Lap Time: 3:13.60 min.
With a stopped time of 3:13.60 minutes, Jackie Oliver's performance went down in the history books as the first Le Mans lap with an average speed of more than 250 kmh.
The two-day pre-tests are as much a part of the 24 Hours of Le Mans as the Marseillaise is to the opening formalities. Fifty years ago, on the second day of testing, it’s Jackie Oliver who takes the wheel of the Porsche 917 LH—the long-tail version with chassis number 043.
Before the twenty-eight-year-old Englishman is able to complete a total of twenty-three laps, Porsche engineer Helmut Flegl is quoted as admonishing him, “We’re not quite sure about the aerodynamic stability on the straight above 300 kmh.” At this point, the Mulsanne straight has not yet been calmed by chicanes. It’s about six kilometers of dead straight—which translates into a whole minute of full throttle.
Oliver first tries to find out if there are significant amounts of lift under the front axle at top speeds, something that could be rendering his steering ineffective. He zigzags over the Mulsanne, above 300 kmh in places. In this way, he can feel the front wheels still maintaining contact with the asphalt even at these speeds. “A lot of what we built and developed was a journey into the unknown,” Oliver says today. When he returns to the pit after six laps, he’s able to give Flegl positive feedback.
The engineer orders only marginal changes. He has the wheel arch ventilation slots on the front wings moved further forward for even more downforce. Now Oliver is to take to the track again. Flegl instructs him: “Now drive five laps at maximum speed.” That is just beyond 8,000 rpm for the powerful five-liter twelve-cylinder engine. Oliver feels comfortable; he trusts his car. It effortlessly takes the critical bend before the corner near the village of Mulsanne at full throttle, as well as the passage of bends at Maison Blanche.
Lap times during test-drives are not considered official figures. But with a stopped time of 3:13.60 minutes, Jackie Oliver's performance goes down in the history books as the first Le Mans lap with an average speed of more than 250 kmh—it’s calculated to be exactly 250.457 kmh. His Porsche colleague Pedro Rodríguez, who’s also at the wheel of a 917 LH, officially breaks the mark too during the 1971 qualifying, but does not quite reach the pre-test figures: he takes pole position with a qualifying time of 3:13.90 minutes and with an average of 250.096 kmh.
April 18, 1971
24 Hours of Le Mans pre-tests, France
13.468 kilometers circuit length
Porsche 917 LH