14th - 15th September
45 starters 14 classified finishers
Nothing really new except that the minimum number of cars necessary for homologation in the sports category was reduced from 50 to 25. Porsche exploited this point and built the 917 for sale to private clients, ( in the process driving a coach and horses through the intentions of the C. S.I.) the first of whom was the unfortunate John Woolfe.
45 ears 5 nations 12 makes
Franee : 8 Alpines, 4 Matras.
Germany: 16 Porsehes.
Great Britain : 1 Chevron, 1 Healey, 1 Lola, 1 Nomad.
Again John Wyer decided to pin his faith in the faithful Ford GT 40s as the Gulf Mirages had proved both slow and unreliable. As usual the main opposition was provided by Porsehe who turned up with 3 long - tailed 908s plus a 908 spyder and 3 of the fearsome new 917s, one of which was a supposedly private entry (the John Woolfe car) but looked after by the factory. Ferrari too was back with abrace of the Fl based 312 Ps fitted with special hardtops. In practice, Rolf Stommelen wheeled the big white no. 12 917 'round the 13, 462 km circuit in the incredible time of 3'22"9. Yet again, the manufacturers had proved the legislators wrong.
Jacky Ickx expressed his opposition to what was the last Le Mans type start by strolling across and starting last, losing almost a minute in the process. One wonders if he ever thought of this during that final sprint to the line! Alas, tragedy struck before the end of lap 1 when John Woolfe lost control of his Porsche 917 at Maison Blanche and kilIed himself : he was the second victim of the 1968 event as Lucien Bianchi (1968 winner) had crashed fataly during the April test weekend. Chris Amon's 312 P Ferrari caught fíre and retired atter running over the Porsche's fuel tank. Stommelen held fírst place for the fírst hour before being delayed by an oil leak, the lead being taken over by the 908 spyder of Siffert - Redman. Atter 2 hours in front they were hit by gearbox trouble which caused their retirement. Thus into the lead went the Elford - Attwood 917 while the eventual winner, the Ickx - Oliver GT 40, was back in sevenlh place. At half distance, there were Porsches in the first 3 places wilh Ihe blue - nosed long - tailed Porsche 917 still in front. Then it all started to go wrong for Ihe Stuttgart manufacturer when the Uns - Kauhsen 908 stopped on Les Hunaudieres with clutch failure. Worse was to come when the leading 917, which had been sounding very flat, came in for an unscheduled stop smoke pouring from its engine ; oil was leaking into the clutch from a split gearbox casing. It managed to get going again but at almost exactly 11H00 on Sunday morning it stopped at its pit and was pushed away by the mechanics. This left Ickx in the lead hotly pursued by the Herrmann - Larrousse 908. The duel lasted 3 hours wilh the lead constantly changing hands. On the last lap Ickx let the Porsche lead down Les Hunaudieres knowing that he could get past under braking for Mulsanne. His play worked and resulted in the closest ever finish in the Le Mans 24 Hour race. It was a bitterly disappointed Porsche team that left the circuit while the GT 40's victory was a fitting end for one of the great sports racing cars of all time. The only Alpine to see the chequered flag, (Serpaggi - Ethuin) again won the Index of Performance. Eighth was the best the sole surviving Ferrari could do. Neither Chevrolet powered cars finished.
The new 917s shattered tbe previous year's lap record witb Elford leaving it at 3'27"2, a speed of 234.017 km/h. lckx and Oliver covered almost 5000 kms at an average speed of 208, 250 km/h, some 545, 120 kms more than the same car in 1968, serving new records in the process. Stommelen's 3'22"9 in practice represented a speed of 238, 97 km/h.
Sports Car Races