The two seasons of racing between 1970 and ’71 remains, for many, the highwater mark of global endurance motorsport: a time when Ferrari and Porsche did battle at Le Mans with cars that have become synonymous with an era and on a track that, in their wake, was forever altered: a furious, dangerous time captured in all its beauty, passion, and speed by a cult Hollywood movie. That track, those cars, that era, all in the Project CARS 2 “Spirit of Le Mans” Pack …
There are dozens of fabled Le Mans battles you can replicate in Project CARS 2 from every era of endurance racing. Rush through the Mulsanne Kink in a Sauber Mercedes C9 of the late 1980s at 400kmh; relive the legendary McLaren versus Porsche duel from the mid-’90s; battle-out the mighty Ford GT versus Ferrari grudge match from the mid-’60s―and then throw in a whole host of multi-class contenders to spice up your race―or go back to the late ’70s and see if you can bring glory back to France with the turbo Renault Alpine A442 against the mighty Porsche 936s.
History not your thing? Then get behind the wheel of the four modern-day LMPs in the “Spirit of Le Mans” Pack.
Every decade, every era, all weather, night-and-day―all in Project CARS 2.
For purists, though, who recall that golden era between 1970 and 1971 when endurance racing was the most popular motorsport in the world, it’s time to get even more excited because that remarkable and treasured period is in Project CARS 2 with the “Spirit of Le Mans” Pack.
The “Spirit of Le Mans” Pack brings not only three of the most iconic Le Mans racers of all time together in one adrenaline-charged Pack, but also faithfully recreates the “Classic” Le Sarthe layout―that larger-than-life slice of tarmac that thrilled a generation of fans for two epic years.
“Classic Le Mans” is a painstaking reproduction of the Circuit de la Sarthe as it was in 1970 and ’71, the years when the Porsche 917 and Ferrari 512 S and 512 M destroyed every record at Le Mans. And then, in 1972, in response to the speed of these heroic cars, engine size was reduced, the track was rehabilitated, and the epic battle between Ferrari and Porsche was no more.
The Porsche 917, that had clinched a clean sweep of fastest speed down the Mulsanne, the fastest-ever qualifying lap, and the most laps completed after 24-hours, was transformed into a Can-Am-winning Panzer (you can drive its evolution, the 917/10, in the “Porsche Legends” Pack). And Ferrari? Ferrari abandoned the 512 project that failed to deliver the wins Enzo Ferrari had wished for it, and turned their attention to the 312P which would deliver wins, and the championship, in 1972.
That classic Le Mans track played host to two brilliant races that took place between the screaming V12 512 Ferraris (both the S and the M are in the “Spirit of Le Mans” Pack) and the low-grunt flat-12 Porsche 917s (the LH―long back―also comes with the “Spirit of Le Mans” Pack, while the 917K features in the “Porsche Legends” Pack).
Those cars would go toe-to-toe in the World Championship of Makes in on-track battles that defined an entire era of sportscar racing with a sound and beauty that has never been replicated nor bettered.
And all of it, of course, was captured for Steve McQueen’s now infamous film “Le Mans”.
A time that has become known as the “Battle of the Titans”.
Porsche and Ferrari in the “Battle of the Titans”
The end of the 1960s was a peculiar time for both Zuffenhausen and Maranello. With the start of the new decade, Porsche had won pretty much everything in sportscar racing except the big one itself―Le Mans.
Ferrari, meanwhile, was a half-a-decade away from their last success.
Porsche, though, were very much in the ascendency; after two decades spent winning in GT racing, 1969 had seen them come perilously close to upsetting Ford’s supremacy at Le Mans. For Ferrari, the opposite was true; they were in a slump, and for a team that had once ruled Le Mans―wins from 1960-1965―the late 1960s had been miserable years. Not only had Ford and its GT program defeated the boys from Maranello in sportscar racing but, even worse, in Formula 1, Ferrari had not won a title since 1964.
Come 1970, Ferrari was badly in need of a return to glory: A return to victory lane at Le Mans. And standing in their way? None other than Porsche, now looking for the marque’s first Le Mans win.
In 1968, rule changes meant Ford―now sated with four years of Le Mans domination―were no longer eligible to run their big 7-litre V8s. Without much incentive, and with vengeance long-served and digested, Ford had gone home. Ferrari had done the same, to prepare themselves for a new challenge and a new car made possible by the influx of capital that came along when FIAT bought half the company in 1969.
That car was the Ferrari 512 S―the 5 for 5-litres, the 12 for the mighty V12.
With Ford out of the picture, Ferrari reckoned the new 512 would have few challengers … except for a German automaker who debuted their Le Mans contender at the Geneva Motor Show that same year, 1969: a car named the 917.
Suddenly, almost out of nowhere, two 5-litre monsters were ready to do battle at Le Mans.
Ferrari and Porsche with two new cars that defined a whole new era of motor racing.
The 24 Hours at Le Mans―1970/1971
At Maranello, preparation for the new season was hampered by industrial action that came along with FIAT ownership; despite that, the new 512 S made its debut at Sebring in 1970, and by the end of the 12-Hour US classic, Ferrari’s better handling had clinched a win on debut with the all-Italian line-up of Nino Vaccarella (the man who owned the Targa Florio), Ignazio Giunti (who would lose his life a year later in a tragic accident in Argentina), and Mario Andretti.
Sadly for Maranello, though, that that was as good as it got for the gorgeous 512 S, as Porsche began to flex its muscles after Sebring: at Brands Hatch, Monza, Spa, and the ’Ring (all tracks available in Project CARS 2), Porsche dominated with Redman, Siffert, and Rodriguez using a combination of the high-downforce 908/03 (available in the “Porsche Legends” Pack) and the high-speed 917.
Ferrari had no answer to this double combination. But while the championship was already lost by June, there was still all to play for―victory at the one race that really mattered most: Le Mans.
Hopes for a Maranello win were high: here was a track where the 908s would not be competitive (they were surrendering over 60kmh down the Mulsanne), and where the 917’s lack of grip (in comparison to the 512 S) would prove―or so they hoped back in Maranello―to be its undoing.
Ferrari’s confidence was demonstrated by the eleven 512 Ss that lined up for the start. Porsche (who would learn a lesson from that and fill the field themselves in years to come) came with seven 917s in various configurations.
Meanwhile, a Hollywood actor who’d spent much of the season competing in his 908/03 came along for the ride―and with him came an entire film crew.
This was the first Le Mans race not to feature the traditional start that would see drivers sprint across the track to leap into their cars and remain unbuckled until they reached the Mulsanne where they’d fumble about with the safety belts at speeds approaching 300kmh. In 1969, Le Mans hero Jacky Ickx had had enough of what he saw as a hazardous ritual and, instead of running, he’d slowly sauntered over to his GT40, buckled himself in, and went on to win the race.
For 1970, then, for the first time ever, the drivers would start in their cars from the side of the track. (That didn’t do much to alleviate the danger, though, and it was replaced by the rolling start in 1971, a practice which remains to this day.)
Qualifying for the 1970 24-Hour of Le Mans was close; a Porsche 917LH on pole, only two-tenths up on a Ferrari 512 S Coda Lunga, ahead of another 917K, and then another 512 S, and then the Wyer 917K. In Practice, the Ferrari 512 S was hitting 359kmh down the Mulsanne, a record that was topped by a Porsche 917LH during the race (362kmh)―a record which stood until 1987.
The race itself would turn into an absolute classic: intense, treacherous, and incident filled. For Ferrari, the misery would begin barely seven laps in when the factory car of Giunti/Vaccarella broke down. That was just the start of the mayhem that unfolded when a dense thunderstorm rolled in just before 6pm. That’s when Swede Reine Wisell, in his 512 S, hit mechanical problems down into Maison Blanche: Nursing a seriously sick Ferrari, Wisell pulled offline and tried to get back to the pits. Derek Bell, unsighted by the rain and the spray, burst onto Wisell’s car a few seconds later. In a flash, Bell managed to miss Wisell’s Ferrari, his quick reactions provoking a tank-slapper as his rear-end stepped out at 270kmh. Bell corrected it all, and kept his foot in.
He’d been a lucky boy. How lucky was demonstrated moments later when Clay Regazzoni’s factory Ferrari struck the Wisell Ferrari at full whack. Regazzoni went off in a hail of pain, sound, and splintering metal, haplessly spinning down the road before he was collected, in turn, by the 512 S of Mike Parkes in the sister factory car. Parkes smashed headlong into Regazzoni before bouncing off into Wisell, taking the Wisell Ferrari into the barriers. Then Parkes’ 512 S exploded and burnt to a cinder.
Half a lap later, Bell’s 512 S began to blow massive trails of ominous black smoke; in avoiding Wisell, Bell had taken too many revs and soon enough, Bell, too, was out.
Three factory 512s and two belonging to privateer outfit Filipinetti were all out of the race.
That left Ferrari’s hopes in the sublime hands of Jacky Ickx. And when the rain really began falling hard with the night, it seemed as if Ferrari’s luck was in. The 512 S in the rain was handling well, and in Ickx, Ferrari had the best wet endurance driver in the world. Ickx began pushing and just after midnight, he’d miraculously driven his factory Ferrari into second place, gaining inexorably on the leading Porsche 917.
That run, which could so easily have ended in triumph, ended in tragedy instead when, unseen in a night thick with rain and fog, Ickx lost control of his 512 S at the Ford Chicane and had a heartbreaking accident. Less than nine hours into the event, then, Ferrari had now lost most of the eleven 512s entered, and half of those to accidents. It was that kind of Le Mans.
With dawn came not sunshine but more rain, and the slick surface continued to bite drivers. By the time it was all over, only 16 cars of the 51 entered would actually finish the race, and of those, only seven were officially classified. A dozen of those 16 cars were Porsches including the winning 917 and, quite astonishingly, the number 29 Porsche 908/02―otherwise known as the movie camera-car for McQueen’s film (sans McQueen himself who’d been prevented from racing due to the film’s insurers).
It was quite a day for Porsche; not only did the Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood 917K capture Porsche’s first overall Le Mans, but a Porsche had won all four classes and finished 1,2,3. Hermann himself quit racing that very afternoon, and there was something providential about a man who’d won Porsche’s first major race at the Panamericana a decade before, and who’d promised his wife he’d quit the day he won the “big one”, giving Porsche its first-ever overall win.
Porsche went on to claim the Championship of Makes by winning every round of the championship bar Sebring. By early autumn, Ferrari, whose 512 S was close but just couldn’t overcome the 917s, responded by redeveloping the 512 S into the 512 M―M for modificato.
This, too, is in the “Spirit of Le Mans” Pack.
The lighter-weight, reworked 512 M won the non-championship Kyalami 9-Hour with its 600hp engine on debut in early 1971, but that would prove to be just a false dawn as 1971 belonged, yet again, to Porsche.
History would suggest Porsche dominated the 1971 season, but Ferrari were unlucky all year, with Penske’s 512 S in particular throwing away three likely wins including a humdinger at Daytona with Mark Donohue and David Hobbs at the wheel of their Traco-tuned V12. Indeed, the 512 Ms and 917s battled closely all year, and Porsche’s wins were, each and every one, hard-earned against a seriously hard-charging Ferrari. But close was as good as it got for the 512 M―and at Le Mans, they could do little to stop Porsche making it two in a row with the winning 917 doing a grand total of 5,335km which, to put some perspective on it, would have seen Dr. Helmut Marko’s Porsche travel from Le Mans to China … in 24 hours!
That was the year the “Classic Le Mans” ended; for 1972, Maison Blanche was no more, replaced by the Porsche Curves, and the classic track and those two classic Ferrari and Porsche battles would fade into history; just a moment of greatness, forever captured by a Hollywood movie, and now yours to experience in Project CARS 2.
Porsche would go on to make Le Mans their own for the next twenty years. Ferrari would never again challenge for an overall win at Le Mans, though they would, in 1972, take their final Championship of Makes before turning their focus on Formula 1 and going on to dominate that series throughout the mid-to-late ’70s
And McQueen’s movie? After suffering birth pangs with critics and box office alike, it would slowly go on to become one of the most treasured racing movie of all time. Somehow, it had captured what, for many, was the greatest two years ever seen in endurance racing.
The Porsche 917LH, Ferrari 512 S and 512 M, and the Classic Le Mans, are in the Project CARS 2 “Spirit of Le Mans” Pack: Own it as a standalone, or as part of the Season Pass.