As the Spirit of Le Mans pack releases for Project CARS 2, we wanted to tell you a little about the cars and the story that are part of this legendary race.
Coming to this pack are the three LMP1s that gave the world one of the most thrilling 24-hour battles in history back in 2016, the year Audi, Porsche, and Toyota fought it out to a finish that no one will ever forget.
Spicing up the Pack even further, two of the most legendary cars from an era forever captured by actor Steve McQueen’s 1971 movie “Le Mans” are also included, alongside a faithful recreation of the Circuit de la Sarthe precisely as it was for that season’s race.
That was the year before the classic Le Mans circuit was forever changed when, reacting to the phenomenal speeds of the Ferrari 512s and Porsche 917s with their fire-breathing 5-litre lumps that hit speeds of over 360kmh, the fearsome Maison Blanche section was replaced by the Porsche Curves.
Now, finally, you can experience the raw emotion and passion of Le Mans as it was back then driving on the very track and in the very cars that have gone down into the history books as the greatest era of sportscar racing―a moment in time when Porsche and Ferrari duked it out in a series of races that became known as the Battle of the Titans.
Both automakers had so much at stake. Ferrari, half-a-decade away from their last win and desperate for a return to glory, and Porsche, hunting for their first-ever overall Le Mans win.
Ferrari’s hopes in 1970 rested on their new purpose-built car, the Ferrari 512 S (the 5 for 5-litres, the 12 for the mighty V12), a car that, for many, remains to this day one of the most beautiful and primal racing cars Maranello has ever built.
And Porsche? The German automaker debuted their Le Mans contender at the Geneva Motor Show in 1969: a car named the 917 that would go on to redefine endurance prototypes.
These cars would battle twice at Le Mans, in 1970 and ’71. For the ’70 race, Ferrari’s confidence was demonstrated by the eleven 512 Ss that lined up for the start. Porsche (who would learn a lesson from that and fill the field themselves in years to come) came with seven 917s.
Meanwhile, a Hollywood actor who’d spent much of the season competing in his own Porsche 908/03 came along for the ride — and with Steve McQueen came an entire film crew.
The race itself was an absolute classic. Intense and treacherous after a thunderstorm ripped through at dusk causing mayhem, and by the time night settled in it was moist and dark, the field had been decimated (of the 51 starters, only 7 would be classified by the end of the race, most through misadventure including Parkes’s 512 S that came off hard and burnt to a cinder).
That left Ferrari’s hopes in the sublime hands of Jacky Ickx, the best wet endurance driver in the world at the time, who hunted down the lead Porsche 917 through the wet night.
That run, which could so easily have ended in triumph, ended in disaster instead when Ickx lost control of his 512 S at the Ford Chicane and had a heartbreaking accident.
It was that kind of Le Mans.
Porsche went on to claim the Championship of Makes by winning every round of the championship bar Sebring that year, and by early autumn, Ferrari responded by redeveloping the 512 S into the 512 M―M for modificato―which would run Porsche hard in ’71.
All three of these cars―the Porsche 917 LH (long-back), Ferrari 512 S, and 512 M, are coming to the Spirit of Le Mans Pack.
Endurance racing fans would have to wait until 2016 before they were served another race that mattered as much to the manufacturers involved as those that defined the Battle of the Titans. That was the year Porsche came to defend their title with a wholly revamped 919 Hybrid, Toyota brought their brand new TS050 Hybrid, and Audi, that had made Le Mans their own for much of the 21st century, pinned their hopes on the significantly redesigned 2016-spec R18.
All three are coming to the Spirit of Le Mans Pack.
Which would win out?
The 84th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans began under a remorselessly leaden sky, so wet that the field sat in formation behind the safety car for almost an hour.
Once the race went green, though, it was clear the two Porsche 919s and the two Toyotas were in a race of their own, with the Porsche pushing hard through the night and emerging into the dawn clear in the lead.
A win seemed certain until, mid-morning, the chasing Toyota began increasing its pace. And going faster…and faster…until suddenly it was in the lead Porsche’s slipstream from where it slipped out and seized an improbable lead down the Mulsanne.
Around the world, millions tuned in to the race. Was Toyota really about to end half-a-century’s worth of bad juju at Le Mans?
Everyone expected the Porsche to fight back — it didn’t happen. The Toyota pulled out a gap and with four hours to the checkers, it seemed now a formality that Toyota would defeat the two most winning manufacturers in Le Mans history, Audi and Porsche.
With less than five minutes on the clock, Nakajima’s lead Toyota had extended its lead to just over a minute. The TV feed tuned in to the Toyota pits, and there were the mechanics and team managers with tight but confident smiles watching the clock tick, inexorably, toward the 24th hour.
In the cockpit, Nakajima was anything but serene; he was desperately shouting down the radio, but by the time his delayed transmission was picked up, it was all too late.
With 180 seconds left of the 24-hour race Nakajima came onto the front straight to begin his final lap. And slowly, ever so slowly, he pulled his Toyota offline to the pit-wall, spent, and broken.
The Porsche 919 of Jani swept past the stricken Toyota as co-drivers Lieb and Dumas in pit-lane jumped into each other’s arms―somehow, they had just won the greatest endurance race of them all.
It was, undoubtedly, a moment of drama such that motorsport had never before seen. And those with a memory of Toyota’s Le Mans jinx could do little but shake their heads―truly, this could only have happened to Toyota at Le Mans. All they needed was 180 more seconds to end nigh-on half a century of bad luck…
For 2018, the three manufacturers that gave the world one of the most enthralling endurance race battles ever have been whittled away to one: Toyota, as Porsche has followed Audi into different arenas.
Will Toyota finally end their bad juju at Le Mans? You’ll find out in mid-June or you can try and do it yourself in Project CARS 2, against the might of Porsche and Audi, with the Spirit of Le Mans pack on Xbox One.