After the two disappointing seasons for the 911 GT1 and GT1 Evo, Porsche decided that they needed an all new GT1 car that resembled more of a sports prototype. They wanted to at least match the performance of their rivals, the Toyota GT-One, the new V8 Mercedes CLK GTR, and the BMW V12 LM. The new car was dubbed the 911 GT1-98. The ‘98’ represented the year in which the car competed in GT1, 1998.
There were 2 standards for Porsche to reach. They wanted the car to compete and to be competitive. In order for it to compete, Porsche had to make at least one street legal version, a Straßenversion. That was exactly what Porsche did, they made only one Straßenversion in a pure white livery. Information is very limited about this car. After all, only one was produced. Porsche only brings it out to major car events such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Estimated launch price was $900,000, just like the previous Straßenversion. You could buy ten 996 911 Carreras for that money.
For the GT1-98 to be competitive, Porsche fitted it with a 3.2 liter twin turbo flat 6 engine that produced 550 horsepower and 465 pound feet of torque. This monster of an engine was mated to all new sequential gearbox which allowed the car to shift significantly faster than before. The new double wishbone suspension helped the car corner at higher speeds and reduce body roll. It only weighed 2,095 lbs (950 kg) because all of the body panels were made out of carbon fiber. Even the chassis was made out of this wonderful material. It had a top speed of 193 mph with the high downforce setup. However, it reached 205 mph at Le Mans with a low downforce setup.
Obviously this was no ordinary 996. The only parts shared with the 996 911 (the car that was supposedly the base of the GT1-98) were the headlights and taillights, just like previous generations of the 911 GT1s. Bob Wallek, a driver for Porsche, said “The GT1-98 has more grip, is easier to drive, conserves the tires, is faster and has a stiffer chassis.” Similarly, Porsche’s engineer, Herbert Ampferer, said,“The new GT1 was supposed to slim down by ten percent compared to the old one,” referring to the weight of the car.
Porsche knew that the GT1-98 was slower than its rivals, most noticeably the Mercedes CLK GTR. The air flow restrictions were unfavorable for Porsche because their engine was turbocharged, unlike the CLK GTR’s new naturally aspirated V8. However, luck was on their side at Le Mans in 1998. The Toyota GT-One was troubled with gearbox reliability, the BMW V12 LM was out of the race because of wheel bearing problems, and the Mercedes CLK GTR was troubled with the oil pumps for the new V8. Porsche had a clear opening for a win and they took a one-two finish at that year’s Le Mans, making it their 16th win, a new record. That’s Porsche reliability for you.
Trouble struck at the Petite Le Mans race at Road Atlanta. Yannick Dalmas, the driver of one of the GT1-98s, was speeding through a crest as air caught the underbody. The force of the air acting on the underbody coupled with the mid mounted flat six caused the car to do an entire backflip in mid air and land on the rear bumper, causing the tank to crack and light the car on fire. After the backflip, the car veered into the side barriers. Yannick Dalmas came rough unscathed. In 1999 the CLK GTR had the same crash and in 2000 the BMW V12 LM had the same crash in the same race as the 911 GT1-98.
The golden era of GT1 was over that year, all manufacturers pulled out the series and only Mercedes remained. The new FIA GT championship was overridden with GT2 cars. Porsche could have competed, but they decided not to defend their lucky win at Le Mans in 1998. After that, only LMP prototypes won and recently Porsche raced their 919. Please leave a comment if you’d like to hear about the 919 next week!
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