Kremer Racing's epic victory at the 1979 Le Mans 24-Hours


It was 40-years ago when Kremer Racing powered to an unexpected victory at the epic 1979 Le Mans 24-hours, against all the odds the Porsche 935-K3 driven to victory in the pouring rain by German Klaus Ludwig in partnership with American brothers Don and Bill Whittington.

That year, there were a myriad of 3-litre turbo Porsche 935s in European-configuration and several in the IMSA-specifications which allowed for twin-turbos at the time. One of them entered by American enthusiast Dick Barbour for himself, German ace Rolf Stommelen, racing enthusiast and Hollywood star Paul Newman.

But the fastest 935 of all was the very special one built at the Kremer family workshops in Cologne. The Philippe Selvet sponsored 935 K3 had a radically revised bodywork, with a focus on more efficient aerodynamics which created a form of ground-effects. Furthermore, the engine intercooler was air-cooled as opposed to water-cooled.

The Kremer K3 proved to be the 935 to beat, streaking down the legendary 5.5 km Mulsanne straight at over 350kph but, despite this, it was only good for third place on the grid.

Pre-race favourites, for the 47th edition of the Grand Prix of Endurance, were the astonishingly fast pair of factory assisted Essex Porsche 936s, with Jacky Ickx and Brian Redman in one and Bob Wollek, Hurley Haywood and Juergen Barth in the pole-winning car.

But it was not to be their year as Ickx was disqualified for receiving outside assistance to repair his car when it struck problems out on track, while the sister car led for the first four hours before retiring with technical issues.

With the pace-setters out of contention an almighty battle developed between the 935s of Kremer and the Gelo Porsche 935 of Manfred Schurti and Hans Heyer followed closely by the second Gelo car of John Fitzpatrick/Harald Grohs/Jean-Louis Lafosse.

But the Gelo challenge ended as their cars succumbed to technical problems during the night, allowing the Kremer car to extend their already substantial lead until trouble struck.

Motorsport magazine reported: "The Kremer Porsche ground to a halt on Mulsanne Straight while Don Whittington was at the wheel. The belt that drove its fuel injection pump had broken, and whilst a spare was on board, all Don’s attempts to fit it so that it stayed on proved futile.

"Eventually he coaxed the stricken car back to the pits by removing and shortening the alternator belt. Shortly after noon, the leading Kremer car was back in the race, its lead reduced from 15 laps at one stage to only three."

It was almost an hour that the team spent repairing the car before it was released again and continued in the lead unto the chequered flag waved bringing an end to a drama-packed Le Mans 24-Hour race in which the very special Kremer 935-K3 of Ludwig, Don and Bill Whittington took a famous victory by eight laps over their closest rivals.

The Dick Barbour Porsche of Stommelen/Newman/Barbour were a distant second ahead of the third-placed Kremer prepared Porsche (not a 935-K3 but the normal Porsche 935-77A) of Francois Servanin, Laurent Ferrier and Francois Trisconi.

Kremer racing beating the factory-backed teams and prototypes was a classic example of giant slaying at Le Mans and further enhanced their reputation as an elite Porsche tuning operation based at 13 Von-Hünefeld-Strasse, in Cologne, since 1962.

Today the Kremer 935 K3 heritage is kept alive by the K3R performance upgrade and special tweaks for Porsche 997 Turbo owners wanting to extract performance from the cars, in the spirit of the organisation's greatest triumph at Le Mans four decades ago. (Report by Paul Velasco; Photo courtesy Porsche}

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