Schuppan realises Gorilla ambition
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.