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

Author: Chris Harris

Get it off your chest...

74 comments on this story

Last comment was by paul0843
on 5th July 2012