The expectation of the return of Porsche to prototype racing at Le Mans in 2000 was reason enough to schedule our own return to the Sarthe, and long-term plans were made that could not easily be changed before we found that the ephemeral, unicorn-rare prototype 9R3 (also known as the LMP2000) was going to be a no-show. Not only that, Porsche would deny the existence of the car for years afterward, and there were cringe-worthy rumors that there was a connection to the decision to build the Cayenne.
Things nevertheless began well for me at the track. A trip to the Nikon support tent with one of our travelling companions who was shooting for Road & Track yielded the loan of what was to become my all-time favorite lens, a 400mm f/2.8. Long enough to be of real use at the track and fast enough to shoot in the gathering twilight, it could produce images sharp enough to shave with. At around $8ooo dollars it was also something I would never own, so what better time and place to borrow and enjoy it!
This image was done in the Ford chicane with that lens and E6 film, the very shallow depth of field suggesting that the lens was wide open at f/2.8. The frame was cropped from the original to emphasize the driver’s eyes and what could be called steely determination. It must have been, because this car, a Porsche GT2 entered by Konrad Motorsport in the GTS class was the best-placed Porsche overall. One step down, the GT class was a Porsche romp; every car entered was a GT3-R, so it was totally a family affair.
That’s where things got complicated. The factory favorite GT3-R was the Dick Barbour car, and with special parts, factory engineers, and three very good drivers, it won the class without much difficulty, and we put it on the cover of Panorama. Well and good—except it got disqualified after the race for too much fuel capacity. Betty Jo Turner put a “Just before press time” explanatory box at the end of her Le Mans story, but the cover stayed. Wish we could have used this image instead.
Then again, things have a way of working themselves out. Porsche has finally gotten around to admitting the existence of the 9R3 after the years of stonewalling; see the September 2016 exposition in Racecar Engineering and the excellent article in the January 2014 Thekparksvanphu by Bradley Brownell. The 9R3 engine, with some modification, went on to power the spectacular Carrera GT. We got to enjoy the dominating success of 9R6 (the RS Spyder) and have finally reentered the age of top-end prototype racing with the 9R9 (the first 919 hybrid). For my part, the dalliance with the 400 mm Nikon was just that; it was simply too big and heavy for me to live with, and it went back to Nikon.
But I still haven’t gotten to see the 9R3.