1997 Porsche 911 GT1 Evolution 996

1997 Porsche 911 GT1 Evolution 996

It is hard to spot under the giant rear wing — but it is there. Off-center and low down in the shrouded, sculpted aero rump you see the license plate: P1 POW. Small detail, big impact: this thing’s road legal. You recognize the Porsche 911 rear lights. They are the 996 shape — the one from the late 1990s. Between them, and above that street-legal plate, it says GT1. Small number — but, once again, big impact.

It is still recognizable as a 911 — but looks longer. Flatter, massively wider, and more purposeful, too. It’s a race car, right? Just missing its sponsorship livery. Yet that plate suggests it is just as entitled to cruise the highways, do school dropoff, or rock up to the nearest Sunday morning Cars ‘n’ Coffee as your daily-drive Toyota. It takes some doing, but here is the wildest 911 to ever come out of Porsche’s dream factory.

1997 Porsche 911 GT1 Evolution 996

In the world of uber-rare Porsches, a mid-engine 1997 911 GT1 Evolution out-ubers just about everything. Porsche made road-going Strafienversions of these GT1s to meet homologation requirements (more on that later) — but it’s not even one of those. It was born a race car and holds a glittering palmares — reckoned to be the most successful of all 911 GT1 racers with 13 wins from 31 starts.

When it hung up the racing boots, chassis number GT1 993-117 was restored and converted for road use. Adding to its enigmatic status in the secretive world of ultra-rare Porsches, it is believed to be the only road-legal GT1 race car in existence. It sold at RM Sotheby’s Monaco auction in May 2016 for a chunky 2.77 million Euros ($3.38million); and, in 2020, collectible-car retailer, Dutton Garage (in Melbourne, Australia), took delivery of this unique GT1 Evo. It was bought by a South Australian collector, who wishes to remain anonymous, and you can bank on it costing far more than it did a few years ago.

It made a demonstration appearance at the region’s The Bend Classic in 2020, but spectator numbers were low — due to coronavirus — but let’s hope the too-few who witnessed this monster-in-action realized what a sublime unicorn was wailing past.

As a little history, in the mid- and late-1990s, we had the first Group GT1 era of endurance racing. Homologation requirements meant road-going versions were required: hence, the Porsche GT1 Evo Strafienversion and Mercedes-AMG CLK GTR — the priciest road-going Benz in existence. Throw in the McLaren F1 — that was never supposed to go racing, but ended up winning Le Mans outright anyway — and we had not seen an era of such bonkers road racers since the homologated street-going versions of Group B rally cars from the early 1980s.

To go racing in the GT1 class, there was the loose “promised- production” clause: meaning the manufacturer assured organisers that they would eventually build 25 road-legal versions of the race car. In 1996, Porsche built a couple of road-legal GT1 prototypes featuring the 993-version of the 911’s headlights and taillights; then, ultimately, 21 GT1 Evo Strafienversions between 1997 and 1998 — with the later 996-version’s styling. To own one back in the day, let’s just say you had to be pretty high up on Porsche’s Christmas-card list — and ludicrously wealthy. Imagine, if you will, that the street-version GT1 Evo is not mad enough. The 18 factory race cars were the real wildchilds. The Strafienversion used the race car’s mid-mounted water- cooled twin-turbo 3.2-liter flat-six, but de-tuned from around 590 horsepower to 535 horsepower. The race car was also 200 pounds lighter (at 2,315 pounds): helping it achieve a top speed of 205 miles per hour on the Mulsanne Straight at the 1996 Le Mans 24 Hours race — where 911 GTls finished second and third outright.

It was a track-version British- based historic racer that Chris Wilson set his heart on. Wilson’s 1965 Ford GT40 Mk1 race car — that he has campaigned with success at the Goodwood Revival and elsewhere — is cared for by the UK’s Lanzante Limited. It is a race team you want in your corner: scoring overall victory at Le Mans 1995 in a McLaren F1 GTR. Lanzante’s been road converting McLaren F1 GTRs for many years, and discussed with Wilson what other potential projects were out there.

Dean Lanzante (company boss) said: “At the time, prices of a McLaren F1 GTR versus a Porsche 911 GT1 were wildly apart. A Porsche GT1 was massively undervalued; and I explained you could buy a race car, do the same thing we do with the F1s, and put it on the road. The biggest challenge was it being the first of its type we’d done — but we love a new challenge. The GT1 is a really fantastic car, brilliantly executed in its design. In 1995, our team ran a Porsche GT2, so we were familiar with the GT1 when it launched in 1996. The design approaches Porsche took with the GT1 and McLaren with the F1 in the same year were quite different, but both very effective.”

Chris Wilson managed to find the racing GT1 himself the enthusiast taking great enjoyment from sourcing the car to being involved in Lanzante’s preparation. Lanzante said: “Chris is a proper car guy. He’s not someone who just presents a cheque when the work’s done; he’s interested in the complete process.”

Wilson had picked the most decorated GT1 in existence. According to the RM Sotheby Monaco 2016 pre-auction listing, Chassis GT1 993-117 was sold as a bare tub by Porsche Motorsports North America to privateer team Bytzek Motorsports of Toronto, Canada, in 1997. The team installed the drivetrain and suspension components from one of its previous GT1s (this had been damaged at Mosport Park), along with new components and an Evo-upgrade package.

The honors list? It was three-time Canadian GT Championship winner – 1999, 2000, and 2001 – taking 13 victories in those years, and lined up at the 2001 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. It qualified 12th, but after dramas late in the race requiring a replacement transaxle, dropped to finish 41st. Okay, the factory- entered 911 GTls that finished 1st and 2nd in class at the 1996 Le Mans 24 Hours may boast a more historically-significant record, but none took the chequered flag first as often as this car.

Between 2014 and 2015, Lanzante fully restored the now race-retired GT1, while performing the necessities to make it — somehow — wonderfully street legal. Lanzante said: “It was heavily used after doing several seasons. There was thankfully no accident damage to the tub, but some of the carbon bodywork had been quickly repaired — that is totally normal for any modern carbon race car. We did a lot of tidying up to the carbon to make it more aesthetically pleasing.”

Key was preserving the car’s racing heritage and feel. Lanzante did not want this race GT1 to be a facsimile of a GT1 Strafienversion, nor change anything to make things irreversible — potentially harming the value of the car. It retains the feel of the race car from head to toe. There is a passenger seat fitted, but it is a version of the genuine Recaro race seat: same materials,

same Willans harness. Some stickers were deleted; but, inside the cockpit, there is the same very racy dashboard with digital readout, and none of the analogue gauges seen in a GT1 Strafienversion. Hop in one of those and the view from the driver’s seat is, well, a bit normal 911.

So what about that highly- strung race engine? Again, it is stayed the same and not de-tuned for road use. In 1996, Motor Sport magazine said Porsche rated the GT1’s engine life at 30 hours: enough to see it through Le Mans qualifying and twice around the clock racing. Lanzante said: “There’s been no change. The engine is full race spec with original ECU. With engine lives and the life of any race component, once you put it on the street the life can be expanded significantly. On the street, the race engine won’t be on the redline the whole time; while bushes,

wheel bearings, driveshafts, suspension, everything, won’t go through the same loads.” Lanzante completely rebuilt the engine and five-speed manual gearbox because they had no idea about the retired race car’s maintenance schedule. They had to assume the worst: so replaced the conrods and crack tested everything as part of the major overhaul — meanwhile rebuilding driveshafts, adding new radiators, and replacing the fuel cell.

More everyday aspects to make it road legal included adding door locks, a Porsche 993’s mechanical handbrake, moving to a conventional fuel filler, and ensuring things like fans cut in at the right temperature — just in case your GT1 gets stuck in the city snarl. Note the conventional key in the dashboard ignition to start the thing, right beside a button for the horn and a pull- out headlight knob familiar to anyone who has driven an original VW Beetle.

The finished result is the only road legal GT1 Evo race car in existence. But, be under no illusion, this is a ground-up purpose-built race car which now happens to have license plates. Two KKK turbochargers, a roof-mounted scoop to feed air to that mid-mounted engine, double-wishbone pushrod front and rear suspension, steel-tube chassis, its coupe body of sheet steel and carbon fiber, full- width fixed rear wing, 380mm ventilated brake discs, and mighty 18x13-inch rear wheels shod in 335/30 tires. It reaches 60 miles per hour in 3.7 seconds; and 120 miles per hour in 10.5 seconds -ludicrous speeds for a quarter of a century ago.

Dean Lanzante recalled exactly what it was like to drive this converted GT1, while strapped in the Recaro race seat — gripping the suede Momo steering wheel, and surrounded by a sea of carbon-fiber trim. “It actually drives really nice. I was nervous because I thought it was going to be a laggy car because of the [turbocharged] engine, but it was actually pretty linear. It has a synchro gearbox, so on the street it’s actually quite usable. A sequential gearbox is far clunkier: you need to make sure you’re in the right gear at the right time. But, with this, you can pull up to a junction in fifth, take it out of gear, put it in first, and away you go.” Lanzante had been given spring rates from an owner of a GT1 Strafienversion: Meaning they were quickly able to get the right suspension settings, right spring rates, and set the same ride height as the road cars. The biggest compromise here was due to the GT1 race car’s steering lock and front uprights. “The more ride height we gave it, the more restriction there was to the steering lock. If we did another, we’d make a bespoke front upright. You can drive it on the street, but a manoeuvre is a bit difficult. It’s right on the limit of being practical.”

Owner, Chris Wilson, piloted it at the 2015 Goodwood Festival of Speed, street drove it for a magazine photoshoot, and had “a few little jollies in it out on the road” before putting it to auction. Why? He wanted to move on to the next project — this time using Lanzante to road convert one of the 17 Ferrari F40 LM race cars. Also, the GT1 Evo was finished to such an immaculate standard, and it gained value so rapidly — that risking it on one of those “little jollies on the road”, let alone the track — may have taken some fun out of it.

But what an experience to use on public streets. If you took a GT1 race car to the track, you need a truck to transport it, a team of mechanics, and hire a circuit — plus, not everyone can drive a car on slicks with a huge amount of aero either. But this GT1 can be experienced on the road with a friend along for the ride. Lanzante said: “You go out for a blast, maybe do [20 miles], have a good time, and you’ve experienced it.”

When it went to auction, there was a wonderful picture of the car — license plates attached — parked outside The Deers Hut pub, in the leafy village of Liphook in the South of England. Can you imagine the thrill of sitting in a beer garden knowing you’ll be driving it home after a soda? Strap in, fire up that screaming race engine, set boost to level three, and go shake the scenery. Then, thank the supercar gods this car somehow exists.

Article type:
No comments yet. Be the first to add a comment!
Drives TODAY use cookie