John Fitzpatrick on driving an 850bhp Porsche at Goodwood
John’s been flooring an awesome Le Mans racer at Goodwood and rekindling his respect for owners who compete in their prized classics to the limit
Iam writing this after spending the weekend at the Goodwood Festival of Speed and while preparing for the Silverstone Classic, two amazing events unsurpassed in the classic car world. At Goodwood I was invited to drive the 1978 Porsche 935 ‘Moby Dick’ Le Mans car – a car built specifically for the 24-hour race and designed with top speed down the Mulsanne Straight in mind, years before the chicanes were introduced.
It was powered by an 850bhp twin-cam, which is still in the car 40 years later. In 1978 it qualified 16 seconds a lap faster than the quickest customer 935, which I was driving for Georg Loos. The Moby Dick competed in only four races and was then consigned to Porsche’s museum.
I was at Goodwood to demonstrate the car to racing fans, so I drove it very circumspectly up the hill. However, I couldn’t resist flooring the throttle on the straight bits and enjoying that punch in the back plus the glorious sound of the six-cylinder 3.2-litre motor. It may have been 35 years since I drove a 935 in anger, but it felt like yesterday.
When I was running my own team in 1982 the Porsche 956 Group C car was announced and the factory entered three cars for Le Mans. The 956 was not available to private entrants until 1983, so for ’82 I commissioned Reinhold Joest to build a 935 using the Moby Dick factory drawings. We used the same aluminum tube frame and bodywork but with a 750bhp 3.2-litre 935 motor. We lost out on speed down the Mulsanne but finished a creditable fourth behind the three Rothmanssponsored 956s. Our car also competed in only four races and was destroyed at Riverside, where we lost our great friend Rolf Stommelen. Out of respect for Rolf we decided not to rebuild it.
I eagerly anticipated the Silverstone Classic, which this year featured 60 years of the British Touring Car Championship. My first BTCC race was for the Cooper Car Company in the works Mini Cooper, and the Silverstone organisers located a Mini for me to drive in this year’s parade.
The Classic is very special to me because it was one of my responsibilities as BRDC secretary. Stuart Graham put the event (then called the Historic Festival) on the map in 1990 and I took it on when I became secretary in 1993.
I got to know many of the owners and was genuinely surprised at how hard and competitively they raced. Most cars competing there are far more valuable than any of the supercars on sale today, yet they are driven on their limit. I found this out when I was offered a drive in some very exotic machines, as I disclosed last month.
Incidentally, I first raced a Mini in 1962 – it was my 850cc road car that I drove to and from the tracks. It was the only car I both owned and raced until starting my own team in 1981. That meant nearly 20 years of driving other people’s cars at their expense and getting paid for it. Happy days!
John’s been pleasing the crowd driving the Porsche 935 Moby Dick at the Goodwood Festival of Speed
John Fitzpatrick began his racing career in the British Saloon Car Championship, winning it in 1966. He was European GT Champion in 1972 and 1974, and became a team owner in 1981.