1969 Porsche 917K
Chassis: 917 004/017
A special era in the history of the Porsche 917 stems from a private conversation held between Porsche team manager Rico Steinemann and the legendary John Wyer the night before the running of the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1969. Steinemann had been authorized by Porsche management to offer J.W. Automotive Engineering the Porsche factory racing program for 1970 and 1971. Now there were several reasons behind the invitation, foremost was the ability of the Slough based U.K. team to consistently win against newer cars backed by better funded teams. Case in point being that the Gulf Oil backed J.W.A.E. outfit was using what many considered an obsolete car in their Ford GT40 against current competition, and beating them. Wyer replied that he would take the matter up with Gulf Oil who were more circumspect as to what could be gained by joining Porsche. When the 917 was shown at the Geneva Salon a week earlier John Wyer had clearly seen the future of sports car racing. In Wyer's own words, Porsche had, typically, done it first, and at a stroke every other car was out of date. In addition, he pointed out, in the direct Wyer manner, that he could offer no prospect that would be able to beat it.
All of this took place in April of 1969, and while there was a basic agreement and understanding between Wyer and Porsche, there was still a full season of racing ahead. The high points for both organizations were J.W.A.E. once again claiming the 24 Hours of Le Mans with their obsolete Gulf GT40, and Porsche winning the World Championship of Makes using a combination of 908s and early model 917s. The final contracts were signed in August.
The agreement called for Porsche to supply J.W.A.E. with seven complete 917s over the 1970 season. The first of those was chassis 917-004. A proforma invoice dated December 5, 1969 confirms this, with actual delivery to Slough three days later. 917-009 was to later join 004 in January, while 013, 014 and 015 were prepared and collected from Porsche for shipping to Daytona. Chassis 917-016 was shipped to J.W.A.E. in March of 1970 with chassis 017 being held in reserve at Zuffenhausen with the possibility of being built up as a new car for Le Mans.
Serious preparation on 917-004 and 917-016 was well underway at Slough in March, with the upcoming 1000KM race at Brands Hatch to be held on April 12th. A letter from J.W.A.E., received at Porsche on April 2, 1970, requested a number of new parts to bring 004 up to date, which were promptly shipped out to Slough in time for the car to be ready to race.
The BOAC 1000KM race at Brands Hatch featured the best of competitors, along with some of the worst of English weather in the form of wind and rain. Qualifying for 004 and 016 showed mixed results, but all that changed for the actual race. The driver pairings were Pedro Rodriguez and Leo Kinnunen in 016, and the great Jo Siffert and Brian Redman aboard 004. Both 917s started on narrower wheels with Firestone rain tires, and ran 4-speed transmissions. Rodriguez had a phenomenal race in the heavy English rain, and 016 went on to the overall victory. 004 had a troublesome start with Siffert suffering a flat left rear on the circuit and losing valuable time attempting to get back to the pits. He rejoined in third place and according to J.W.A.E. chief engineer, John Horsman, the car had been alternating between second and third place and ready to win if Pedro faltered. However it all came to an end on lap 177. Brian Redman was at the wheel of 004 when he was hit from behind by Chris Amon's Ferrari 512S, effectively ending his race.
Upon returning to the J.W.A.E. workshops after the race, it was determined that although the damage to the chassis of 004 was not significant, due to the upcoming race schedule it would be advantageous to return the damaged chassis to Porsche and replace 004 with 017. This replacement chassis was picked up by J.W.A.E. from Zuffenhausen