Lap Time: 3:14.60 min.
Fifty years ago, Jo Siffert and the Porsche 917 KH achieved the fastest race lap ever driven on a road or circuit.
The route winds its way through 14.1 kilometers of the rugged Ardennes. Endless straights take drivers past farmsteads and through refreshingly cool woodland. Ultrafast curves, hardly any crash barriers, but walls, trenches, telegraph poles—and improved paved roads. Anyone lining up here has slept badly the night before. Jo Siffert and Pedro Rodríguez hardly got any rest, anyway. As busy professional racers with a packed schedule, the two rivals had competed in the Formula One race—not part of the World Championship—held in Silverstone, England, that same weekend.
In Spa, their respective teammates, Derek Bell and Jackie Oliver, qualified the mighty Porsche 917 KHs (short tails) for John Wyer’s team. Bell took pole position, Oliver placed third. Siffert and Rodríguez took the wheel first. It was the overture to a dangerous chase between the two top drivers—and a continuation of the rivalry that had dominated both their careers. The origins of the two drivers could hardly have been more different: Siffert had worked his way up from humble beginnings in Switzerland, while Rodríguez hailed from a Mexican millionaire family.
A storm rain raged at departure. Siffert sat at the front, while Rodríguez stuck to his rear. On the tenth of seventy-one laps, Rodríguez passed Siffert, but did not pull away from him at all. The man from Fribourg lurked in the slipstream—and wrote history: in 3:14.60 minutes, he set an absolute lap record with an average speed of 260.842 kilometers per hour!
Bell and Oliver took over for the second half of the race. Bell, the newcomer to the team, obeyed his instructions to the letter: he was only to overtake Oliver after receiving a signal from team manager David Yorke. It would have been easy for Bell, but he waited for the signal. The spectators were waiting and Siffert—in the pit—was waiting too, of course. But it was all in vain. Yorke’s signal never came. The Rodríguez/Oliver duo was able to claim the win—with a lead of only four-tenths of a second. Siffert and Bell endured the award ceremony with iron expressions.
The first tragic twist came nine weeks later, when Pedro Rodríguez died during a race on the Norisring. Then, three months after that, Jo Siffert was killed in a Formula One race at Brands Hatch. His Spa record, however, has endured: fifty years later, this race lap remains the fastest ever driven on a road or circuit.
May 9, 1971
1,000 Kilometers of Spa / Sixth race of the World Sportscar Championship
Street circuit, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium
14.1-kilometer circuit length
Derek Bell / Jo Siffert / Porsche 917 KH