LE MANS 1996 — LE KIWI COME­BACK

New Zealand Classic Car - - Preview - The ex–denny Hulme IROC Porsche

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.

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