You'd be excused for not knowing what Porsche Restoracing is; easily done, given the proliferation of Porsche championships out there, and the fact that not much fuss has been made about it. Hopefully, however, the recent Porsche restoration competitions will be easier to recall, wherein Official Porsche Centres were tasked with sourcing a car significant to that year - there was 40 years of transaxle cars, and the same anniversary for Turbos and Targas - and restoring it to a former glory. Best one wins a prize, and honour amongst the network.
Restoracing takes it one step further. Launched last year to mark 20 years of the 986 Boxster, it again tasked dealers with sourcing and restoring a car, only now for motorsport. In 2018 there were 15 entries across 18 OPCs, with that number bolstered by one extra for 2019. There's hope that for next year the series can be opened up beyond the network to further pack out the grids. For now it's the dealers and their heritage-liveried cars, from Glasgow to Bournemouth, competing across five race weekends in 2019: Donington, Brands Hatch GP, Silverstone GP, Brands Hatch Indy and Oulton Park International.
PH's involvement? An invite to drive at three of the rounds, in the incredible hippie 917-021 homage; built by Premier Panel Skills at Farnham to a gorgeous standard (so good, in fact, that it won the Body and Paint award in 2018), the number 35 car was actually used in the original Restoracing launch film. Now it was my turn to drive it. To race it, no less, at a circuit I've never raced at before. With Jamie from PPS, one of their racers from last year, watching on with the team. All of whom had set off at 4am. PistonHeads logos are lovingly painted over the car. Pressure? Yep, I should say so.
Every Restoracing Boxster begins life as a Gen 1 986 S. The 3.2-litre engine and six-speed gearbox are untouched, with racing modifications limited to a roll cage, racing seat with harnesses, Pirelli Trofeo R tyres and a more aggressive EBC brake pad and braided lines. For 2019 the cars are running with some suspension upgrades, too, comprised of JRZ springs and dampers plus new front arms to increase the negative camber. Certainly focussed enough for some motorsport fun, then, if not so prohibitively expensive that they'll handicap the expansion plans.
Certainly it seemed bob on during a very brief test at the Porsche Experience Centre test track last month, feeling for all the world how a GT Boxster might have 20 years ago - loud, engaging, exciting. But between then and race day, I only sat in the car to double-check the seating position. No testing, no track days, nothing. Having never raced at Donington - and with recent experience limited to lapping a VXR8 there and filming a video in appalling rain - the nerves were somewhere between mild trepidation and outright terror. Nothing like identical cars to show up any deficits in ability, after all. What if I'm miles off the pace? What if I get a gearshift wrong? What about that stunning paintwork?
The qualifying plan was pretty simple: go out, get two laps in to ensure a grid position, pit to check tyre pressures were where they should be, continue for rest of the session to see if things could be improved. The pressures were fine, the conditions were perfect and the car felt sweet, though in my attempts to get some clear track (but still keep the quick cars in sight) I only ended up languishing in traffic. There was one decent qualifying lap, the only one in the 1:21s, but the #35 hippy car was third. Third!
There's no point pretending otherwise: I was ecstatic. Miles off Ben McLoughlin in the Bournemouth car on pole, but just seven hundredths off Ollie Coles' Swindon car in second. The car felt fantastic, with more to come from it, and the race could hardly come soon enough...
Like waiting to meet a new partner's parents, preparing for a race never, ever gets any less nerve wracking. However many times it happens. There's still the fear about doing something wrong, embarrassing yourself in front of people and not giving a good account of yourself, however much people have talked you up, when the pressure is on. And there's the fear of being shouted at. With hours between qualifying and race one, the anxiety was unbearable. I'd eat only to feel sick again, drink only to have to wee again, try to make conversation only to lose concentration again. Whatever you do beforehand and whoever you're with, getting ready for a race is a lonely, intimidating business.
We were in the holding area for aeons, sweating in Nomex and pretending we knew what we were talking about when the microphone was poked in. Maybe that's just me. My aim for the race, truthfully and even with the qualifying position, was to finish and keep the car unscathed. Nothing like arriving and crashing to make a name for yourself.
Jamie says the car starts really well, though clearly he has a better knack of it than me. A combination of too many revs, too little clutch sympathy and a desperate desire not to stall mean the Boxster's tyres simply Catherine wheel off the start, all smoke and noise and very little forward motion. With first corner shenanigans out of the way, Ollie Coles spun at the Old Hairpin (given his pace, I can't help but be quite pleased at the time), leaving only Alistair Nelson in the Porsche Centre Wilmslow car between me and the third place I desperately wanted back.
I can't remember getting past. But I do recall putting in some laps to get clear of him with the job done. Then the Pink Pig, Wolverhampton's Will Heslop, running second, starts getting closer. Looking at the laps after (everybody does that, right?) shows those clear laps from four to ten are between 1:21.014 (joint quickest lap of the race) and 1:21.330, chipping away at the advantage as the minutes passed.
The half a dozen laps from then until the end were the most fantastic fun, desperately trying everything to get past while also trying not to ruin two perfectly presented Porsches. I tried lights on like it was the BTCC, feinting one way then the other to try and put him off under brakes and slipstreaming on the quick bits, but nothing fazed him, the swine. With some traffic towards the end my challenge was eventually stymied, but what racing. If I could just get past at some point in that second race...
Talk about misplaced confidence. As you've probably been able to tell from the pics, race two didn't exactly go to plan. Again I spoilt the start, too many revs again but then too drastic a lift. Having started fifth (the second fastest lap from qualifying dictating start position for the second race), I finish the first lap in sixth, with plenty to do.
But with more faith in the car from earlier in the day and determination to improve, I managed to make some progress. Within a couple of laps I was into third, back on the rump of the Pink Pig and adamant not to stay there. I knew where I was quicker by now, and parked the Boxster at the inside of the Goddards chicane to ensure he had to cede the place.
Second! Imagine that. Two podiums on the cards in my first race weekend at Donington. Only, of course, it wasn't to be. First time around in second place, I make a total Horlicks of coming down the Craner Curves. All day I was never quite sure what was working best on the left before the Old Hairpin - sometimes a lift, sometimes a brake - but, whatever I did that lap, I must have did it at the same time as turning the car, and it was backwards before you could say 'Boxster'. Balls. Despite a scorchingly hot day the grass was still super slippery; having skimmed across the gravel and stalled, the car started again but was making some horrible noises. With some gravel removed from the wheelarches though it felt back to its best, and we were back out with some lost places to regain.
A safety car ensured we didn't. As did my own impatience, throwing it off again in a stupidly desperate overtake a few laps later. We finished last, a lap down because of all the faff and with the day's earlier jubilation replaced with utter dejection and embarrassment. That I still secured the second quickest lap of the race on lap five, less than three tenths off Ben, is some compensation, but obviously I'd much rather swap that for the podium's second step. Silly boy.
Even that cock up can't take the shine off a great day's racing in a fantastic car. For a group who've never built a race car before, Jamie and the Premier Panel Skills team have done a superb job. There were battles throughout the field as well, from top to bottom, which is surely the very point of racing instead of sticking with track days. Of course it's difficult to fully extol the validity of a race series currently limited to Porsche dealerships - though there are other series these early Boxsters can be raced in. And they make great racing cars. As long as you remember where to brake, and where not to... More to come from Restoracing soon, and I'm told there will be a camera in next time, too. One more thing for me to worry about.
[Images: Dan Bathie]