

The Porsche 935 monopolised the podium, taking first, second and third place. The first prototype was Jean Ragnotti’s and Bernard Darniche’s Rondeau, which finished fifth, eighteen laps behind the winner. The year 1979 marked the first of three wins for outstanding professional and Porsche specialist, German Klaus Ludwig. His teammates the Whittington brothers had a “gentleman driver” attitude to racing in that they were fuelled by a sheer passion for motor racing passed on by generations of Whittingtons. In any case, the rain could not dampen their ardour and together the team did justice to the spirit of the Le Mans 24 Hours.

Jean-Philippe Doret / ACO              Translated by Emma Paulay

Photo (D.R - ARCHIVES ACO): LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, LE MANS 24 HOURS, SUNDAY 10 JUNE 1979, RACE. Brothers Manfred and Erwin Kremer prepared the Porsche 935 for its only win at Le Mans, with Klaus Ludwig and brothers Bill and Don Whittington.