All but per­fect

CAR (UK) - - Car Interactive -

IN 1982 NEW Group C rules ush­ered in re­stricted fuel us­age but en­tic­ingly al­lowed for com­pletely free en­gine de­vel­op­ment. Porsche’s re­li­able but still­born IndyCar en­gine was its weapon of choice but ev­ery­thing else on its 956 race car was new. Porsche’s first mono­coque chas­sis, built from riv­eted and bonded sheet alu­minium, was 80 per cent stiffer than the 936’s tubu­lar frame de­spite a longer wheel­base. The 956 was Porsche’s first ground-ef­fect car too, with the en­gine tilted up at the rear to make space for the ven­turi tun­nels.

‘We knew ground ef­fect was in For­mula 1 with Lo­tus and it looked easy’, says Nor­bert Singer, the en­gi­neer who played a part in every sin­gle Porsche vic­tory at Le Mans be­tween 1970 and 1998. ‘We quickly re­alised it wasn’t! And yet we never changed the mono­coque. We found the aero bal­ance within weeks, and it was just nine months be­tween start­ing work on the car and its first race.’

At the first test, the team thought driver Jür­gen Barth had gone off the track as the ven­turis were cov­ered in dust – it was just the ground ef­fect lit­er­ally hoover­ing up Porsche’s Weis­sach test cir­cuit. The corner­ing speeds were of a dif­fer­ent or­der of mag­ni­tude, and when Derek Bell drove it back-to-back with the Can-Am con­quer­ing 917/30 in June 1983, de­spite nar­rower tyres and giv­ing away 300bhp, the 956 was four sec­onds quicker around the lap.

At Le Mans in 1982 the 956 fin­ished 1-2-3 – and it was 10 per cent more fuel ef­fi­cient than the 936 that won the year be­fore. A year later it was more dom­i­nant still, with Porsche fill­ing nine of the top 10 places (which led to the in­fa­mous ‘No­body’s Per­fect’ poster).

The 1984 sea­son was dif­fer­ent, as Porsche re­fused to en­ter Le Mans – it had met new fuel reg­u­la­tions, which slowed the 956, but ri­vals hadn’t and were al­lowed to race with­out the hand­i­cap. It didn’t mat­ter, as a cus­tomer 956 still won in the hands of Rein­hold Joest (who would go on to over­see 14 more Le Mans vic­to­ries for Porsche and then Audi) while seven other 956s fin­ished in the top 10. And de­spite its ab­sence from Le Mans, the works Roth­mans-Porsche team would still win the driv­ers’ and man­u­fac­tur­ers’ world ti­tles that year – their third white­wash in a row.

Joest won again in 1985, hold­ing off the newer 962Cs, but the rest of the decade was theirs. An evo­lu­tion of the 956 with the wheel­base ex­tended 120mm to move the driver’s feet be­hind the front axle, the 962 was origi-

‘GROUND EF­FECT LOOKED EASY WEQUICKLY RE­ALISED IT WASN’T!’ NOR­BERT SINGER

nally built to meet Amer­ica’s IMSA reg­u­la­tions. It was soon adapted for Group C, then fur­ther de­vel­oped with a big­ger en­gine, larger wheels and tyres, and Porsche’s first at­tempt at a dou­ble-clutch PDK gear­box.

It won the world cham­pi­onship in 1985, did the same again in ’86 (to go with vic­tory at Le Mans) and while the Silk Cut Jaguars won eight of the 10 rounds in 1987, one soli­tary car kept go­ing for 24 hours to give Porsche its sixth 956/962 Le Mans vic­tory (and sev­enth in a row).

Just as the 917 didn’t die, nei­ther did the 962. De­spite be­ing out­lawed from racing, Porsche found a loop­hole in the rules and helped Jochen Dauer en­ter his in­sane street-le­gal 962 into the 1994 24 Hours of Le Mans. It was in the same class as Vipers and F40s, but beat Toy­ota for over­all vic­tory.

Even that wasn’t quite the end, be­cause in crude terms the back half of the 962 was welded to the front of a 993-gen­er­a­tion 911 and en­tered at Le Mans in ’96. It never won (a Porsche-en­gined TWR pro­to­type run by a cer­tain Mr Joest took the che­quered flag that year, and again in ’97) but it was still vic­to­ri­ous in the GT1 cat­e­gory, fin­ish­ing sec­ond and third over­all.4

Try to for­get that your an­kles are right at the very front of a 956… Sticky Dun­lops got a mas­sive help­ing hand from groundeect aero

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