Ferrari 1966-1974 - Three prototypes, three podiums (2): 1971
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Ferrari 1966-1974 - Three prototypes, three podiums (2): 1971

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After the 1967 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans had seen performance levels scale new heights, the CSI (International Sporting Commission, the predecessor of the current FIA, International Automobile Federation) stepped in to restrict prototypes’ engine capacity to three litres while creating a new “Sport” class, with a five-litre ceiling, designed for limited-edition cars with a production run of 50, and subsequently 25. Seeing this loophole in the regulations, Porsche seized the opportunity to introduce the 917 in 1969 and, in spite of a few teething troubles, the car almost claimed victory in its début Le Mans appearance. Around the same time, Enzo Ferrari finalised Fiat’s acquisition of a share of his company and took advantage of the additional financial and industrial muscle that Fiat provided to set about building the 25 examples of what was to become the 512 S, firstly presented as a concept car at the Turin Auto Show in the autumn of 1969.

The 1970 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans promised a titanic battle between eleven models of the Ferrari 512 S and seven Porsche 917s. Unfortunately, reliability issues, atrocious weather conditions and accidents in both camps put paid to the anticipated rivalry but didn’t stop Porsche recording their maiden win, claimed by Richard Attwood and Hans Herrmann. The North American Racing Team (NART) spared Ferrari’s blushes with the fourth-place finish of Ronnie Bucknum and Sam Posey, ahead of the other 512 S driven by Walker and de Fierlandt (Ecurie Francorchamps). The following year, eight Ferrari 512s and six Porsche 917s lined up in Le Mans for the 39th running of the 24 Hours. In spite of appearing on paper to be well-matched, Ferrari had decided at that point to focus on its future 3-litre prototype and the Prancing Horse was only represented by customer teams. The race saw a one-two finish for the 917 with the Marko-van Lennep and Attwood-Müller pairings outdoing the 512 of Tony Adamowicz-Sam Posey, the quickest Ferrari on the track with the third fastest lap time being clocked by Posey. After a number of issues in the early stages, the 512 had climbed to sixth place by the halfway stage, and then fourth. In the eighteenth hour, following the retirement of Beltoise and Amon’s Matra, it moved into third place and stayed there to claim a podium finish.

The 24 Hours of 1971 marked the end of the “Sport” class with the advent of three-litre prototypes the following year. This was to provide the springboard for Ferrari’s final Le Mans podium... but that’s another story.

Jean-Philippe Doret / ACO
Translated from French by David Goward

Photo: LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 24 HOURS OF LE MANS, SATURDAY 12 & SUNDAY 13 JUNE 1971. Triple Le Mans winner (1932, 1934 and 1949) Luigi Chinetti’s NART outfit offered the Ferrari 512 its best results at the 24 Hours. Pictured here is the 512 of Sam Posey and Tony Adamowicz, third in 1971.