Porsche is Rich with History at Road Atlanta
- Published: Thursday, October 10 2013 16:16
While other manufacturers lay claim to a philosophy of motorsport competition, only one was created in the crucible of the sport’s most daunting motorsports events from Le Mans, Sebring and Daytona to Monaco, Monte Carlo and Paris-Dakar. Victories have also been regular here at Road Atlanta and in the Petit Le Mans. Since the first Type 356 Cabrio, Porsche No. 1, rolled out of the Ferdinand and Ferry Porsche’s early headquarters in Austria and on its way to victory, Porsche has been making headlines in newspapers, on radio broadcasts and television, now on web sites and even Twitter. Motorsports is in Porsche’s DNA.
Unlike most of the world’s automotive marques, Porsche Motorsport derives its competition budget from the engineering side of the Stuttgart, Germany-based company, not from the marketing department. That is no small detail as it shows that racing is not at the whim of an advertising campaign but, instead drives the technology that can be found in every 911, Cayman, Boxster, Panamera and Cayenne on the street today.
Over its 65-year history, Porsche has used the sport to strengthen the breed. Easy words to say, a hard heritage to achieve. In that time it has become international sports car racing’s largest production racecar manufacturer with the Porsche crest crossing the finish line first more than any other brand. Over 30,000 times and counting.
Less than five years after earning its first victory, Porsche scored its first major international win at the 1956 Targa Florio with the now iconic Porsche 550 A Spyder. The following year, Porsche won its first Grand Prix with a 550 A Spyder bettering the single-seat Formula 1 cars in the German Grand Prix. Overall, Porsche lays claim to 14 World Championships for makes and teams plus eight endurance racing World Championships. 26 F1 victories have been taken with Porsche engines overall. 11 Targa Florio, four Monte Carlo and two Paris-Dakar Rallies add to the lifetime accomplishments of Porsche as does a 1989 Indy car victory.
But it is at Le Mans and in sports car racing where the Porsche name was made. The legacy was spawned at the French race’s 1951 event when Porsche earned Germany’s first sports car victory since the onset of World War II. In the 1970s Porsche’s 917 became synonymous with the 24-hour classic taking its first overall win, with Hans Herrmann and Dick Attwood behind the wheel of a 917 short-tail in 1970. Porsche’s strengths at Le Mans continued to show bright winning the race overall every year from 1981 to 1987 and a record 16 times through 1998. Porsche sets the bar at the Circuit de la Sarthe with over 50 class wins thus far at the grandfather of all sports car races.
When sports car racing came to the United States following World War II, it didn’t take long before Porsches were competing on the city street courses and airfields that made-up early American road racing. Just as North America is Porsche’s largest consumer road car market, it is a cornerstone to Porsche Motorsport’s history.
On September 13, 1970, the best drivers were competing at Road Atlanta’s first event: Vic Elford, Denis Hulme, Peter Revson and the sole Porsche in the field, a Porsche 908 with race winner Tony Dean. Stirling Moss was the Grand Marshal. A huge crowd gathered to watch the most sophisticated cars of the day turn 75 laps on the brand new circuit, and Porsche take the checkered flag.
Throughout the remainder of the 1970’s faster, more sophisticated cars and better talent in series like the Can-Am, Formula 5000, IMSA Camel GT and Trans Am brought Porsches to Georgia. All the Porsche stars of the day – George Follmer, Mark Donohue, Peter Gregg, Hurley Haywood, the Whittington Brothers (who also served at Road Atlanta owners for a time), Milt Minter, Al Holbert, Dennis Aase, John Fitzpatrick, Dick Barbour (who still has a shop on the grounds), and many others raced and won at Road Atlanta in the Porsche 917, Porsche 911 Carrera RS and RSR, Porsche 935 and Porsche 936. The Camel GT series made two stops at Road Atlanta during this era, one in April and one in September a theme which is renewed this year this weekend and Petit Le Mans in October.
While current Porsches continue to add to the lifetime resume of the company, 2013 also marks the 50th anniversary of the Porsche 911 and the 40th anniversary of one of the sports most famous prototypes, the 917/30. The most powerful racecar Porsche has ever produced – generating well over 1000 horsepower.
The 917/30, a turbocharged, 12-cylinder Spyder with a modified front-end and rear deck for Can-Am competition came to the US in 1973. The most famous of these cars was the Penske Racing Sunoco-sponsored entry of 1972 Indianapolis 500-winner Mark Donohue. The car so many equate with perfection in lightly regulated sports car racing, was only beaten by the rule makers when it was made irrelevant first by the FIA (1971) and then the SCCA (1974).
Following the 917, Porsche returned to its production-based roots. From the mid-1970s through the early 1980s, the 911 became the platform for all Porsche factory racing. The menacing-looking 935 racecar would evolve into the turbo version of the 911 road car and kept Porsche the most relevant manufacturer in the sport. Overall wins at Le Mans (1979), Daytona (1978-82) and Sebring (1978-84) followed.
The IMSA switch from GTX cars like the 935 to GTP prototypes in the 1980’s brought the Porsche 962 to the Hall County track, with Al Holbert, Bruce Leven, David Hobbs, Rob Dyson, Chip Robinson, Derek Bell, Bobby Rahal, Bob Wollek, and others carrying the Porsche banner. The ‘90s saw the end of GTP, but Porsches continued to star at Road Atlanta with Bridgestone Supercar champions Hurley Haywood and David Murry driving Porsche Turbos, and Murry winning the Firestone Firehawk title in a Porsche 944.
As a new millennium dawned, the landscape of international sports car racing took on a very different appearance. In 1999, the American Le Mans Series was created and a year later GRAND-AM followed suit. Porsche continued to wisely see the benefits, and reap the victories, in each series. In fact, the draw of the two divisions was strong enough that Porsche developed both a new open-top “spyder” prototype for ALMS and provided engines for the new closed-top Daytona Prototype (DP) category in GRAND-AM.
The last 14 years have seen the Panoz Motorsports era including dramatic wins at Petit Le Mans in the Penske Porsche RS Spyders, the Porsche 911 GT3 R/RS/RSRs, the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, and even the experimental Porsche 911 GT3 R Hybrid. Sascha Maassen, Lucas Luhr, Patrick Long, Jörg Bergmeister, Randy Pobst, Wolf Henzler, Bryan Sellers, Romain Dumas, Timo Bernhard, Klaus Graf and others all making it to the winners circle in the American Le Man Series as well as the Pirelli World Challenge and the IMSA GTC Cup Challenge by Yokohama.
While prototype efforts are based on the technological needs of the factory and the regulations allowing their pursuit, GT racing is always at the nucleus of Porsche’s business. As the ALMS was getting ready to enter its first season (1999), the Porsche 911 GT3 R was introduced. It would sire the most impressive lineage of GT cars in the sports history. Followed by the GT3 RS and ultimately the GT3 RSR, the turn-of-the-century Porsche and its offspring would capture six manufacturer titles in seven ALMS seasons. Adding to its legend, the 911 GT3 R “family” enjoyed a two year-long winning streak to tally the most class wins and pole positions in ALMS history. Most recently the RSR won twice in 2012 with Flying Lizard putting together a win at Lime Rock with Porsche factory drivers Bergmeister and Long and Team Falken Tire drivers Henzler – a Porsche factory ace – and Braselton-resident Bryan Sellers taking their second consecutive Grand Prix of Baltimore victory.
The R/RS models were eventually banned by GRAND-AM making way for the 911 GT3 Cup car into 2005. It would ultimately morph into a GRAND-AM specific variant of the world’s most prolific racecar running alongside, for a brief time, Porsche-powered DPs. In 2013, Magnus Racing, the 2012 North American Endurance Championship (NAEC) winners, and Brumos Racing took a podium finish at the Rolex Series debut at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin.
Meanwhile, Porsche’s 911 GT3 Cup car is the entry of choice for multiple one-make series the world-over. Included is IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge, regional Porsche Challenge Cups, Porsche Cup Canada as well the SCCA World Challenge.
Ensuring the Porsche legacy continues to grow in 2013, GRAND-AM teams ran a final season with the 911 GT3 Cup GRAND-AM to multiple podiums including here at Road Atlanta early in the season. Magnus drivers Potter and Lally, Park Place Motorsports’ Patrick Lindsey and Porsche’s only US-works driver Patrick Long as well as Muehlner Motorsports America were all been regular contenders in 2013.
ALMS GT class teams will use the Porsche 911 GT3 RSR to fight for that series’ final Petit Le Mans trophy before combining with GRAND-AM in 2014. Paul Miller Racing will challenge multiple-time ALMS winner Team Falken Tire and its factory ace Wolf Henzler and Bryan Sellers for GT supremacy. Core autosport makes its first-ever Petit Le Mans GT class start in a third 911 GT3 RSR with Long and Brit Tom Kimber-Smith driving. 10 GTC cars will compete for class honors in comparably prepared Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars.
Like the traditions of Road Atlanta, Porsche continues to march forward in building on its own legacy. Celebrating its 50th anniversary of the 911 this year, Porsche will continue to add history book chapters as others make only footnotes as they come and go.