Porsche 911 GT1 on Ice Proves Le Mans Winners Can Go Sideways, Too

Every 911 can be a Dakar if you set it up just right—even a Le Mans prototype.

byAdam Ismail|
Porsche News photo


There are certain situations and settings in which you don't expect to see particular cars. A 1990s endurance racing legend, like the Porsche 911 GT1-98 as we see here, wouldn't be quite at home on, say, a dirt track as it would at the Circuit de la Sarthe or Sebring. It's also not a natural fit for ice racing, though that didn't stop Porsche from doing something that Gran Turismo doesn't even allow you to, and fitting winter tires to its 1998 Le Mans winner to send snow flying in Aspen. Why? Why not?

So, how did this come about? Porsche attended the F.A.T. International ice race in Colorado last weekend and brought along its Mobil 1-liveried stunner all the way from its museum in Zuffenhausen for the festivities. It also put Stéphane Ortelli in the car, who was one of the three drivers who steered the GT1 into the history books 26 years ago. Porsche engineers lifted the car's suspension, which was in part necessary to fit the chunkier winter-ready rubber. It also pilfered the pre-heating system from a 919 Hybrid because the 911 GT1 didn't have one originally and, you know, 36 degrees Fahrenheit is a little chillier than northwestern France typically is in June.

At that point, there was nothing left to do but for Ortelli to get to work. And on Colorado's ice and powder, the way the 911 GT1 was originally designed to perform suddenly doesn't really matter.

"You have to forget about all that!" Ortelli is quoted in Porsche's blog. "Here, it’s more like ballet. The [tires] grip well on the compact snow and you can immediately feel the car’s potential and follow the racing line, but you have to use the weight transfer to turn. Partly because the car is so stiff, but also because the steering rack is so quick."

The short distance from lock-to-lock in an endurance road racer like the GT1 is at odds with how rally car steering racks are typically designed, where fine countersteering control is especially important to pull off all them Scandinavian Flicks. Ortelli explained that to make up for that, throttle control becomes even more critical to keep the car moving in the intended direction.

"We all know that when you go sideways you need to steer to compensate for the angle of the car, but in the GT1 you have so little lock," Ortelli said. "For me that has been the most challenging thing to adapt to. You find full lock so fast that you need to play with the gas and left foot brake to limit the slide. It was a lot of work on the wheel and the pedals. But it really was like a ballet, and on the snow, this car can really dance!"

No doubt he did make it dance, and the photos speak for themselves. Now that we've seen the 911 GT1 on the white stuff, why not the Toyota GT-One, Mercedes CLK-GTR, and McLaren F1 GTR? Suddenly I need to know which '90s golden-era pseudo-street car prototype is quickest on the wrong surface.

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