With more than 1400 Porsches racing, on display or simply parked at Laguna Seca, every marque fanatic could find something to drool over
At Laguna Seca with a whole load of Porsches
BIGGEST ISN’T ALWAYS BEST. But sometimes it is. Sometimes size really does matter. It did for the fifth iteration of the Porsche Rennsport Reunion – this time themed as The Legends of Le Mans – a factory-organised gathering of the Stuttgart-based maker’s race cars, race drivers, road car owners, friends, family and general Porsche enthusiasts.
The event, held at the Laguna Seca Raceway in California (and bathed in temperatures that British tabloid headline writers might describe as scorching but which the locals simply describe as ‘Fall’), was billed as the world’s largestever assembly of Porsches; the claim was borne out by the reality, as there was so much to see during Rennsport’s three days that it was almost overwhelming.
Within Laguna Seca’s main enclosure, representatives of Porsche’s various road cars were partitioned into model-specific ‘corrals’ and, of the 1400 owners who’d applied to park there as part of the Porsche Club of America’s 60th anniversary, it looked as though 1800 had showed up. If you’re having trouble imagining what that number of cars looks like, picture standing at one end of the car park and staring towards the farthest car, and having pretty much your whole field of vision filled with Porsches.
And that was just the air-cooled 911s corral… Other Porsches, from early 356s to the very latest 918 Spyder hybrids, were liberally distributed throughout the outside car parks and well worth the extra legwork to go beyond the main fences to see them. As a statement of Porsche’s success in the US sports car market, the car parks told a compelling story.
And that was just the road cars… The race cars were less numerous yet made an even greater spiritual impact. The
Rennsport Reunion V programme listed 320 that were taking to the track to compete in seven different race classes; many other competition cars were there on static display. When on the Saturday afternoon practically the whole paddock grouped together to head trackwards for a few exhibition laps, the sight, sound and smell were intoxicating. Unsilenced exhausts and unburnt hydrocarbons were in the vanguard of a visceral assault on your senses, and if your eyes weren’t stinging too much from the fumes, it took a few moments for your brain to process the fact that what you were looking at was every iconic Porsche race car ever made, streaming past close enough to crush your toes.
Everywhere you turned there was another Porsche 917 – a baker’s dozen of what many regard as the quintessential Porsche racing car rocked up for Rennsport, some direct from the Porsche Museum, the others from private collectors, and one of which had upstaged Steve McQueen in a certain Hollywood classic.
If 917s seemed commonplace at Laguna Seca, so too did legendary racing drivers, who at Porsche’s invitation attended Rennsport in big numbers. Among the most recognisable was Octane columnist Derek Bell, who joined ten other Porsche Le Mans winners in signing autographs for an exceptionally patient and appreciative crowd – at times the queue was two hours long, and that was after some folk had already queued for at least an hour to buy a piece of memorabilia for their heroes to sign.
Porsche had rolled out the red carpet for 50 drivers, including Hans Herrmann, Richard Attwood, Hurley Haywood, Jacky Ickx, Gijs van Lennep, Vic Elford, Hans-Joachim Stuck, Jochen Mass and Vern Schuppan; they wore polo shirts and lanyards proclaiming them to be ‘Legends’, which although possibly true seemed vaguely embarrassing to some.
Also on hand was a troupe of Porsche’s current World Endurance Championship drivers, most prominent of whom was, inevitably, ex-F1 star Mark Webber. While you wouldn’t want him not to be there, the glare of publicity bouncing off the lantern-jawed Aussie blinded you to the fact that two of the 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours overall winners were also present – the young rookie Earl Bamber and cheeky chappie Nick Tandy.
We were fortunate enough to have Tandy take us on a lighthearted pit garage tour of some Le Mans-winning Porsches, where he expressed his fondness for the
‘If 917s seemed commonplace at Laguna Seca, so too did legendary racing drivers’
Rothmans-liveried 962C Group C monster as raced twice to Le Mans glory by his childhood hero – a certain Derek Bell…
Even the races at Rennsport were super-sized: a couple of the grids had to squeeze in 36 cars apiece. As a consequence the practice, qualifying and racing sessions took up the full three days, so as a spectator you couldn’t fail to see your favourite racing Porsche in action on the track at some stage or other.
Of the seven race groups, only one was a pukka championship event with like-for-like cars – the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA. The other six races saw entrants grouped into roughly similar eras or genres, but with a spread of cars that wouldn’t be natural competitors in regular circumstances – for instance, in the Carrera Trophy a fairly stock-looking 1974 911 Carrera was slugging it out against several 935 endurance racers from the late 1970s and early 1980s, while in the Gmünd Cup the numerous iterations of the 356 had a Porsche Formula B singleseater zipping along in their ranks, too.
Not that these inequalities proved a handicap to competitive spirit, even if some drivers’ hard-charging enthusiasm wasn’t always matched by a corresponding level of talent. Yet at the pointy end of the pack the pros and gentlemen racers diced and dived with all the gusto of the Goodwood Revival brigade, and often in cars of comparable rarity and value to those attending the West Sussex event. Without doubt the Rennsport Reunion V lived up to its self-proclaimed billing as the world’s biggest Porsche event. But it was about so much more than sheer size. The breadth and diversity of cars there was a magical history tour through Porsche’s competition catalogue, from way back when until right up to date: even those ambivalent to the marque would have seen something at Rennsport that triggered a heart-warming motor sport memory, such has been the consistency and prominence of Porsche on the world’s race tracks over the past 60 or more years. And for Porsche fans it was hard to know where to look next. For three solid days. Whether you were glancing at the track, the paddock, the corrals or the car parks.
Pity the poor sods within Porsche who by now must already be sketching out preliminary plans for the Rennsport Reunion VI. Even matching what took place at Laguna Seca will be a mighty task.