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Technology From modern ECUs to dual-clutch transmissions, this race car proved it all


Technology

Technology From modern ECUs to dual-clutch transmissions, this race car proved it all

winningest is not a word — From 1982 to 1991, the Porsche 956s and 962s were almost unbeatable. Jonathan M. Gitlin – Sep 14, 2021 4:28 pm UTC Beginning with the outstanding Porsche 956, IMSA regulations required that the driver’s feet be behind the front axle for safety reasons. Porsche extended the wheelbase and moved…

Technology From modern ECUs to dual-clutch transmissions, this race car proved it all

Technology

winningest is not a word —

From 1982 to 1991, the Porsche 956s and 962s were almost unbeatable.


  • Beginning with the outstanding Porsche 956, IMSA regulations required that the driver’s feet be behind the front axle for safety reasons. Porsche extended the wheelbase and moved the pedal box behind the front wheels, allowing the 962 to be approved for racing. These IMSA-spec 962s began with Porsche’s Type 962/70 2.8-liter flat six engines with air-cooling only and a single turbo, as twin-turbo systems were not allowed in the IMSA GTP class at the time. The 962-102 was campaigned by legendary driver Bob Akin in 1984.


    The Petersen Museum/Ted7

  • This Porsche 962C is the second factory “Werks” car and is one of the most historically significant
    Porsche racing cars of all time. The car competed in the FIA World Endurance Championship for the Rothmans Porsche factory “Werks” team.


    The Petersen Museum

  • In the 1985 championship series consisting of only 10 races, chassis 002 was driven by Jackie
    Ickx and Jochen Mass. The 962 took first place on three separate occasions: Mugello
    1000 km, Silverstone 1000 km, and the Selangor 800 km. The team finished second at the Brands
    Hatch 1000 km and fourth at the Monza 1000 km. At the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the duo qualified
    second and led most of the race, only to be slowed by minor mechanical issues to finish in 10th
    place.


    The Petersen Museum/Ted7

  • In 1986, the car was mainly used for testing at the factory and was available as a backup car for the Rothmans Porsche team. It only raced twice that season—in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, driven by Vern Schuppan and Drake Olson, and in the 1000 km of Fuji, driven by Derek Bell and Hans Stuck.


    The Petersen Museum/Ted7

  • A closer look at the 962C’s cockpit. That big metal knob to the driver’s left controls the amount of turbo boost.


    The Petersen Museum/Ted7

  • Multifunction steering wheels have come a long way since the 1980s.


    The Petersen Museum/Ted7

  • In 1987, AJ Foyt wanted to up his game for the Florida rounds of IMSA’s GTP races. He looked no further than the most dominant car during this period, the Porsche 962. Foyt purchased 962-HR003 and signed Brumos Racing to manage the effort.


    The Petersen Museum/Ted7

  • With a driver combination of Hurley Haywood, Al Unser, Al Unser Jr, and Elloitt Forbes Robinson, 962-HR003 would finish fourth three times in eight races, including Daytona, Sebring, Miami, and Palm Beach. Powered by a 700 hp air-cooled single turbo flat six cylinder engine, the Copenhagen 962 was a force to be reckoned with during the 1988 season.


    The Petersen Museum/Ted7

  • Beginning with the already outstanding Porsche 956, IMSA regulations required that the driver’s feet be behind the front axle for safety reasons. By extending the wheelbase and moving the pedal box behind the front wheels, the 962 was approved for racing. These IMSA-spec 962s began with Porsche’s Type 962/70 2.8-liter flat six engines with air-cooling only and a single turbo, as twin-turbo systems were not allowed in the IMSA GTP class at the time.


    The Petersen Museum/Ted7

  • The driver sat on the right side of the car for better weight distribution at clockwise tracks like Le Mans. The manual shift lever was on the driver’s right, however.


    The Petersen Museum/Ted7

  • During the 1988 season, the Porsche Kremer 962C (chassis #CK6-01) was built to compete in Japan by Porsche Kremer Racing with a “LEYTON HOUSE” sponsorship. It campaigned in both the FIA World Sports Prototype Championship and the All Japan Sports Prototype Championship.


    The Petersen Museum/Ted7

  • In March 1988 at the Fuji 5000 Kilometer, drivers Kris Nissen and Harald Grohs finished second overall. In May 1988, at the All Japan Fuji 1000 Kilometers, Kris Nissen and Bruno Giacomelli finished 1st overall. In July 1988 at the JAF Grand Prix All Japan Fuji 500 Miles, Kris Nissen crashed during practice. The CK6-01 was originally built with all of the latest technical specifications.


    The Petersen Museum/Ted7

  • The car raced with a 3.0-liter water/water motor, including Bosch 1.7 electronics; this was new for customers in mid-1988. The car had a cockpit adjustable rear sway bar, big Brembo brakes, digital dash, center post rear mounted wing, and many other current racing items.


    The Petersen Museum/Ted7

  • More modern engine management allowed the driver precise control during races.


    The Petersen Museum/Ted7

  • You can see this car features high-downforce bodywork.


    The Petersen Museum/Ted7

  • A closer look at the front diveplanes.


    The Petersen Museum/Ted7

  • Featuring Busby Racing in-house designed and manufactured evolutionary bodywork, the 962-108C won the prestigious 1989 SunBank 24 at Daytona with drivers Bob Wollek, John Andretti, and Derek Bell.


    The Petersen Museum/Ted7

  • With its air-cooled single turbo ANDIAL powerplant, Jim Chapman-designed chassis, and team leadership by Mike Colucci, the 962-108C secured the 50th victory for a 962 at that season’s 24 at Daytona. It would close out that year securing the Porsche Cup USA and finally retire thereafter.


    The Petersen Museum/Ted7

  • Cockpit doors were a little bigger in the 1980s.


    The Petersen Museum/Ted7

  • The Vern Schuppan Team campaigned this Porsche 962C in Europe, Japan, and the US. It was driven by greats including Hurley Haywood, Wayne Taylor, James Weaver, Roland Ratzenberger, Scott Brayton, Johnny Herbert, Bob Wollek, Rickard Rydell, and Eje Elgh. Its water-cooled twin-turbo flat-six engine powered this striking 962 to a third overall at the 1992 Rolex 24 at Daytona.


    The Petersen Museum/Ted7

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    956 and 962 cockpits were all a little different.


    The Petersen Museum/Ted7

  • The engine control unit lives where the passenger seat might go in a road car.


    The Petersen Museum/Ted7

  • The longer, low-drag tails of the early cars gave way to the higher downforce packages seen here.


    The Petersen Museum/Ted7

  • Heat management was sometimes a problem with these cars.


    The Petersen Museum/Ted7

  • Making windshield wipers that worked effectively at 240 mph at Le Mans wasn’t entirely simple.


    The Petersen Museum/Ted7

Trying to crown the world’s greatest race car is a futile endeavor, as everyone has a different definition of “greatest.” But if you were making a shortlist for such an award, Porsche’s 956 and 962 would have to make the cut.

When the 956 first debuted with the introduction of Group C racing in 1982, it was a departure from Porsche’s previous Le Mans-winning prototypes. From the 917 (which gave Porsche its first overall win in 1970) to the 936 (which won in 1976, 1977, and 1981), all of Porsche’s cars used a relatively fragile tubeframe chassis clad in fiberglass bodywork.

But the 956 exchanged this old way of doing things for a much more up-to-date approach. The chassis this time was an aluminum monocoque with much greater stiffness—and much better driver safety.

One reason for the evolution from the 956 to the 962 at the end of 1984 was to put the driver’s feet behind the front axle, per instructions from the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), which figured it could keep Porsche from dominating races in the US by making what seemed like an unreasonable demand to redesign the car. Porsche called IMSA’s bluff. (Other changes from 956 to 962 include a 3.0L flat-six engine with a single turbocharger for IMSA, plus a steel roll cage.)

Power came from Porsche’s traditional flat-six engine, this time with a capacity of 2.65 L, derived from a failed IndyCar program. The cylinder heads used water-cooling (the barrels were still air-cooled), and the engine featured a pair of turbochargers for power.

The engine and transmission were angled at 5 degrees rather than flat to allow a bit more room for the underfloor venturis that created the ground effect that sucked the cars down onto the track.

The group C regulations focused on fuel efficiency, so Porsche fitted then-cutting-edge engine-management systems. At first, these were mechanical systems, but during the 1982 season, Porsche began to test some cars with Bosch’s electronics controlling the engine and fuel systems.

Technology From the race track to the road

The Motronic system was unreliable and allowed the driver to control the fuel mixture and engine timing manually—within safe limits prescribed by Porsche’s engineers. By the late 1980s and Motronic version 1.7, 962 engineers could program and swap-out engine-management chips at the track—a preview of the modern software-defined engine modes that are almost ubiquitous today.

Modern engine management wasn’t the only experimental technology tested in racing’s crucible. The dual-clutch transmissions (Porsche-Doppelkupplungsgetriebe or PDK in Porsche-speak) that are so common today first saw action in 1983, decades before Porsche considered PDK ready for its first road car installation in 2009. (Admittedly, it took quite a few years to make PDK reliable enough in racing, a fact that cost at least one driver’s championship.)

The innovations didn’t just come from Porsche, either. The company exists to sell cars, and that includes race cars. By my count, 160 956 and 962 chassis were built between 1982 and 1991, some of them by third parties like Fabcar and race teams like Richard Lloyd. These cars included improvements to chassis stiffness, and some were even fashioned from carbon fiber instead of aluminum. As you can see in the gallery above, teams also experimented with aerodynamics and a number of engine variants as well.

Success came early and often. The factory team won the World Sportscar Championship every year from 1982 to 1985, with Le Mans wins in 1982, 1983, 1986, and 1987. Porsche 956s also won in 1984 and 1985, but those two years went to cars run by the Joest team. Of Porsche’s 19 Le Mans wins, seven were due to these cars. Oh, and that Nürburgring Nordschleife record we all thought was unbreakable? That was set with a Porsche 956 in 1983 by the fearless Stefan Bellof.

The introduction of the 962 in 1984 added to the car’s success. IMSA’s fears of Porsche domination were well-founded; between 1984 and 1993, 962s took 58 wins in the US, including five manufacturer championships, six wins at the Daytona 24 Hours, and four wins at the 12 Hours of Sebring.

Despite the end of Group C in 1992, the 962 still had another Le Mans win coming. In 1994, a pair of 962s that had been converted to road cars by Dauer were turned back into race cars and entered in the GT category, and one of them won overall despite lacking the ground-effect aerodynamics that made other 956s and 962s corner so quickly. That year, German race team Kremer also entered an open-top prototype called the K8, based on the 962. (This car did not do well at Le Mans but managed to win the 1995 Daytona 24 hour race.)

If you’re in Los Angeles, you can get a closer look at the cars in the gallery above at the Petersen Museum until November 19.

Listing image by The Petersen Museum

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