I have always liked creating paintings of historic motorsports scenes, either to present a different angle or to try to capture the dramatic value of the subject matter. I never liked to simply paint “a photo” in my work because I’ve always thought that if you have the photo there’s really no need for an identical painting.
The 1970 Le Mans 24 Hours was exceptional in many ways and my painting has departed from the creation of a purely historic and accurate image to depicting an imaginary scene showing the main protagonists of the event all together.
The setting is the iconic Tertre Rouge turn, the beginning of the Hunaudieres Straight (as the French call this section) that ends at the Mulsanne corner. To say that the weather did not cooperate that weekend of June would be an understatement. It rained almost constantly during the race and accidents (some very serious) occurred. By morning, half the field had retired and, of the 57 starters only 16 were running at the end (12 of them Porsches) and just 7 were classified as finishers, teams which, according to the rules, had covered the minimum distance.
It was a race of “firsts”.
The most radical was the change of the traditional “Le Mans start” when the drivers lined up on the opposite side of the track and run to their cars. That worked just fine when seat belts were not mandatory but, after this rule took effect, drivers were supposed to get in the cockpit, fasten their seat belts and then start the cars and drive away. In truth, that didn’t always happen in all cases. In 1969, John Woolfe lost his life in an accident in the first lap of the race because he didn’t have his seat belt fastened, therefore, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, promoter of the race, mandated that for the 1970 edition all the cars would be lined up in echelon, as always, but with the drivers in the cars with their harnesses securely fastened. Since not all the drivers inside their cars could see a single starter drop the French drapeau tricolore, four marshals were positioned across the track in front of the cars and dropped their flags at the same time signaling the start of the race.
For Porsche, this race maked its 20th anniversary competing at the French classic and this would be their first overall victory even though the marque had won in the smaller classes before.
The three John Wyer Automotive entries displaying their victorious blue and orange Gulf livery and in the hands of an all-star team of seasoned hot-shots were the favorites, but they retired one after the other due to accidents and engine problems.
The 917K (Kurzheck or “short tail” with a 4.5-L flat-12) of Hans Herrmann/Richard Attwood, representing the Austrian Salzburg-Porsche team, took the lead at mid-race.
At that point, the Gulf-JWA works 917L (Langheck or “long tail” powered by the 4.9-L version of the flat-12) of Jo Siffert and Brian Redman had a comfortable 10-lap lead when the Swiss missed a gear change to avoid another car and broke the engine.
Running second and third were two Martini Racing entries (a customer team supported by the factory): the number 27 Porsche 908/02 of Rudi Lins and Helmut Marko and the number 3 917 “long tail” with Gérard Larrousse and Willi Kauhsen.
The #3 car featured (for the times) a definitively non-conventional green on blue background color scheme and was nicknamed the Hippie Car or the Psychedelic Porsche by the team. When the rain finally let up on Sunday morning and the track dried up, the 917 drivers were able to pick up the pace and overtook the 908 for the second spot.
Hans Herrmann and Richard “Dickie” Attwood, in a great debut for the No. 23 Porsche Salzburg 917K, completed 343 laps and won by five. Gérard Larrousse and Willi Kauhsen finished second in the psychedelic “long tail” and the 908/02 of Lins/Marko was third with 335 laps.
The number 11 NART Ferrari 512S “long tail” of Americans Sam Posey and Ronnie Bucknum (following the winning 917 in the painting) kept going despite misfiring and errant steering, and managed to finish in fourth place, with 313 laps followed by another Ferrari, the Ecurie Francorchamps’ 512S of De Fierlant/Walker (the yellow car back in the distance in the scene), with 8 laps less.
Behind the leading group on the painting is the number 40 Porsche 914/6 which had a remarkable race finishing sixth overall and winning the GT 2-L class with 285 laps. Entered by a veteran driver who gave Porsche its first ever class win back in 1951(with Edmond Mouche), Auguste “Toto” Veuillet’s French team 914-6 was driven by Guy Chasseuil and Claude Ballot-Léna. Behind them, and finishing three laps further back and winning the GT 2.5-L class and seventh overall was the Ecurie Luxembourg number 64 911S of Nicholas Koob and Erwin Kremer who would become a famous Porsche tuner.
Also in the scene and passing the 911S and the 914-6 right before the bridge is another Porsche 908 owned and entered by Steve McQueen’s Solar Productions with the intention to collect footage for his upcoming racing movie “Le Mans”. One might have noticed the bulk for the camera on the front. McQueen himself planned to share a John Wyer works Porsche 917 with the reigning F1 World Champion Jackie Stewart but that paring was ruled out due to opposition by the producers of the film, the movie investors and McQueen’s life insurance company which denied coverage. Because the script had a Gulf-Porsche victory, Porsche released its works driver Herbert Linge to drive the car alongside Jonathan Williams in the actual race. The effort collected more than 250,000 feet of film, although the frequent stops to change cameras meant the car could not cover enough distance to be classified but it still finished seventh with 282 laps.
My original idea was to do a painting of the race-winning number 23 Porsche celebrating the 50th anniversary of that victory but, the more that I researched the subject, the more I realized that there was a very interesting story behind the winning red and white 917K.
My work here is really something of a freeze frame version of the 1970 edition of the French classic … there’s much more in the history books.
For prints and originals contact:
MOTOR RACING ART
2884 Roosevelt St.
La Verne. CA 91750. USA