LE MANS 1996 — LE KIWI COMEBACK
With the thrill of seeing Kiwi drivers Earl Bamber and Brendon Hartley score first and second places at Le Mans 2015 fresh in our minds, many cast their minds back to 1966 and the last big Kiwi victory at the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans. That time around, of course, the win went to the black and silver Ford GT40 driven by Bruce Mclaren and Chris Amon, with Denny Hulme bringing a second GT40 home in second place. Many will also recall that Howden Ganley finished second at Le Mans in 1972, sharing his V12-powered Matra-simca with François Cevert.
However, who remembers the 1996 Kiwi Le Mans campaign? Recently, Bill Farmer was asked to give some insight into ‘Le Kiwi Comeback’ campaign — a return by Kiwis to race at Le Mans in 1996 as the first ever — and still only — New Zealand national team to contest the race. Bill said it took 18 months of negotiation with the Automobile Club de l’ouest (ACO) at Le Mans, France, to get their entry accepted. Drivers of the two-car Porsche 911 GT2 team were New Zealanders Bill Farmer, Owen Evans, Andrew Bagnall, and Greg Murphy, with Stéphane Ortelli (France), Robert Nearn (Great Britain), and Andy Pilgrim (US).
The race at Le Mans was the culmination of a 20-month campaign, instigated by Bill, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Ford’s win at Le Mans 1966. To realize the dream, Bill first had to gain an international licence and the necessary pre– Le Mans ‘enduro’ race experience. As such, he shared the drive with Justin Bell and Eric Henriksen in a Porsche 968 Turbo RS at the historic Montlhéry circuit just outside Paris — but the car was not very reliable and didn’t finish. With help from Colin Giltrap, Bill then secured a new, purposebuilt Porsche GT2 Le Mans race car and debuted it with an excellent first-up class podium finish at Donington in May 1995, before an even better second place overall at Montlhéry a week later.
The next step in preparation for the Le Kiwi Comeback was to race in the 1995 Wellington waterfront race, but, having got
The inaugural IROC 1 was held at two tracks in the US in 1973–’74. The first races were held on October 27 and 28, 1973, at Riverside International Raceway in California, with the final race held on February 14, 1974, at the Daytona International Speedway in Florida.
It was said that the ‘top 12 drivers in the world’ were selected to compete in the 1974 IROC series, the idea being to pit representative drivers from different race codes against one another in identical Porsche Carrera cars specifically made for the IROC series. Drivers were selected from Formula 1, United States Auto Club (USAC) Champ Car, Nascar Winston Cup, and the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA). Fifteen new Porsche Carrera RSRS were made by the Porsche factory. These were not road cars but special Porsche racing cars based on the highly successful Porsche 911 and maintained in the US by IROC Porsche mechanics. To avoid any notions of advantage or favouritism, drivers drew their car for each race by lot and the only adjustment allowed by drivers was to their seat!
At Riverside, for the first race on October 27, 1973, Denny Hulme started fourth in his blue car, finishing in fifth place behind Mark Donohue, Bobby Unser, Peter Revson, and George Follmer. In race two, Denny finished eighth, repeating that same position in race three. Denny was not one of the six drivers to compete in the final round of IROC 1 held at Daytona on February 14, 1974, that race being won by Donohue. However, he finished eighth overall in the series to take home prize money of US$6K — the winner’s cheque, won by Mark Donahue, was US$54K.
The man behind the IROC series, Roger Penske, disposed of most of the 15 Porches after Riverside, keeping only enough cars for the six drivers at Daytona, after which those cars were also sold. Such is the collector value put on the 15 original cars that they are now worth close to NZ$1M each.