The mid-to-late 90s were a bizarre time for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. But they also ended up being rather brilliant. Possibly my favourite time frame in Le Mans history, actually. Because at that time two classes were in with an equal chance of victory; prototypes and GT racers.
Not that it stopped Porsche taking four wins in the time frame. Even if only one of them was really their doing. They just took responsibility for three of them. Their last 962 win was with a car made by Dauer, and their WSC-95 was TWR’s idea and based off a Jaguar XJR-14. But that car also won whilst this was in the frame, Porsche’s real GT1 contender, the 911 GT1.
The 911 GT1 was one of the fastest cars at Le Mans in 1996 and 1997. But mechanical trouble meant it lost chances to win both. Odd that, given the reverse had given GT1 cars wins in the previous two years. Then they updated it to the 98 spec to contend with 1998’s influx of new, very threatening entrants from the likes of Toyota and Mercedes. It looked a great deal more gorgeous than the original versions, looking a great deal sleeker than the 911 GT1s that had gone before the previous year.
But the new car proved to be slower than the newcomers. Mercedes had already shown the old model a clean pair of heels in the GT Series the previous year and they and Toyota seemed top of the pile. Which is why the 911 GT1 finished 1-2 in the race, obviously, thanks to holding on longer than the rest. What did I say about Le Mans being bizarre at this time, eh?
After this victory, Porsche’s 16th, the marque was not seen again at the race until 2014. And after 1999, both Mercedes’ dominance in GT1 (and subsequent failure in LMGTP) along with high costs brought the most unpredictable era of Le Mans to an end and a vacuum of Audi (and other VW Group companies) victories has begun since. Not withstanding Peugeot’s 2009 victory.
So it’s great to see that one of the last gasps of a truly great time for Le Mans is in Forza 6. Although I suspect that if you tried to win Le Mans yourself in a 911 GT1, you may find you’ll struggle a bit.
The 911 GT1 wasn’t the fastest car at the very race it won, and it definitely isn’t the fastest car in the game either. I was expecting something pretty great, but with only 550bhp it does feel rather underpowered. Even the fact it weighs only 950kg doesn’t seem to help. Most notably, the Toyota GT-One (albeit from the year after) is over 100 PI ahead of it. Given the stats, you’d think it’d be faster. I suspect a lack of downforce is the real problem.
But if that were the case, the 911 GT1 would probably corner badly as well. But it doesn’t. It really, really doesn’t.
It’s exactly what you’d expect a race car to be. Nice and completely stable, with just a hint of the tail kicking out under acceleration. It’s a remarkably composed car, and that’s the biggest appeal of the 911 GT1. It might be reserved in terms of speed, but crucially, it’s also inviting for a driver. It’s very rewarding.
If you’re looking for outright speed, the 911 GT1 isn’t the best. There’s no getting away from the fact that it’s nowhere near as fast as the Le Mans winners we know and love the most. But for driving, it’s great to hear that simple, shouting engine in the back, and it’s great to see it doesn’t send the car into a frenzy every time you go near the throttle. It’s, quite simply, a really nice car to drive. And there is nothing wrong with that.