In 1994, rulebook loophole champions Porsche shocked the motoring world by winning at Le Mans with a mid-1980s car that had not competed in a 24-hour race for more than six years.
Over the past 100 years, the Circuit de la Sarthe, located near the city of Le Mans in France, has been the place where some of motorsport’s greatest stories were written.
From Bentley’s epic run during the race’s early years to Ford’s 1-2-3 finish in 1966, or, more recently, Ferrari’s epic comeback win last year (2023), the 24 Hours of Le Mans has never ceased to be exciting. .
Although 25 different manufacturers have at least one overall victory to their name, Porsche is the most successful, with no fewer than 19 victories, seven of which came consecutively, from 1981 to 1987.
Every Porsche victory has its own story, but without a doubt the most interesting is the one that came 30 years ago when the German manufacturer took advantage of a loophole in the regulations (again) and crossed the finish line first with an old 962.
A brief history of the Porsche 962
Although it had been a regular presence at Le Mans since 1951, Porsche’s first overall victory came in 1970 with the 917K, a feat that was repeated in 1971.
The victory was the first time a manufacturer used a loophole in the regulations to legalize a road racing model and enter it into the 4th five-litre category.
The 917K was replaced by the three-time Le Mans winner 936 after 1971.
In 1982, Porsche launched the 956, which helped it achieve four consecutive victories at the famous endurance race.
By the end of the 1984 season, the 956 had evolved into the 962, another successful model that grabbed two more Le Mans trophies in 1986 and 1987.
Driven by various iterations of the race-bred turbocharged flat-six, the 962 continued to compete until 1993. However, from 1990 onwards, it was agonizingly lacking in competition since it was subject to the newest technical regulations that affect its performance.
By 1994, everyone expected Porsche to retire the aging car and announce a modern successor. However, the Zuffenhousen-based carmaker continued to use the rulebook once again and brought the 962 back for one last dance.
For the 1994 race, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) reintroduced the production-based grand touring style class (GT1) in an effort to attract supercars such as the McLaren F1, Ferrari F40 or Bugatti EB110 to the famous endurance race.
To compete in this new class, the manufacturers had to present a production car rival with a 120-liter fuel tank, up to 650 hp, a minimum weight of 1,000 kg, and a maximum tire width of 14 inches.
The top model was now called the LMP1 and required an 80 liter fuel tank, a maximum output of 550 bhp, a minimum weight of 900 kg (920 kg for turbo cars), and a maximum tire width of 16 inches.
The 962 could run in LMP1, but due to its aging design, it had no chance against the new and faster Toyota 94C-V, which, with the retirement of past champions Peugeot, was the favorite to win the race.
However, with thinner tires, a bigger fuel tank, and a new air damper, the aging Porsche could enter the GT1 class and theoretically make up for the lack of speed with fewer pit stops and thus have a chance to win the race.
But there was a problem: the 962 was designed as a Group C model, so it wasn’t subject to road rules.
However, Porsche read between the lines of the rulebook and discovered that the ACO did not specify the minimum number of roadworthy cars required for GT1 comparisons.
Since several independent car manufacturers had already built 962-seat road cars and even converted real racing cars for street use, the German manufacturer took the opportunity to partner with one and thus obtain homologation for the GT1 class.
Dauer 962 Le Mans road car
Founded by Jochen Dauer, a former racing driver turned successful businessman, Dauer Racing had a fleet of 962s that raced in several competitions during the second part of the 1980s.
However, due to new regulations and lack of funding, Dauer was forced to retire from motorsport after the 1990 season.
With the 962 batch left to gather dust, Jochen Dauer had the bright idea of converting several units into road cars.
The first such street-legal 962, named the Dauer 962 Le Mans, was unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1993.
Powered by the limited edition version of the 935 twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter flat-six rated at 720 hp, it accelerated to 62 mph (100 km) from a standstill in 2.8 seconds and reached a top speed of 251.4 mph. (404.6 kph), making it the fastest production car in the world.
Like Porsche, Jochen Dauer wanted to exploit the GT1’s need for clearance, and after selling several road-going 962 LMs, he planned to enter a racing version in the 1994 edition of Le Mans.
Unfortunately, things did not go according to the original plan, as the team ran out of money to continue production after several complete cars.
Partnering with Porsche
Dauer almost gave up on the project, but luckily, Porsche stepped in with an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Instead of spending precious time developing a road-legal 962 themselves, Porsche engineers reasoned that partnering with Dauer was the best solution to achieve GT1 comparability.
So, renowned Porsche engineer Norbert Singer approached Jochen Dauer with the idea of a joint Le Mans effort, and after agreeing to terms, the two teams proceeded to build three 962s for the 1994 race.
Since the road car was already built, the joint team of Dauer Racing and Porsche/Joest engineers only had to add a road car cargo area, a 120-liter fuel tank, and an air damper that reduced the engine’s emissions. turbo. 650 hp.
In just a few months, three cars were ready for Le Mans, but the newly formed team named Le Mans Porsche chose to use only two for the race.
During qualifying, both cars were slower than the Toyota prototypes, Courage, and Kremer LMP1, finishing 5th and 7th.
Although Porsche said that it was aiming for overall victory in the race, everyone laughed at them and expected Toyota to cross the finish line first easily.
But, despite being heavy, aerodynamically poor, and therefore slow, the Dauer 962 LMs had one important advantage: a larger fuel tank.
During the race, both Dauers had to overcome several incidents, but fortunately, none were serious enough to force them to retire.
Ultimately, the race went according to Porsche’s plan and, although the cars were slower than the LMP1 prototypes, they made fewer pit stops.
To everyone’s surprise, no. The 36 car co-piloted by Yannick Dalmas, Hurley Haywood, and Mauro Baldi crossed the finish line first, one lap ahead of the 94C-V model of Toyota Team Sard.
Even more interesting, no. 35 Dauer 962 LM of Hans-Joachim Stuck, Danny Sullivan, and Thierry Boutsen finished third, just two and a half seconds behind the Toyota.
As a result
After helping Porsche to its 13th Le Mans victory, the 962 was finally retired.
As a result, the governing body banned prototype cars from entering the GT1 class, however it continued to allow street-legal cars to compete.
Porsche teamed up with TWR and returned to Le Mans in 1995 with a new model named the WSC-95. The car made it out of the race, earning the manufacturer another Le Mans victory.
Then, in 1996, the German automaker won the iconic race again with the GT1-class 911 GT1-98.
Thirty years after its unlikely victory, the Dauer 962 LM remains one of the most impressive Le Mans winners of all time. It proved that a judicious interpretation of the rulebook could overcome technical excellence, and despite its aging design, it became a motorsport legend.
For more information on this fascinating car, we recommend watching the YouTube video below by Aidan Millward.