Classic Porsche - - Contents - Words: Keith Seume Pho­tos: Porsche Archiv

The story of Porsche’s at­tempt to break into the world of CART rac­ing

Porsche has a long his­tory of rac­ing sin­gle-seaters, go­ing back to the For­mula 1 and 2 cars of the late 1950s, be­fore turn­ing most of its at­ten­tion to sports car rac­ing. Fol­low­ing an un­suc­cess­ful foray into the world of Indy­car rac­ing in the 1970s, Porsche turned its at­ten­tion to the CART se­ries in the 1980s. Keith Seume takes a look at Porscheʼs at­tempts to dom­i­nate the world of Us-based open-wheel rac­ing, dis­cov­er­ing a tale of dreams un­ful­filled…

Bruised and bat­tered after the dis­ap­point­ment of fail­ing to break into the world of Indy­car rac­ing in the 1970s, and not hav­ing­made any re­cent at­tempts to ven­ture into For­mula One, Porsche had some se­ri­ous think­ing to do if it was to broaden its rac­ing hori­zons. What had­made the whole Indy­car episode such a bit­ter pill to swal­low was the way that the USbased ʻestab­lish­mentʼ seemed hell­bent on­mak­ing life im­pos­si­ble for­weis­sach.

Porsche was still de­ter­mined to make in­roads into the world of sin­gle-seater rac­ing and chose to pur­sue a dif­fer­ent chal­lenge fol­low­ing the Indy­car déba­cle. It was clear that the com­pa­nyʼs strength lay with engine de­sign, so a new ven­ture beck­oned: de­vel­op­ing and build­ing a new For­mula 1 engine.

Once again, after six suc­cess­ful years of build­ing tur­bocharged V6 en­gines un­der the TAG ( Tech­niques d’avant

Garde) um­brella, Porsche was side­lined by both TAG and the Mclaren race team when im­mi­nent rule changes for the 1989 sea­son forced them to re­con­sider the sit­u­a­tion.

Why did Mclaren pull away from Porsche? Surely Porsche could have de­vel­oped a suit­able engine to meet the new reg­u­la­tions? To put it sim­ply, Mclarenʼs new part­ner Honda was happy to give en­gines to the team – Porsche was not. The only pro­viso was that Mclaren sign a young up and com­ing driver by the name of Ayr­ton Senna…

Mean­while, back across the At­lantic, Al Hol­bert, Porscheʼs head of mo­tor­sport in the USA, sug­gested to Porsche of Amer­i­caʼs boss, Peter Schutz, that a re­turn to In­di­anapo­lis might be a good move. Although Ger­man-born, Schutz had been raised in the USA and needed lit­tle re­mind­ing of the im­por­tance of the open-wheel scene to the North Amer­i­can mar­ket. To­gether the two men hatched a plot…

The key de­ci­sion was whether Porsche should sim­ply sup­ply en­gines to an estab­lished team, as it had to Mclaren in F1, or start from scratch and build a car of its own de­sign. It was Hol­bert who made the strong­est ar­gu­ment for go­ing it alone: ʻPorsche should race at Indy with its own engine and chas­sis. Itʼs a tech­ni­cal chal­lenge typ­i­cal of what Porsche is ca­pa­ble of meet­ing. As in any rac­ing,ʼ Hol­bert con­tin­ued, ʻthe en­tire pack­age of car, team and driver wins the race.ʼ

It had been more than 40 years since any vol­ume man­u­fac­turer had won at Indy with a car of its own de­sign pow­ered by an engine of its own man­u­fac­ture. Maserati had been the vic­tor in 1940 and Porsche was keen to prove it could do the same in the 1980s.

Given the project num­ber Type 2708, Porscheʼs first at­tempt to build its very own sin­gle-seater for over two decades proved to be a prob­lem child. And it did­nʼt take long for CART to place a span­ner in the works. Porsche had learned a lot about chas­sis de­sign through its as­so­ci­a­tion with Mclaren and For­mula 1, ap­ply­ing this knowl­edge to the cre­ation of a car­bon-fi­bre mono­coque that met the 1984 CART reg­u­la­tions. But then CART changed its mind, and de­creed that all mono­co­ques should be built from alu­minium…

By mid-1985, work had pro­gressed on a new chas­sis de­sign to the point that at­ten­tion was now con­cen­trated on a suit­able engine. Dyno tests of a Cos­worth DFX engine (the in­dus­try stan­dard in CART) showed that to be com­pet­i­tive, Porscheʼs new engine would need to, at least, match the Uk-built V8ʼs 750+bhp and 380lb ft of torque.

Hans Mezger, Porscheʼs leg­endary in-house engine guru, chose to pur­sue the de­sign and build of a 90-de­gree V8 based on lessons learnt with the all-alu­minium engine in the 928, which would have the added ben­e­fit of be­ing suit­able for use in a chas­sis from ei­ther Lola or March, the two lead­ing chas­sis builders in CART rac­ing. It was also deemed im­por­tant to bear in mind the pos­si­ble use of a sim­i­lar engine in a fu­ture road car.

By the au­tumn of the same year, the board of man­age­ment fi­nally gave the project its full back­ing – much of the work up un­til this point had been car­ried out, if not in ʻse­cretʼ but cer­tainly in a rel­a­tively low-key man­ner. After the messy Indy­car ef­fort of half a decade ear­lier, keep­ing things be­low the radar was

prob­a­bly a wise move. The project num­ber, 2708, was de­rived from the ap­prox­i­mate swept vol­ume of the new engine (2.7-litre) and the num­ber of cylin­ders (8). The engine it­self was re­ferred to as the Type 2708/80.

Mezger and his team sat down and be­gan to ex­am­ine the CART rule book in de­tail. Past ex­pe­ri­ence had shown how fickle CART could be when it came to lay­ing down firm rules re­gard­ing engine spec­i­fi­ca­tion. This time Mezger and his team hoped to stay in step with CART, but it was­nʼt long be­fore the US gov­ern­ing body got up to its old tricks again.

The reg­u­la­tions cov­ered such mat­ters as what size tur­bocharger could be used, while a ʻcon­trolʼ pop-off valve set at 9.4psi would gov­ern how much boost could be pro­duced. And thatʼs when the fun started.

For 1988, the pro­posal was that a new pop-off valve should be in­tro­duced, lim­it­ing boost pres­sure to just 7.9psi. Com­pared to the fig­ures Porsche had been used to, this was chick­en­feed. Much of the de­vel­op­ment work on the new engine was based around the higher fig­ure, where the 2708/80 engine proved ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing far more im­pres­sive dyno fig­ures than the tried and tested Cos­worth DFX mo­tor. Buoyed by the suc­cess of the TAG race engine in For­mula 1, the men at Weis­sach were con­fi­dent of be­ing able to de­velop a Cart-le­gal V8 which would trounce any­thing of­fered by Cos­worth.

The re­sult was a 2649cc V8, with 88.2mm bore and 54.2mm stroke, the bore-to-bore di­men­sion of 110mm giv­ing plenty of room for fu­ture ex­pan­sion. The engine fea­tured wet lin­ers, of forged alu­minium coated with Nikasil. These were slipped into an alu­minium engine block. The crankshaft, a ful­ly­coun­ter­weighted forg­ing by Alf­ing Kessler, was a ʻflat-crankʼ de­sign, with the 46mm rod jour­nals at 180 de­gree in­ter­vals.

At the front (nose) of the crankshaft, a pair of gears drove the dual oil pumps, while an­other set of gears drove the gear train which ro­tated the over­head camshafts (two per bank of cyl­nders). There were four valves per cylin­der, with a sin­gle cen­trally-lo­cated spark plug fir­ing the mix­ture. To take into ac­count the use of methanol fuel, and the rel­a­tively low turbo boost lev­els, the com­pres­sion ra­tio was ini­tially set at 11.0:1, but rose to 12.0:1 by 1988.

The prob­lem which Mezger and his team faced was that CART im­posed some pretty re­stric­tive rules in an ef­fort to bring about a level play­ing field be­tween the teams. Or, as oth­ers saw

it, rules to stop Porscheʼs en­gi­neers steam­rol­ler­ing their way through the op­po­si­tion. First was a ban on in­ter­cool­ers of any kind, some­thing which Porsche had made good use of for many years. Then came a ban on pres­sure by­pass sys­tems, which help keep a tur­bocharger spooled up even when the throt­tle is closed, thereby re­duc­ing turbo lag.

The Cart-sup­plied pop-off valve meant that Porscheʼs en­gi­neers needed to re­strict the speed with which boost rose when the throt­tle was floored, for ex­am­ple when ex­it­ing a cor­ner. The prob­lem was that the valve could open pre­ma­turely as boost in­creased rapidly, re­sult­ing in a sud­den fall off in power.

The an­swer was to in­stall an elec­tron­i­cally-con­trolled waste­gate which al­lowed the pre­cise con­trol of boost pres­sure. De­vel­oped by Bosch, it formed part of the Motronic engine man­age­ment pack­age, which also con­trolled the ig­ni­tion sys­tem and the sup­ply of methanol fuel. Fuel was in­jected at the rate of over two gal­lons per minute at wide-open throt­tle, and was sup­plied via a pair of in­jec­tors in each in­let tract, down­stream of each in­di­vid­ual throt­tle body. An­other ben­e­fit of the Mo­toronic man­age­ment sys­tem was that it al­lowed the use of teleme­try, feed­ing in­for­ma­tion about up to 30 dif­fer­ent pa­ram­e­ters back to en­gi­neers in the pits.

The new project was launched to a hun­gry au­di­ence in New York in Fe­bru­ary 1987. Peter Schutz an­nounced that, fol­low­ing planned tests that sum­mer, the new cars would ap­pear at the three fi­nal rounds of the CART cham­pi­onship later that year. At 6.14pm on 16th Septem­ber 1987, all was ready. Race en­gi­neer and test driver Roland Kuss­maul re­called, ʻFor the pre­vi­ous two weeks, we had been get­ting sev­eral phone calls a day from jour­nal­ists, the Porsche press of­fice, peo­ple within the in­dus­try gen­er­ally and from col­leagues in other de­part­ments, all ask­ing the same ques­tion: “When is the roll-out?”.ʼ

De­lays were caused by the late ar­rival of var­i­ous out-sourced com­po­nents, the wheel rims be­ing the last to ar­rive from Italy. But fi­nally all was ready for the first tests of the com­pleted car.

Kuss­maul, a vet­eran of the Paris-dakar Rally in a 959, was the driver on this oc­ca­sion, com­plet­ing two laps of the Weis­sach track in front of a select au­di­ence. ʻI was in­cred­i­bly pleased to be the first per­son to drive the car,ʼ said Kuss­maul. ʻFor me, it was a truly fas­ci­nat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, a great mo­ment in my life…ʼ

The choice of Roland Kuss­maul as the test driver ap­pears slightly strange in hind­sight as he had never driven a sin­gle­seater of any type be­fore, let alone a thro­r­ough­bred such as the Type 2708. ʻI had no ex­pe­ri­ence of driv­ing a car like this,ʼ he re­calls. ʻFor ex­am­ple, the oil pres­sure might have dropped too low and dam­aged the engine. I would have been fu­ri­ous with my­self if I had failed to recog­nise some­thing like that… It is­nʼt easy to con­cen­trate on the track, the new car and the in­stru­ments, and at the same time ob­serve ev­ery de­tail of the carʼs be­hav­iour.ʼ

There was an amus­ing tale re­lated to the roll-out. Many of the in­sid­ers ex­pressed sur­prise at how re­strained the new engine sounded – the ex­haust note was deeper than ex­pected, and seemed al­most muf­fled com­pared to sim­i­lar units. Kuss­maul ex­plained: ʻWe soon dis­cov­ered the root of the trou­ble. There were four elec­tri­cal units which sup­plied cur­rent to the ig­ni­tion coils. Two of them were built into the main con­trol unit. The orig­i­nal plan was to fit only two of the units, but this was changed at the last minute, and two new units were fit­ted ex­ter­nally.

ʻWhen we in­spected the engine closely the next day, we no­ticed that the two new units were sus­pi­ciously light, far lighter than was nor­mally the case. It tran­spired that we had fit­ted two dum­mies, empty cas­ings which Bosch had sent us to try out for size on the wooden mock-up!ʼ The noise the spec­ta­tors had heard was, in fact, a four-cylin­der engine run­ning at 9000rpm, not the full-on V8. No won­der it sounded muted…

The carʼs first out­ing was set for 11th Oc­to­ber at La­guna Seca, but first an ex­haus­tive pe­riod of test­ing lay ahead. Kuss­maul knew he was­nʼt the ideal per­son to get the best from the car, and ex­pressed his re­lief when Mario An­dretti was flown in to take over. How­ever, the ex­pe­ri­enced Indy­car driver shared his pre­de­ces­sorʼs con­cerns about sev­eral as­pects of the car, most no­tably tyres and chas­sis set-up. In the end, Nor­bert Singer sug­gested try­ing a sec­ondary wing at the rear, ahead of


the main spoiler. It worked, trans­form­ing the carʼs way­ward char­ac­ter in an in­stant.

Back in the hands of Kuss­maul, the 2708 was only driven a fur­ther 750 kilo­me­tres in test­ing, which was­nʼt re­ally enough ahead of its first out­ing at La­guna Seca. There was a test ses­sion in Port­land, Ore­gon, where old hand Al Unser was to give the car the once-over. Unser had ironed out bugs for the new Cos­worth DFX when it was re­leased, as well as tested Chevro­letʼs CART en­gines.

Unser, how­ever, was re­strained in his com­ments after driv­ing the car, point­ing out that heʼd hardly had time to get to grips with it. But there had been time for the engine to dis­play teething prob­lems: a bro­ken camshaft as a re­sult of a failed petrol pump (the dual pumps were driven off the camshafts). More se­ri­ously, the new Porsche was some six sec­onds a lap slower than Geoff Brab­hamʼs March Honda.

When the car ar­rived at La­guna Seca a few days later, news of the test had al­ready reached the ears of ri­val teams. The car was sur­rounded by in­quis­i­tive on­look­ers, all keen to learn the ʻse­cretsʼ of the new Porsche. Nor­mally this would have been grounds for the car to be whisked away, safely out of sight, but Nor­bert Singer shrugged his shoul­ders and said ʻSince we are slower than ev­ery­one else, thereʼs noth­ing for them to copy.ʼ

The first timed ses­sions placed Unser way down in 21st place – hardly the kind of per­for­mance Porsche was used to. The engine was fine and still had plenty in re­serve, but the chas­sis was lack­ing. It proved dif­fi­cult to get the car to hook up out of cor­ners, while it also showed a propen­sity for un­der­steer when en­ter­ing the two sharp bends at La­guna Seca. ʻPer­haps we should have fit­ted a lim­ited-slip dif­fer­en­tial,ʼ pon­dered Singer. In­stead, the 2708 had the usual ʻspoolʼ, which only served to ex­ac­er­bate mat­ters.

Come race day and no­body re­ally ex­pected too much of the car, or its driver. Unser was brief in his con­ver­sa­tions with jour­nal­ists: ʻWhat else can you ex­pect if you use a race for test­ing pur­poses?ʼ After just seven laps, the new car with Unser at the wheel splut­tered to a halt in front of the pits, a sud­den loss of fuel pres­sure bring­ing about its early demise. What caused this was­nʼt clear, but it was also dis­cov­ered that the wa­ter pump was leak­ing, which would prob­a­bly have caused over­heat­ing prob­lems later in the race.

The car was flown back to Weis­sach in an ef­fort to get to grips with its many short­com­ings, both in terms of engine re­li­a­bil­ity and chas­sis de­vel­op­ment. There was too lit­tle time to make any ma­jor changes ahead of the next race, just two weeks later at Sebring, in Florida, but Nor­bert Singer did have his way with the in­stal­la­tion of a lim­ited-slip dif­fer­en­tial in an ef­fort to con­trol the un­der­steer.

A dis­agree­ment with Al Unser over his wish to drive a Penske March in a sup­port race led to Porsche dis­pens­ing with his ser­vices, Al Hol­bert tak­ing charge in­stead. But things were still not right, and Hol­bertʼs qual­i­fy­ing lap times were al­most five sec­onds slower than those of An­dretti in a Lo­laChevro­let. This placed the Porsche in 29th po­si­tion out of 33 en­tries. Un­for­tu­nately only the first 28 cars were el­i­gi­ble to start the race…

Singer ap­peared philo­soph­i­cal about the sit­u­a­tion but in­wardly must have been dis­ap­pointed. His team had a few months to ready the car for the first race of the 1988 sea­son but it was clear the ma­jor prob­lem was the chas­sis. It lacked tor­sional rigid­ity.

With the de­par­ture of Unser, and Hol­bert be­ing lit­tle more than a tem­po­rary stand-in, ef­forts were made to find a new driver. Jochen Maas of­fered his ser­vices, but Porsche had other plans for him in the long term. Mass did as­sist with test­ing at both Weis­sach and Paul Ri­card, which in­cluded driv­ing a Lo­laCos­worth for com­par­i­son, but Ital­ian Teo Fabi was the man fi­nally cho­sen to take over as team driver.

One of Fabiʼs first jobs was to drive both the Porsche-built 2708 and a March chas­sis fit­ted with the 2708/80 engine. A de­ci­sion to use the 1988 sea­son as an ex­tended test ses­sion gave the team the lux­ury of try­ing a num­ber of ideas at what amounted to be a late stage in pro­ceed­ings.

The process of in­stalling the Porsche engine in the March chas­sis was far from straight­for­ward and the pro­to­type racer suf­fered oil pres­sure prob­lems caused by oil surge brought about by the greater cen­trifu­gal forces gen­er­ated by the new chas­sis. Fabi tried his best to re­main sto­ical, re­mind­ing peo­ple how long it had taken Honda to get to grips with For­mula 1.

All eyes were on In­di­anapo­lis – a good show­ing here would do won­ders for Porscheʼs rep­u­ta­tion in North Amer­ica. The March-chas­sised 2708 showed prom­ise in test­ing but, on the day, it all went wrong be­cause of a sim­ple er­ror in pit crew sig­nalling. One mis­read hand ges­ture brought about the demise of Porscheʼs ef­forts at the Brick­yard.

After qual­i­fy­ing 17th on the grid, Fabi pit­ted on lap 34 while the field was un­der cau­tion. Un­for­tu­nately Steve Erick­son, head me­chanic of the Quaker State-backed team, gave Fabi the sig­nal to exit the pits a mo­ment too soon: the left rear wheel had­nʼt yet been prop­erly se­cured.

As a con­se­quence, the wheel be­came de­tached as Fabi nailed the throt­tle along the pit lane. The er­rant wheel and tyre bounced off into the dis­tance, leav­ing Fabi stranded. It was a sad end as, prior to the pit stop, Fabi had made his way up to ninth po­si­tion (heʼd ac­tu­ally been as high as fifth, due to pit stops by ri­val teams). Some­how, this sce­nario seemed to epit­o­mise Porscheʼs show­ing in Cart/indy­car.

Through­out the 1988 sea­son, Fabi drove well, but the re­sults were un­spec­tac­u­lar. The best show­ing was at Nazareth, where the green and white 2708 fin­ished fourth after hav­ing led the field for a cou­ple of laps. But a week later, the team suf­fered a ma­jor blow when arch-sup­porter Al Hol­bert was killed in a light air­craft crash.

1989 saw a change in per­son­nel, with Hel­mut Flegl placed in charge of the rac­ing ef­fort, his past ex­pe­ri­ence with Roger Penske while run­ning the Can-am 917s prov­ing in­valu­able. Also added to the team was Brit Der­rick Walker, Penskeʼs for­mer man­ager and some­one who would be a use­ful ʻgo-be­tweenʼ twixt Porsche and the CART or­gan­i­sa­tion. Join­ing him was Tony Ci­cale, aero­dy­nam­i­cist and for­mer race en­gi­neer to Mario An­dretti.

All eyes were now fo­cused on the 1989 sea­son, the Indy 500 be­ing the race on which all hopes were pinned. Sadly, once again, the Indy curse was to strike, with Fabi – who qual­i­fied 13th – be­ing forced to re­tire with ig­ni­tion prob­lems after just 23


laps. This was a ma­jor blow to morale, even though the rest of the sea­son was rea­son­ably sat­is­fy­ing. The Quaker State MarchPorsche ended the sea­son with one out­right vic­tory (Mid-ohio), two sec­onds, a third and five fourth places.

The 1990 sea­son looked set to be ʻthe oneʼ, with March de­vel­op­ing a new chas­sis – the 90P – and Fabi joined by new driver, John An­dretti. The chas­sis was real state of the art, and fol­lowed the pro­posed 1990 CART rule book to the let­ter. The mono­coque was fab­ri­cated out of car­bon-fi­bre com­pos­ite and built specif­i­cally to work with the Porsche-de­signed 2708/80 engine.

But, in an amaz­ing turn­about, CART sud­denly an­nounced that the car­bon-fi­bre chas­sis would not be el­i­gi­ble be­cause of ʻsafety con­cernsʼ. This was, of course, com­plete bunkum. The real rea­son was that Penske (and Lola) had been de­vel­op­ing its own car­bon-com­pos­ite chas­sis, but it was­nʼt ready for the new sea­son. No­body at CART wanted to up­set the al­lAmer­i­can Penske op­er­a­tion, and who re­ally cared if the Ger­man ʻup­startsʼ had their noses put out of joint?

March re­designed the chas­sis so it could be built from alu­minium hon­ey­comb, but this meant a lengthy de­lay be­fore any test­ing could be car­ried out. At its first race in Phoenix, it was ob­vi­ous the car was lit­tle bet­ter than the pre­vi­ous year ʼs, prov­ing un­re­spon­sive to aero­dy­namic changes, so the race was run us­ing a pair of 1989 chas­sis.

At In­di­anapo­lis, the new chas­sis was pressed into ser­vice and the car ap­peared at the Brick­yard wear­ing the colours of new Aus­tralian-based spon­sors, Fos­ter ʼs Lager. An­dretti just squeezed into the top ten in qual­i­fy­ing, but Fabi was way down the field, in 23rd place.

The race it­self was an­other dis­as­ter, An­dretti kiss­ing the wall on lap 135, end­ing the race clas­si­fied in 21st po­si­tion, while Fabiʼs March-porsche suf­fered trans­mis­sion fail­ure on lap 162, at which point he was clas­si­fied as fin­ish­ing in a lowly 18th po­si­tion.

The 1990 sea­son was a dis­ap­poin­ment from be­gin­ning to end. The best re­sult for Fabi was a pole po­si­tion at Den­ver and a soil­i­tary podium fin­ish at New Jer­sey. The cars were un­der­de­vel­oped, over­weight and best de­scribed as lack­lus­tre in per­for­mance. It was not what peo­ple – es­pe­cially the board – had come to ex­pect of Porsche.

It came as no great sur­prise, then, that the plug was fi­nally pulled on Porscheʼs CART ef­forts at the end of the sea­son. There had been moves to use a Lola chas­sis, but there were no funds to pur­sue this av­enue of de­vel­op­ment, and Flegl felt he was­nʼt in the best of po­si­tions to ask for more.

For Porsche, this was a costly and, frankly, em­bar­rass­ing pe­riod in its rac­ing his­tory. Per­haps, said the pun­dits, Porsche should have stuck to en­durance rac­ing. And maybe they were right. CP

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