Gijs van Lennep. Half a century of Le Mans winner

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Nowadays there is a lot to celebrate for the Dutch motorsport enthusiast. Max Verstappen is currently having an excellent Formula 1 season and is currently leading the standings. The track successes are not of all times as far as Dutch participation is concerned. Neither does the 24 Hours of Le Mans. But Dutch drivers did achieve success during that marathon race. Like Gijs van Lennep. In 1971 he won the legendary race in France with the Porsche 917 Kurzheck. 

The race on June 12 and 13, 1971 was the 39e edition of the '24 Heures du Mans'. Gijs van Lennep drove the French long-distance race for the second time, and the omens were good. Van Lennep was promoted to factory driver in 1970 with Porsche after his good performance. The Dutchman therefore took the wheel of the official Martini factory team, which incidentally was not the only team that appeared at the start with Porsche copies. Because in addition to Martini Racing, JW Automotive Engineering also drove some 917 units that were painted in the Gulf colors. These were two 917 Langheck (long rear) versions, which were calculated at Porsche to have an even higher top speed than normal could reach. Martini Racing also had a 917 Langheck in the field of Le Mans 1971.

Everything for a lower weight: chassis made of magnesium

However, this was not manned by Gijs van Lennep and Helmut Marko, the current advisor to the Red Bull Formula 1 team. They drove the marathon race in France with the Porsche 917 Kurzheck. This one KH did not differ from its taller brothers only in height. There were also constructive differences. Chassis number 917-053 was made of magnesium, unlike the other copies of the famous Porsche race car, which had a tubular frame made of aluminum. What was special was that the car was so light that the technicians were able to install an extra oil tank to achieve the minimum weight required by regulations. The advantage of this was, among other things, that the surplus of oil provided an additional cooling option.

Porsche dominates in qualifying

During qualifying, Porsche dominated. Three Porsche 917 Langheck copies finished in front. Van Lennep took fifth place on the grid with his Kurzheck version in Martini trim. But during the main race several cars dropped out, including the Porsche ones that were manned by outright competitors. Van Lennep and Marko actually took advantage of the increased cooling option of their 917. It served the operational reliability, and in combination with a strong strategy and the failure of several competitors, the Dutch-Austrian team was able to take over the lead.

Almost no brakes

Van Lennep and Marko's first place was then no longer in danger, although the inventive brakes still caused some concerns. Porsche drove for the first time with holes in the brake discs for better cooling. According to Gijs van Lennep, that was a find of Ferdinand Piëch, the great man behind the 917 series of Porsche. Cracks appeared in the discs, and the Dutch-Austrian crew was instructed to be careful when using the brakes. The story goes that the duo decided to almost completely stop using the braking system of their Porsche 917 Kurzheck.

Revenge on “1970” with long running records

Van Lennep and Marko took the second consecutive victory for Porsche in Le Mans. For Van Lennep, the victory in 1971 was a great satisfaction, and a nice revenge for the edition of a year earlier. During this race, also won by Porsche, the Van Lennep-Piper team dropped out. The latter went off the track in a winning position. A year later, everything worked out for Van Lennep in Le Mans, with a total distance of 5.335 kilometers and an average speed of 222,3 km/h. he and Helmut Marko set records that remained in the books for years. They lasted until 2010. It was only after 39 years that the records were broken.

Living memory

Van Lennep and Marko's winning Porsche is in a prominent place in the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart. He can also occasionally be seen at historic events, such as the upcoming Historic Grand Prix at Zandvoort from 16 to 18 July. For safety reasons, the car can no longer be driven. An important reason for this is that there is a risk that the magnesium cracks and thus breaks the chassis. Over time, the magnesium becomes brittle. That does not alter the fact that the memory of a legendary Dutch motorsport success with Porsche remains alive. And is kept alive.

Photo credits: Porsche


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  1. In addition to becoming brittle in the long run, magnesium has another not unimportant danger. If Magnesium is on fire, you are NOT allowed to do that AB-SO-LUT! extinguish with water. Magnesium fires (actually all metal fires) are so hot that the water you throw on them immediately splits into hydrogen and oxygen and that then flies in the hands again, so you aggravate the fire. Jo Schlesser can tell you everything (or rather nothing at all) about it. It crashed in 1968 with the Honda RA302 (also made of Magnesium) and the pompiers, who probably didn't know any better at the time, extinguished it with water. You can guess what happened to Schlesser. Hopefully in 1971 they had become wise through trial and error, that they then knew what to do with cars made of Magnesium that could catch fire.

    Incidentally, in 1988 a Dutchman also won at Le Mans and that was at most a footnote in the various sports categories. Because despite the fact that the European Championship had only just started, Lammers' win was not considered important enough. The Netherlands had yet to play its first game (which they lost), but received much more attention.

    • Very brave as Jan Lammers drove the Silk Cut Jaguar over the finish line in 1988, namely with a broken gearbox. Jan was put in the limelight in England at the time; even received a royal honor there. The car is on display at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu.

  2. From Jr. Gijs I learned a lot that I still put into practice on a daily basis.
    Without him I would have driven my Porsche 930 (popularly 911 Turbo) into the gates on the first day.
    This car had ventilated and perforated brake discs as standard.
    During a visit to Porsche in Zuffenhausen and Weissag, I posed the question:
    Where are these holes from???? The explanation I got was as follows:
    When the discs get hot and the pads come into contact with them, a wafer-thin layer of the brake material can change into liquid and even vapor form on the surface of the pads. This would allow the blocks to "aquaplane" as it were. The holes are there to prevent this.

  3. Gijs van Lennep was indeed a sympathetic person, unlike Ferdinand Piech, who, although talented, was a real Miesmayer. But his success was based on that.

  4. Gijs van Lennep was one of the best drivers in his period. He was also active in Italy.
    I also got to know him better as an instructor at Maaskant car training days and he gave very good advice that didn't do any harm at my rallies. Thanks Gijs for me you are the top.

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