Porsche World celebrates Gijs Van Lennep on his milestone birthday

Porsche World celebrates Gijs Van Lennep on his milestone birthday

It should come as little surprise someone born a mere seven kilometres east of the dunes of Circuit Zandvoort would eventually become a professional racing driver. That he would practice his trade successfully enough to be dubbed the best Dutch race car driver of the twentieth century is as extraordinary as the man himself.

Jonkheer Gijsbert van Lennep – known to his friends as Gijs – was born in a suburb of Bloemendaal, in Aerdenhout, on 16th March 1942. The standout driver started his incomparable career in a VW Beetle (at Zandvoort, naturally!). In 1965, he secured his first home victory while driving a 904. After further successes with the 906, 908/2 and various 911s, he won the Porsche Cup, organised on the initiative of Ferry Porsche in 1970 and cementing van Lennep’s position as the world’s best privateer driver. That same year, he would get to grips with the 917 shorttail when he joined Briton, David Piper, driving the sports-prototype owned by Finnish team, AAW Racing, at Le Mans. Sadly, the car dropped out of the race on lap 112, when van Lennep suffered a tyre blowout at 320 km/h along the Mulsanne Straight. Thankfully, he emerged totally unscathed. Despite this setback, he maintained the 917 was “a fantastic race car with handling like a very powerful go-kart”. History shows us nobody would drive the iconic racing Porsche in more races than he.


At the 1971 24 Hours of Le Mans, van Lennep — a gentleman driver throughout his illustrious career — shared 917 driving duties with current Red Bull F1 advisor, Helmut Marko. Dressed in Martini Racing livery, the Porsche won the race. “We hardly had any brakes for the last five hours,” van Lennep recalls, “but a repair would have cost us the lead.” Lack of stopping power didn’t prevent him and Marko from setting a speed and distance record, the latter of which would remain unbroken for thirty-nine years. And, almost in passing, van Lennep gathered points in F1, took the European Formula 5000 title and won the Targa Florio in 1973. In Sicily, he drove a 911 Carrera RSR, pairing with Swiss speed merchant, Herbert Müller. A few weeks later, the Dutch-Swiss duo scored a highly regarded triumph at Le Mans with fourth place overall, again competing in the RSR, but in a field largely dominated by three-litre prototypes.

In 1974, van Lennep and Müller again started with the works team at Le Mans, this time in the now legendary 911 Carrera RSR Turbo 2.1. This was Porsche’s first Turbo entry at Le Mans and ended in a stunning second place finish. Following a class victory at Sarthe with an RSR in 1975, van Lennep achieved further success in 1976, when he and Jacky Ickx took the 936 to the top spot in its first appearance in a daylong race. It was also the first outright victory for a race car equipped with a turbocharger and boxer engine at Le Mans, albeit not as hotly anticipated as it would turn out: with a leaking exhaust shaft from the oil cooler, hot air blew onto van Lennep’s feet throughout the event. After this victory, he adopted the old saying “quit while you’re ahead” and hung up his driving gloves. Today, he serves as a Porsche brand ambassador.

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