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A Baptism by Fire

When Attwood shared this 917 with Vic Elford at Le Mans in 1969, the factory had not yet gotten the powerful car’s aerodynamics properly sorted. Photo: Porsche

Contrary to what many may believe, the first time I drove a Porsche 917 was when I first sat in one to qualify for the 1969 Le Mans 24 Hours. There were three 917s entered for the race: the privately owned John Woolfe car, the Rolf Stommelen/Kurt Ahrens car, and the car I shared with Vic Elford. I didn’t necessarily want to drive it, but I assumed it was my turn. No one really wanted to drive the car at all. Mitter and Schütz drove at Spa, someone else drove at Nürburgring, and so, naturally, I thought Le Mans was my turn. It was only five years ago I found out that Elford had nominated me to drive it. We were at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, reminiscing about “the good old days,” when he told me. My reaction wasn’t pleasant. I thought “My God, you bastard!” I really could have killed him.

Richard Attwood
Richard Attwood

Gerhard Mitter and Udo Schütz were entered to drive the car at the Spa 1000-kms, in May prior to the Le Mans race. In practice, the weather was dry, but, for the race, it rained. Their car did half a lap and retired with engine problems. Quite recently, I met Udo Schütz at the Solitude Revival meeting and I couldn`t help myself but ask if the retirement at Spa was deliberate.  He didn’t say anything, he just had a wry smile on his face that told me everything. I know I would have done exactly the same; in the dry, it was bad; in the wet, it would have been completely undrivable. None of the Porsche factory drivers wanted to drive it, so, they didn’t—a somewhat mild kind of protest.

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