Porsche 1948-2018 (6) - 1988
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Porsche 1948-2018 (6) - 1988

As Porsche’s 70th-anniversary year draws to an end, we celebrate the magnificent exhibition currently at the 24 Hours of Le Mans museum (until 24 February 2019) with a series about the emblematic marque. In part six, we look at 1988. That year, Porsche’s domination was shaken by another iconic brand long-associated with Le Mans, British constructor Jaguar.

Porsche had reigned supreme over Le Mans for years, winning seven times on the trot, first beating Ferrari’s record of nine outright wins and then placing the number to beat at twelve.

Jaguar’s return to the forefront of endurance racing began in 1985. Group 44 flew the flag for the British marque, which won its class and was classed thirteenth overall in 1985 following a disappointing retirement the previous year.

In 1986, the constructor was represented by Tom Walkinshaw Racing, with drivers Eddie Cheever, Raul Boesel and Jan Lammers clinching fifth place. Enough to be considered podium material.

Intent on beating Porsche, Tom Walkinshaw enlisted the help of Formula One engineer and future designer of the Ferrari 333 PS, Tony Southgate. He hired drivers with varied backgrounds, from American and European endurance to single-seater racing (Formula One and Indy Car). Engine-wise, the two manufacturers held opposing views: while the Porsche ran on a 3-litre flat-six turbo, the Jaguar was fitted with a 7-litre naturally aspirated engine.

In 1988, with a fleet of five Jaguars to contend with, Porsche fielded three 962Cs at Le Mans 24 Hours and looked to experienced past winners, Derek Bell, Klaus Ludwig, Hans Joachim Stuck and Vern Schuppan to provide a certain continuity. One of the cars had a family crew. Formula One World Champion and winner of the Indy 500, Mario Andretti shared the wheel with his son Michael and nephew John, in a bid to win Le Mans and claim the legendary triple crown of motorsport. Frenchman Bob Wollek and South African Sarel van der Merwe completed the German manufacturer’s line-up.

The scrap between the two constructors lived up to expectations with barely two minutes between the front-runners throughout the race. Stuck put Porsche in pole position and the race was on. In the early stages, so bent on keeping up with the #2 Jaguar XJR-9 LM, Klaus Ludwig didn’t notice the pit sign telling him to come in to refuel and nearly ran dry, doing almost a full lap at snail’s pace.

Wollek/van der Merwe/Schuppan’s 962C took over the lead for six hours but its engine failed during the night. The Andrettis were also hindered by engine troubles while Ludwig, Stuck and Bell were back in the running, having made up the ground lost in the fuel incident. After a tight-fought race, Jan Lammers, Johnny Dumfries and Andy Wallace triumphed in the #2 Jaguar (clocking an average pace of 221 kph), followed 2.5 minutes later by the Porsche crewed by Ludwig, Stuck and Bell. The Andrettis came in sixth. Porsche was knocked off its perch but still had Stuck’s best lap in race to celebrate on the 40th anniversary of the marque.

Ten years later, the 50th anniversary was to be a bigger celebration. But that’s a story for another day!

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Photos (Copyright ACO Archives & Christian Vignon) - Four Le Mans winners, with eleven victories between them took the wheel of the factory-run 962Cs. Gallery above: sneaking up behind the 962C and the winning Jaguar, the Porsche privateers took third, fifth and ninth place.