Rennsport re­union

With more than 1400 Porsches rac­ing, on dis­play or sim­ply parked at La­guna Seca, ev­ery mar­que fa­natic could find some­thing to drool over

Octane - - CONTENTS - WORDS Brett Fraser AND PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

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.

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