There was a chance to visit an old friend—one of many, but not as familiar as some—at the original Rennsport Reunion where I made this photograph. The WSC 95 was a time-urgent project based on a carbon-fiber monocoque designed years earlier by Russ Brawn and owned by Tom Walkinshaw, extensively modified at Weissach and fitted with a turbocharged Porsche engine producing some 540 hp. Only two were ever made. Panorama showed the racer on its February 1995 cover as a body in white testing at Charlotte; photographer Hal Crocker had snagged that photo. Excited readers were told to “look for the Porsche WSC 95 at Daytona, Sebring, and Le Mans.”
It was not to be. Hurried testing had showed terrible aerodynamics at Charlotte, and at Daytona trials a little later the car was significantly slower than the 333SP Ferrari competition. Then the crowning blow: a few days before the race, a perhaps appropriately fearful IMSA imposed a 100 lb. weight penalty and smaller restrictors on the never-raced prototype, thus torpedoing the whole project. The cars sat out the 1995 season, not even going to Le Mans, as Wiedeking worried about finances. No racing, no glory.
But then everything changed, in a huge way.
Accounts of how long-time Porsche friend and accomplice Reinhold Joest came to eventually race the cars vary, but I like Ludvigsen’s quote from legendary engineer Norbert Singer: “We loaned the two cars to him. In our contract we said if he won Le Mans, he could keep the car.” Wind tunnel testing was done, modifications were made, and race day found a WSC 95 on the pole.
At the end of the race, Porsche had another Le Mans victory, and Joest owned another Porsche. Joining a rare group of Le Mans competitors able to pull off back-to-back wins with the same chassis, he returned in 1997 and did it all over again. By 1998 it was a bridge too far, however, and neither of the revised cars—now dubbed LMP1 98—finished, the race finally falling to the Porsche factory entry with a pair of their GT1 racers coming home first and second.
The storm of Porsche victories ended after 1998. Priorities and policies were shifted from above, and development of the 9R3, which was to be Porsche’s next prototype racer, was killed. Porsche engineers and drivers found themselves in newly becalmed waters as the field of battle was handed to Audi for the next 17 years.
I don’t know where that single 9R3 is today. That has been one of those “I don’t want to talk about it” things for our favorite factory. The two WSC roadsters, however, are at home in Germany, one with Joest and one with Porsche, retired after heroic service growing out of disappointing beginnings.