Schup­pan re­alises Go­rilla am­bi­tion

The Weekend Post - Motoring - - Front Page -

RAC­ING leg­end Vern Schup­pan has driven most things in the past 45 years. But he had never driven the awe­some Porsche 917 in anger, a life-long am­bi­tion that he fi­nally re­alised re­cently.

The 917 is a fear­some and of­ten feral beast that in its day man­aged to ex­cite and frighten its driv­ers in equal mea­sures.

Schup­pan’s sto­ried ca­reer has em­braced Indy cars, For­mula 5000s, sports cars, tour­ing cars, and For­mula One. He fi­nally got his chance at the re­cent clas­sic sports car fes­ti­val at Le Mans, the scene of per­haps his great­est achieve­ment in mo­tor rac­ing – his 1983 Le Mans tri­umph.

“It was one of the great ex­pe­ri­ences of my ca­reer – I’d al­ways re­gret­ted the fact 917s were pensioned off shortly be­fore I got started,” he said. The South Aus­tralian shared the iconic pale blue 917 with fel­low sports car hero Richard Attwood at Clas­sic Le Mans.

The ev­er­green pair man­aged a sat­is­fy­ing third over­all across the week­end’s hard-fought races. Schup­pan qual­i­fied the bru­tal 917 fifth fastest in the day­light and was third in night­time prac­tice.

In three races, the Schup­pan and Attwood combo banked a sixth, a tenth and a sec­ond.

He was lead­ing the fi­nal race at the time he handed over to Attwood.

The ex­pe­ri­ence was spe­cial for the for­mer Porsche fac­tory driver as the 917 was the car that gave Porsche its first out­right win at Le Mans in 1970, re­peat­ing in 1971.

“The 917 has a scary rep­u­ta­tion and a lot of pals sim­ply warned don’t drive it,” he said.

“Their mis­giv­ings cer­tainly spooked [wife] Jenny, but to be hon­est, it turned out to be one of the most plea­sur­able driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ences I’ve ever had. The 917 was a bit spooky at first but the harder you pushed the more it gave back in a good way. It’s got a real go­rilla en­gine, and a heavy and slow gear change.”

Schup­pan ad­mit­ted the Porsche felt un­sta­ble on the straight, ob­vi­ously be­cause there are no wings or aero bits and pieces to glue you down.

He re­ported that the brakes were good like all Porsche brakes, but re­vealed too that the 917 was all over the road un­der high speed late brak­ing which there is a lot of at Le Mans.

“By Sun­day morn­ing when we had the fi­nal race, the car was bril­liant. The three races were just un­der an hour each. It would have been fab­u­lous to do a 1000km race,” he said.

Vern Schup­pan drives the iconic “go­rilla” Porsche 917 in a re­cent clas­sic sports car fes­ti­val at Le Mans.

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