Nor­bert Singer

We catch up with Nor­bert Singer at Sound Nacht in Stuttgart as the leg­endary Porsche en­gi­neer is re­united with some of his great­est hits

Total 911 - - 911 Hero: Norbert Singer - Writ­ten by Kyle For­tune Pho­tog­ra­phy cour­tesy Porsche Ar­chive

There’s a row of 13 Porsche road and race cars gath­ered in the un­der­ground park­ing area out­side the Stuttgart arena, their engines be­ing fired up one by one to warm them over be­fore they’ll be pa­raded in front of nearly 4,000 peo­ple as part of Porsche’s an­nual Sound Night. Among the cars, Röhrl, Ickx, Bell, Stuck, Attwood, Singer, Lieb, Linge, Man­they and Her­rmann all min­gle, the peo­ple who drove and en­gi­neered these leg­endary ma­chines as iconic as the cars them­selves. It’s a who’s who of Porsche’s rac­ing his­tory, but here we sin­gle out Nor­bert Singer, a man in­stru­men­tal in the suc­cess of al­most ev­ery car here.

Nor­bert Singer started his ca­reer with Porsche. His fa­ther wasn’t happy about it, say­ing such a small com­pany was likely to go the same way as so many oth­ers at the time – out of busi­ness – but Singer wanted to work there, and specif­i­cally in the rac­ing depart­ment. Had he missed a phone call, Porsche’s rac­ing his­tory could have been so dif­fer­ent; Singer hadn’t re­ceived a let­ter say­ing he’d been of­fered a job, and was promptly called to ask why he wasn’t in on his first day. He made it in for his sec­ond. He’s typ­i­cal of a Ger­man en­gi­neer: hum­ble when talk­ing about his achieve­ments, a com­pany man to the core, al­ways de­scrib­ing the ef­forts of the en­tire team.

“For me it’s nice to see these old cars again, and the best is these cars are run­ning,” says Singer, as we escape the sound of old race engines start­ing and the heady aroma of burnt hy­dro­car­bons fill­ing the air. Mo­tor­sport and Porsche are in­trin­si­cally linked, Singer ad­mit­ting that with­out it Porsche might not be around to­day. “The mo­tor­sport of Porsche helped to keep them alive. You look at other com­pa­nies, es­pe­cially in Ger­many, there were com­pa­nies that did a lit­tle mo­tor­sport, but not much. They were even big­ger than Porsche were in the States and they didn’t sur­vive. I think the key is mo­tor­sport for Porsche. This is im­por­tant.”

Singer’s in­flu­ence in that can’t be over­stated. In over 34 years as Porsche’s tech­ni­cal boss Singer over­saw some of the most recog­nis­able and suc­cess­ful cars in Porsche’s rac­ing his­tory, from the Car­rera RSRS and 935s of the 1970s and 1980s, to the 956/962 that dom­i­nated in the 1980s and 1990s, to the 911 GT1. For a small com­pany the suc­cess of these cars is in­cred­i­ble. “I think our flex­i­bil­ity was that we were quite a small com­pany. Of course, you don’t have these re­sources like big ones, but we were fast enough to help find so­lu­tions for prob­lems we had, and then you are in a small team. You’re still a team, and when you get big­ger and big­ger, then you get an or­gan­i­sa­tion. And this is dif­fer­ent,” he ex­plains.

Even in the com­pany’s worst days for sales, Singer says, “Porsche made mo­tor­sport. I

think this is im­por­tant, and this was only pos­si­ble with only a hand­ful of peo­ple. You don’t need any meet­ings or pa­per­work; you just meet them some­where and say, ‘Wait a minute, we have to talk,’ and then you make a de­ci­sion.”

The 911 is core to that. “I think the 911 was a very good road car,” Singer ad­mits, “but, in par­al­lel, it was do­ing ral­lies, it was do­ing rac­ing. And then it stepped up by rac­ing more power, wider tyres and again, the high­est level was

Moby Dick, which was, well, looks not re­ally like a 911, but is a 911 at its core.” That essence, that link be­tween road and race cars is im­por­tant, the old adage win on Sun­day sell on Mon­day some­thing of a core be­lief within the com­pany and Singer him­self.

Moby Dick may have been an ex­treme rep­re­sen­ta­tion of that, but what fol­lowed in the 1990s would be even more rad­i­cal. With rac­ing reg­u­la­tions cham­pi­oning the GT1 class in en­durance rac­ing, Porsche’s con­tender would take the 911 to an­other level. “When we started the GT1 we had the orig­i­nal 911 chas­sis,” ex­plains Singer. “We tried pre­vi­ously in the old days to make a mid-en­gine car, but the reg­u­la­tions didn’t al­low it. But, in GT1, you could make a road car, then you make a mid-en­gine car and then you can have what you want. So again, when you look at the GT1 in 1998, it’s not re­ally a 911, but it’s the spirit of the 911. I think some­times you don’t see, but you feel this is the spirit of the 911 still in it. It doesn’t mat­ter if the en­gine is be­fore or be­hind the rear axle.”

As in­stru­men­tal and hugely suc­cess­ful as the 911 race cars were in Singer’s ca­reer, it’s the 956 and 962 era he looks back at most fondly. “The 956 in 1982 when we won, one, two, three. This is the ab­so­lute high­light. It was com­pletely un­ex­pected for us,” says Singer. “We de­vel­oped the car in nine months. Then we did some test­ing and, of course, you learn a lot, you learn the car, and then there was no pos­si­bil­ity do­ing longdis­tance run­ning. We just had some test­ing. We added up all the mileage and then we said, ‘OK, for an­other ten hours we put it on the drums just to test the en­gine, gear­box and that’s it.’ And then we went to Le Mans. There were some ques­tion marks, and I re­mem­ber it when peo­ple asked, ‘What do you think about win­ning the race?’ We didn’t talk about win­ning. I thought first let’s run 18 hours and then we will see who is left.”

He de­scribes time tak­ing for­ever at Le Mans, laugh­ing about it now, but say­ing the last hour was al­ways the long­est, with the driv­ers say­ing they’re hear­ing things, the worry that the cars won’t fin­ish al­ways present. He can em­pathise with the pain Toy­ota re­cently had at Le Mans: “As an en­gi­neer you must be re­al­is­tic. You know what you have done and you say, ‘Okay, even if you’ve cov­ered 100 per cent dis­tance you can never be sure.’ You saw it with Toy­ota; they tested ev­ery­thing, but this can still hap­pen. These is­sues you must have in mind. And when you en­ter the last hour at Le Mans, you say ‘OK, one hour, but urgh.’”

That’s an hour Singer knows only too well, with 16 Le Mans vic­to­ries to his name over 29 sea­sons. To­day, Singer’s happy to see Porsche win­ning again, rac­ing still clearly a core within the com­pany. He’s cer­tain too, in an un­cer­tain fu­ture for the au­to­mo­bile, that Porsche will re­main true to its his­tory, push­ing bound­aries through rac­ing, and of course win­ning.

“I think the key is mo­tor­sport for Porsche. This is im­por­tant”

BE­LOW The Turbo RSR was a wild re­make of the 911, but the 956 and 962 was Singer’s proud­est cre­ation

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