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Tuesday 3rd July 2012

PH Blog: Driving a Porsche 962

Harris drives up the FoS hill in a 256mph Le Mans legend



I'm trying to think of a car that better defines Porsche as a maker of racing cars than the Le Mans-winning 962 from 1987. It represents the company at a time when it was unquestionably the finest exponent of endurance racing on the planet. And, of course, it's a 962 in Rothmans livery - which makes it about 50 times cooler than some wheezing Audi diesel from this year's event.

A true Group C icon
A true Group C icon
I have now driven this piece of history, but sadly I can only tell you what it is like to drive up someone's driveway with cold tyres, cold brakes, a flint wall to whack and no real corners. I love the Festival of Speed, but driving priceless artifacts between straw bales and 10,000 people is actually a bit frustrating. Especially in the case of the 962, because even in this compromised environment it's abundantly clear that there's an amazing racing car lurking inside and what it really needs is a proper track and some space.

The '87 Le Mans winner is a long-tail car with tall gearing for the pre-chicane circuit. In qualifying it once hit the 8,500rpm rev-limiter in fifth gear, which according to Klaus Bischof who was among other 962 credentials Stefan Bellof's race engineer, equated to 410kph. That's 256mph.

Preparing to drive a piece of racing history
Preparing to drive a piece of racing history
You repeat that figure like a Ginsters Pasty when you climb inside a 962. The canopy-like screen allows plenty of light to flood in and the view forward is good. The thin GRP seat slides on a runner and as someone who really struggles to get comfortable in race cars, I can find the ideal position. Pedals are shunted a little left, the gearlever sits quite naturally in your right hand and the pedals operate like some kind of gymnasium equipment set to 120kg reps.

The twin-turbo 3.0-litre water-cooled flat six has around 650hp and the car weighs 850kg. Even by today's standards, those are silly numbers and confirmed when we leave the start line - even saddled with a vast Le Mans first gear it still leaves about 100 yards of rubber.

A 21st-century race car it is not...
A 21st-century race car it is not...
The steering wheel is large, the rack not-too-fast and the unassisted steering is just perfect once you're rolling. Pedal effort is very high and the accelerator needs a big push to make anything happen. When it does, you take notice. Boost rises from around 3,500rpm, then it just steams up to the 7,500rpm that represents the limits of my bravery. The next morning I would drive a 650hp Noble M600, and it felt like a Golf GTI after this thing.

In 1987 Porsche was under massive pressure from Jaguar in sports car racing, but a Le Mans win was still possible. Despite the ACO doling-out such poor fuel that four 962s retired with holed pistons, the Bell, Stuck, Holbert Rothmans car had its Motronic system adjusted to account for the fuel grade and it won as the Jaguars failed. It was the seventh consecutive Porsche Le Mans win.

Engine unopened since 1987  Le Mans
Engine unopened since 1987 Le Mans
As an object, this might be the most desirable car I've sat in or driven. Its livery is faded, the odd chunk is missing from the bodywork and the various rotary dials in the cabin have been hand-painted, while the dash flocking is slowly perishing. It smells of age, success and slowly-degrading lubricants.

But of all the stats about this car which make it so special - the unlikely victory, the livery, the drivers - one thing Herr Bischof mentions in passing underlines just how far ahead Porsche was in the endurance racing trade back then: the engine hasn't been opened since the race. It gets rolled-out for the odd event, summarily abused and it still feels terrifyingly strong. That alone must make this the most valuable 962 of all - works car with patina and original engine.

Now I just want to drive it somewhere fast and feel that ground effect at work.

Chris

Chris Harris
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Author Discussion

405dogvan

Original Poster:

4,327 posts

152 months

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Monday 2nd July 2012 quote quote all
Awesome car indeed...

soad

20,000 posts

63 months

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Monday 2nd July 2012 quote quote all
That's a beast.

We need a video.

C2james

4,609 posts

52 months

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Monday 2nd July 2012 quote quote all
It was pretty cool seeing this and the two 956.

suffolk009

1,518 posts

52 months

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Monday 2nd July 2012 quote quote all
You lucky man.

pwrc

2,269 posts

39 months

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Monday 2nd July 2012 quote quote all
monster.
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rohrl

5,383 posts

32 months

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Monday 2nd July 2012 quote quote all
What a privilege Chris, even if it's left you wanting more.

In Car 956 with Derek Bell is a fantastic DVD for anyone wanting to see the 956/962 in action at some great circuits. I've watched it loads of times and it's still amazing how fast they were.

Mastodon2

9,542 posts

52 months

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Monday 2nd July 2012 quote quote all
Great article, totally agreed on how cool these Group C cars were compared to the dull coal burners they have at Le Mans these days.

PascalBuyens

2,868 posts

169 months

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Monday 2nd July 2012 quote quote all
I've never been a Porsche fan, but for this...


Chris, I HATE YOU tongue out

Turbobanana

482 posts

88 months

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Monday 2nd July 2012 quote quote all
Dear God

Please may I return as Chris Harris when you've finished with me? Just so I can drive this car, you understand: I don't really want to be Chris Harris. Christ no.

Yours

TB

W00DY

7,857 posts

113 months

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Monday 2nd July 2012 quote quote all
Struggling to think of anything automotive I'd want to do more.

Biblically awesome.

bernhund

1,746 posts

80 months

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Monday 2nd July 2012 quote quote all
What a shockingly bad job you have Chris. If ever you fancy a change, just give me a shout and I'll do it for you coz I'm like that..I'll help anyone out in need!

nxi20

482 posts

92 months

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Monday 2nd July 2012 quote quote all
When Mike Wilds was instructing me at Donington the other month, he said he was doing 170ish MPH in a 962 at the bottom of Craner Curves just before he braked for Old Hairpin. bow

Would love to see one of these go round Donington! Got to love the old Group C cars - roll on Silverstone Classic later this month to see them on track again.

garypotter

823 posts

37 months

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Monday 2nd July 2012 quote quote all
Awesome car.

Why does everthing in Rothmans livery look so ruddy good, come on Rothmans, please start selling toilet rolls or something so that we can have your colours on race cars.

ps rothmans escort is one of my all time fave's

Chris Harris

489 posts

40 months

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Monday 2nd July 2012 quote quote all
Good point. What's the best Rothmans livery?

962 right up there.

I am captivated by the Manta 400 too.


drybeer

888 posts

112 months

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Monday 2nd July 2012 quote quote all
Now I'd really be interested in a feature for "Drive" in 1080p where you get to drive this at the 'ring Chris…

Any chance of persuading Porsche?

Yours hopefully...

Bahnstormer

798 posts

133 months

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Monday 2nd July 2012 quote quote all
Video.........

....or it didn't happen !!!!biggrin

jeremyc

12,204 posts

171 months

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Monday 2nd July 2012 quote quote all
Chris Harris said:
Good point. What's the best Rothmans livery?
More from the top of the hill at Goodwood. thumbup



JW911

788 posts

82 months

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Monday 2nd July 2012 quote quote all
drybeer said:
Now I'd really be interested in a feature for "Drive" in 1080p where you get to drive this at the 'ring Chris…

Any chance of persuading Porsche?

Yours hopefully...
Not Harris (or the 962) but here's DB in the Rothmans 956 at the Ring

coogy

877 posts

98 months

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Monday 2nd July 2012 quote quote all
drybeer said:
Now I'd really be interested in a feature for "Drive" in 1080p where you get to drive this at the 'ring Spa, Chris…

Any chance of persuading Porsche?

Yours hopefully...
Fixed :P

olly22n

13,842 posts

93 months

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