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The Rennsport Archetype

Every four years Porsche gathers their most influential racing cars the world over. We follow 962-101 across the country from restoration to the racetrack.

Dyson Racing Porsche 962-101

When speaking with Rob Dyson, you get a sense of just how capable, present and dominant the Porsche 962 was in the world of prototype racing. For almost a decade, the Kevlar-bodied, aluminum monocoque — Porsche’s first, made of folded aluminum sheets riveted and glue-bonded together — prototype was racing worldwide from Group C to the American IMSA GTP series. Privateers took the $220,000 (in 1980s currency) 962 from the basement of Weissach to the watchful eyes of the world, besting most everyone along the way. With more than 50 wins in the GTP class, the 962 is considered one of the most dominant racecars ever constructed.

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962-101

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Dyson and the team were waiting for the right time to debut the car under the Dyson livery, knowing that they needed to do some work on the car to get to a point where they felt comfortable running in the IMSA Camel GTP series and at a competitive level. According to Dyson, the 962 as delivered to the team was already properly set up, but getting acclimated as a team to race the car was something entirely different. Their inaugural GTP event would come in late May at the Memorial Day Lime Rock race after becoming properly acquainted with their new turbocharged monster in some extra private, prerace testing.

 

The testing was necessary but not crucial as the team — six members strong, initially — would quickly learn along the way that their own input and in-house innovation improved the base 962 model to see off challenges from other Porsche teams, as well as major OEM rivals that entered GTP in the mid-’80s. Indeed, by experimenting with different aerodynamic setups, bigger wings, longer and short tails, larger inlets for cooling, and even front-mounted spoilers, Dyson carved out a niche as a team that pushed the design envelope in a relentless pursuit of performance. It was a fruitful and successful pairing: Dyson would eventually go on to buy and campaign chassis No. 120, 122 and 148, and the team co-developed its own DR-1 and DR-2 chassis during a Porsche 962 affiliation that spanned eight seasons.

 

“We never had a tunnel, we just kind of thought we ought to try something,” Dyson confesses. “We had some excellent intuitive engineering minds on our team, with firm mechanical backgrounds. So very soon after we started running 101, we started doing different brake setups, different hoods, scoops, air dams on the fenders…we had no real clear empirical data if it worked or not, but we just tried it anyway. It was kind of like cut and try.”

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Racer Revival

It would be unheard of now to buy a brand-new, never-raced (for team Dyson) prototype and campaign it midseason while working out the kinks — without seriously devoting months or years to testing and development. However, this was typical of the era. Teams were just learning how to handle Porsche’s turbocharged rocket and make the most out of its advanced technological platform.

 

“[Before racing the Porsche] we were running a GTO Pontiac, which was more of a prototype than the prototypes racing in GTP, because it was a one-off car by a builder in Connecticut,” Dyson notes. “We had to make substantial changes to it almost every weekend to make it work better. It never did come out right, but we got it better. In essence, we already were doing prototype racing without doing prototype racing [in GTO]. So I said, ‘Jeez, we might as well take a look at prototype racing,’ and I asked around to see what the story was with the 962s, which were the new cars.”

 

In order to adhere to stricter IMSA guidelines, the 962 was born from a modified 956 chassis with safety in mind. A longer wheelbase of 12 centimeters and a shorter nose allowed engineers to position the driver’s cockpit rearward, making their legs situated behind the front wheel centerline, which would potentially prevent catastrophic damage to flesh and bone.

 

Borrowed and adapted from Porsche’s abortive early 1980s IndyCar attempt, the 3.2-liter flat-six, 935-sourced motors used air-cooled cylinders with water-cooled heads, massaged by noted Porsche engine tuner ANDIAL. A single Kühnle, Kopp und Kausch (KKK) AG K36 turbo was used to produce around 1.2-1.4 bars (17.4-20.3 PSI) of boost. All of this culminated in roughly 680 horsepower around 8,200 rpm with around 1,900 pounds to push.

 

"The boost would get so high that it would literally pull the heads off the barrels. You would see combustion on the undertray."

 

A synchromesh five-speed dogleg transmission was used on the American 962, while over in Europe, the Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe (the now ubiquitous PDK) was being developed and used to great results. Bosch hopped onboard with Porsche to co-develop Motronic, and ANDIAL — named after principals Arnold Wagner, Dieter Inzenhofer and Alwin Springer — was building reliable and stout engines.

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Powertrain

“[We were] constantly going through suspension, brakes, uprights, diffs and transmissions,” Dyson says. “We didn’t have to change the engines that much because they were very reliable, and we were really running them hard.”

 

He adds, “You didn’t run 1.4 [bars] for very long, because the air-cooled engines, you didn’t want to run too high up. The boost would get so high that it would literally pull the heads off the barrels. You would see combustion on the undertray.”

 

One of the major issues — more of a steep learning curve — was the 962’s tendency for serious turbo lag. With the mechanical wastegates, Porsche and Bosch were always trying to eliminate lag with different tricks and methodologies, but it always remained with the car. “There was a lot of power, and man, it showed up in a hurry,” Dyson remembers.

 

“When we started running the Porsche, there was a sensation that this was a real racecar."

 

“In those days the lag was pretty significant. You could go into a corner and, depending on what corner it was, you put your foot to the floor as soon as you got off the brake [in order] to get through the corner to have the boost coming out for the straight.”

 

Mastering throttle lag became the way to control the 962’s tremendous power upon full boost.

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Drivetrain

The juxtaposition of the 962 was the way massive power, cornering, braking and speed were handled with this new aluminum chassis, which made it, according to the drivers, a sublime racing experience. Derek Bell is quoted as metaphorically comparing the 962 to a Rolls-Royce, commending the quiet and cooler cabin. Even Dyson, coming from the IMSA GTO class, immediately noticed its benefits.

 

“You knew right away that the car was really put together: well designed, terrific cockpit and great visibility,” Dyson says. “When we started running the Porsche, there was a sensation that this was a real racecar. And when you put your foot to the floor, it really went. And it really steered. And it really braked.”

 

Coming from the 956, the 962 excelled at almost everything right away, and it would be almost a decade later when the model was retired from IMSA. Though technically way beyond its prime, privateers engineered the car to perform even when new technology was passing it.

 

When they did finally debut it, Team Dyson took their 962 to a Cinderella race win at their home racetrack at Lime Rock Park, with Drake Olson at the helm. It’s fitting that 30 years after that race, we’re standing on the front straight at Lime Rock photographing the car that would make its way across the country to Rennsport, a celebration of Porsche motorsport achievements.

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Cockpit

The reason Rennsport exists — and the reason I look at it as a bucket-list item — is for the sheer history and provenance of these cars to shine in full racetrack rage for enthusiasts of all types.

 

The cars, the histories and the drivers — Jochen Mass, Hurley Haywood, Brian Redman, Michael and Mario Andretti, and Derek Bell, to name a few who were finessing these incredible racecars on road courses to speeds above 200 mph — get to strap in and take another ride.

 

It was arguably the golden age of racing. The races were broadcast nationwide into American homes, technology was budding with in-car cameras streaming live images to TV sets, and announcers conveyed how turbocharging and aerodynamics worked to a big, interested audience that would later understand it as normal code with their production cars. Street courses like Columbus and Riverside played host to the GTP cars. Unlike the smoother European circuits, American racing was bumpy and gritty.

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Details

Racecars are inherently blessed with the ability to make you feel something special. Whether through look or sound, they make the imagination run wild, and they usually inspire road cars to get better. They’re the peak of technology in any current environment.

 

Seeing the car with body panels off in the Dyson shop reveals the dated nature of the 962. Carbon fiber is nowhere to be found. The monocoque, aluminum structure looks like something a garage tinkerer would fabricate in a shed. Electronics predating the modern Internet showcase huge Motronic architecture running at whatever antiquated bit rate worked during the ’80s to control this computer. A massive single exhaust outlet hints at what kind of power is concealed beneath metal and plastic. It is the voyeuristic feel of a motorsport Peeping Tom, knowing full well that this gal won’t be unclothed for much longer.

 

Though a classic, the 962 still oozes purpose and achievement. These racecars toppled Le Mans at over 240 mph and broke records everywhere. The liveries were fantastic, the shape unforgettable and the drivers fearless. Porsche’s 962 would go on to record more than 50 wins and cement its place as a legend in a sport that has so many.

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