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Targa Florio winning 1973 Porsche 911 Carrera RSR in Martini Racing colours at the 2006 Goodwood Festival of Speed.
Porsche 956 and 962C, like this in Jägermeister livery, won the 24 Hours of Le Mans six years in a row in the 1980s.

Porsche has been successful in many branches of motorsport, scoring a total of more than 28,000 victories, of which most have been scored by the Porsche 911 series over five decades.

Despite their early involvement in motorsports being limited to supplying relatively small engines to racing underdogs up until the late 1960s, by the mid-1950s Porsche had already tasted moderate success in the realm of sports car racing, most notably in the Carrera Panamericana and Targa Florio, classic races which were later used in the naming of street cars. The Porsche 917 of 1969 turned them into a power house, winning in 1970 the first of over a dozen 24 Hours of Le Mans, more than any other company. With the 911 Carrera RS and the Porsche 935 Turbo, Porsche dominated the 1970s, and even has beaten sports prototypes, a category in which Porsche entered the successful 936, 956 and 962 models.

Porsche is currently the world's largest race car manufacturer. In 2006, Porsche built 195 race cars for various international motor sports events, and in 2007 Porsche is expected to construct no less than 275 dedicated race cars (7 RS Spyder LMP2 prototypes, 37 GT2 spec 911 GT3-RSRs, and 231 911 GT3 Cup vehicles).[1]

Porsche regards racing as an essential part of ongoing engineering development—it was traditionally very rare for factory-entered Porsche racing cars to appear at consecutive races in the same specification. Some aspect of the car almost invariably, was being developed, whether for the future race programs or as proof of concept for future road cars.

Contents

Early years

As Porsche only had small capacity road and racing cars in the 1950s and 1960s, they scored many wins in their classes, and occasionally also overall victories against bigger cars, most notably winning the Targa Florio in 1956, 1959, 1960, 1964, and every year from 1966-1970 in prototypes that lacked horsepower relative to the competition, but which made up for that, with reliability, low drag, low weight and good handling.

In their September 2003 publication, Excellence magazine identified Lake Underwood as Porsche's quiet giant in the United States [1] and he is among the four drivers, including Art Bunker, Bob Holbert, and Charlie Wallace who are identified by the Porsche Club of America as having made Porsche a giant-killer in the USA during the 1950s and early 1960s. [2] Notable early successes in the USA also included an overall win in the 1964 Road America 500 for an under-2-litre RS-60 driven by Bill Wuesthoff and Augie Pabst.

Porsche started racing with lightweight, tuned derivatives of the 356 road car, but rapidly moved on to campaigning dedicated racing cars, with the 550, 718, RS, and RSK models being the backbone of the company's racing programme through to the mid 1960s. The 90x series of cars in the 60s saw Porsche start to expand from class winners that stood a chance of overall wins in tougher races where endurance and handling mattered, to likely overall victors. Engines did not surpass two litre until the rule makers limited the capacity of the prototype class to 3 litre after 1967, as the four litre Ferrari P series and the seven litre Ford GT40 became too fast. Porsche first expanded its 8-cyl flat engine to 2.2 litres in the 907, then developed the 908 with full three litres in 1968. Based on this 8-cyl flat engine and a loop hole in the rules, the 4.5 liter flat 12 917 was introduced in 1969, eventually expanded to five litres, and later even to 5.4 and turbocharged. Within few years, Porsche with the 917 had grown from underdog to the supplier of the fastest (380 km/h at Le Mans) and most powerful (1580 hp in CanAm) race car in the world.

Five decades of Porsche 911 success

Even though introduced in 1963, and winning the Rally Monte Carlo, the Porsche 911 classic (built until 1989) established his reputation in production-based road racing mainly in the 1970a.

  • Porsche 911 Carrera RSR, winner of the Targa Florio, Daytona and Sebring in the mid-1970s
  • Porsche 934
  • Porsche 935, winner in Le Mans 1979

Due to rules, the 911 was not used very much in the 1980s, but returned in the 1990s as the Porsche 993, like the GT2 turbo model. The water cooled Porsche 996 series became a success in racing after the GT3 variant was introduced in 1999.

24 Hours of Le Mans successes

The 917 gave Porsche its first 24 Hours of Le Mans win in 1970.

The Porsche 917 is considered one of the most iconic sports racing cars of all time and gave Porsche their first 24 Hours of Le Mans win, while open-top versions of it dominated Can-Am racing. After dominating Group 4, 5, and 6 racing in the 1970s with the 911-based 934 and 935 and the prototype 936, Porsche moved on to dominate Group C and IMSA GTP in the 1980s with the Porsche 956/962C, one of the most prolific and successful sports prototype racers ever produced.

Porsche scored a couple of unexpected Le Mans wins in 1996 and 1997. A return to prototype racing in the USA was planned for 1995 with a Tom Walkinshaw Racing chassis formerly used as the Jaguar XJR-14 and the Mazda MXR-01 fitted with a Porsche engine. IMSA rule changes struck this car out of the running and the private Joest Racing team raced the cars in Europe for two years, winning back-to-back Le Mans with the same chassis, termed the Porsche WSC-95. This is a feat Porsche had also achieved in the 956 era, contrasting with the 1960s and 1970s where most cars ran only one or two races for the works before being sold on.

Since winning overall in 1998 with the Porsche 911 GT1-98, Porsche has not attempted to score overall wins at Le Mans and similar sports car races, focusing on smaller classes and developing the water-cooled 996 GT3. Nevertheless, the GT3 and the LMP2 RS Spyder have won major races overall since.

Teams and sponsorship

In the 1960s, Porsche grew into a major competitor in sports car racing, sometimes entering half a dozen cars which were soon sold to customers. Apart from the factory team, calling itself Porsche AG or Porsche System Engineering since 1961, Austrian-based Porsche Salzburg was set up in 1969 as a second works team to share the work load, providing the much sought first overall win at Le Mans, in 1970. Martini Racing and John Wyer's Gulf Racing were other teams receiving factory support, allowing Zuffenhausen to focus on development, while the teams provided the sponsorship funds and manpower to be present and successful at many international races. In CanAm, Porsche cooperated with Penske, while in Deutsche Rennsportmeisterschaft, customers like Kremer Racing, Georg Loos and Joest Racing enjoyed various degrees of factory support. After appearing as Martini Porsche in the mid-1970s, the factory entered as Rothmans Porsche in the mid-1980s.

Many Porsche race cars are run successfully by customer teams, financed and run without any factory support; often they have beaten the factory itself.

Recently, 996-generation 911 GT3s have dominated their class at Le Mans and similar endurance and GT races. The late 1990s saw the rise of racing success for Porsche with The Racer's Group, a team owned by Kevin Buckler in Northern California. In 2002, Buckler won the 24 Hours of Daytona GT Class and the 24 Hours of Le Mans GT Class. In 2003, a 911 run by The Racers Group (TRG) became the first GT Class vehicle since 1977 to take the overall 24 Hours of Daytona victory. At the 24h Nürburgring, factory-backed Manthey Racing GT3 won since 2006. The team of Olaf Manthey, based at the Nürburgring, had entered the semi-works GT3-R in 1999.

Rally

Walter Röhrl's 1981 Porsche 924 GTS driven at the 2008 Rallye Deutschland.

The various versions of the Porsche 911 proved to be a serious competitor in rallies. The Porsche works team was occasionally present in rallying from the 1960s to late 1970s. Porsche notably took three double wins in a row in the Monte Carlo Rally; in 1968 with Vic Elford and Pauli Toivonen, and in 1969 and 1970 with Björn Waldegård and Gérard Larrousse. In 1970, Porsche also edged Alpine-Renault to win the International Championship for Manufacturers (IMC), the predecessor to the World Rally Championship (WRC). Porsche's first podium finish in the WRC was Leo Kinnunen's third place at the 1973 1000 Lakes Rally.

Although the Porsche factory team withdrew from the WRC with no wins to their name, the best private 911s were often close to other brands' works cars. Jean-Pierre Nicolas managed to win the 1978 Monte Carlo Rally with a private 911 SC, and Porsche's second, and so far last, WRC win came at the 1980 Tour de Corse in the hands of Jean-Luc Thérier. In the European Rally Championship, the 911 was driven to five titles, and as late as 1984, Henri Toivonen took his Prodrive-built and Rothmans-sponsored 911 SC RS to second place behind Carlo Capone and the Lancia Rally 037. In 1984 and 1986, the Porsche factory team won the Paris Dakar Rally, also using the 911 derived Porsche 959 Group B supercar.

Single-seaters

Despite Ferdinand Porsche having designed Grand Prix cars in the 1920s and 1930s, the Porsche AG never felt at home in single seater series.

1962 Porsche 804

The Porsche 718 RSK, a two-seater sports car, in the late 1950s was also entered in Formula Two races, as rules permitted this, and lap times were promising. The 718 first was modified by moving the seat into the center of the car, then also proper open wheelers were build. These 1500 cc cars enjoyed some success. The former F2 were moved up to Formula One in 1961, where Porsche's outdated design was not competitive. For 1962, a newly developed flat-eight powered and sleek Porsche 804 produced Porsche's only win as a constructor in a championship race, claimed by Dan Gurney at the 1962 French Grand Prix. One week later, he repeated the success in front of Porsche's home crowd on Stuttgart's Solitude in a non-championship race. At the end of the season, Porsche withdrew from F1 due to the high costs, just having acquired the Reutter factory. Volkswagen and German branches of suppliers had not interest in a F1 commitment as this series was too far away from road cars. Privateers continued to enter the out-dated Porsche 718 in F1 until 1964.

McLaren MP4/2 Formula One car, powered by a TAG-Porsche engine

Having been very successful with turbocharged cars in the 1970s, Porsche returned to Formula One in 1983 after nearly two decades away, supplying water cooled V6 turbo engines badged as TAG units for the McLaren Team. For aerodynamic reasons, the Porsche-typical flat engine was out of the question for being too wide. The TAG engine was designed to very tight requirements issued by McLaren's John Barnard-he specified the physical layout of the engine to match the design of his proposed car. The engine was funded by TAG who retained the naming rights to it, although the engines bore "made by Porsche" identification. TAG-Porsche-powered cars took two constructor championships in 1984 and 1985, three driver crowns between 1984 and 1986. The engines powered McLaren to 25 victories between 1984 and 1987.

Porsche returned to F1 again in 1991 as an engine supplier, however, this time with disastrous results: The Footwork cars powered with the overweight double-V6 failed to score a single point, and failed even to qualify for over half the races that year; Porsche has not participated in Formula One since.

V8 engine for the Indy 500-race

Porsche attempted an Indianapolis 500 entry in the late 1970s with a turbocharged 911-based engine in a bespoke car for Danny Ongais and the Interscope team; failure to agree turbo boost levels with USAC meant that this was shelved, although the engine later became the basis of that used in the 956 and 962. Porsche returned to CART in 1988 with a turbo V8 in their own 2708 chassis but this did not enjoy any success and a March chassis scored their only wins. The Derrick Walker owned and managed team was then sponsored by Quaker State and the drivers were Italian Teo Fabi and American John Andretti.

Porsche Carrera Cup one-make series

Porsche has sponsored Porsche Carrera Cup one-make racing series by providing cars and support since 1990, starting with the Porsche 964 RS, later using 993 RS, 996 GT3 and 997 GT3 Cup. Series are held in Germany, France, Britain, Asia, plus the international Supercup.

Stock and lightly-modified Porsches are raced in many competitions around the world; some of these are primarily amateur classes for enthusiasts, but the Porsche Michelin Supercup is a wholly professional category, raced as a support category for European Formula One rounds.

Today

Penske Racing's Porsche RS Spyder in the 2008 Utah Grand Prix.

Porsche dropped its factory motorsports program after winning the 1998 24 Hours of Le Mans with the Porsche 911 GT1 for financial reasons, facing factory competition from Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota and others. An LMP1 prototype with a V10 engine, intended to be entered in 2000, was abandoned unraced due to an agreement with Audi, a related company lead by Porsche co-owner Ferdinand Piech. The V10 was used in the Porsche Carrera GT instead, while Audi dominated Le Mans after BMW, Mercedes and Toyota moved to F1.

Porsche made a comeback in the LMP2 category in 2005 with the new RS Spyder prototype, although this was run by closely-associated customer teams rather than by the works. This was not welcomed very much, as rule makers intend the LMP1 category for factory entries, while the LMP2 should be reserved for privateers. Based on LMP2 regulations, the RS Spyder made its debut for Roger Penske's team at Laguna Seca during the final race of the 2005 American Le Mans Series season, and immediately garnered a class win in the LMP2 class and finishing 5th overall. The nimble albeit less powerful (due to the regulations) RS Spyder clearly possessed the pace to challenge Audi and Lola LMP1 cars in the ALMS on all but the fastest circuits. Penske Racing won the LMP2 championship on its first full season in 2006 and against Acura in 2007 and 2008. The car debuted on European circuits in 2008 and dominated the Le Mans Series; Van Merksteijn Motorsport, Team Essex and Horag Racing taking the first three places in the LMP2 championship. Van Merksteijn Motorsport also took a class victory at the 2008 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Major victories and championships

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TAG-Porsche engine in McLaren cars

  • 3 Formula One Driver World Championship (1984, 1985, 1986)
  • 2 Formula One Constructor World Championship (1984, 1985)
  • 25 Formula One victories (1984, 12 wins; 1985, 6 wins; 1986, 4 wins; 1987, 3 wins)

References

External links


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