The decline of Group 6 and the growth of Group C saw the emergence of what is today widely regarded as the most entertaining and successful era in modern motorsport. Group C ran from 1982 to 1992, a decade that saw some of the most innovative and exciting engineering solutions to race car development imaginable. In this feature, Porsche 956/962 remembered, we look at some of the significant achievements made by this racing model.
Towards the end of the 1970s a lack of manufacturer enthusiasm to develop new cars for the existing Group 5 and Group 6 categories loomed. In 1978, Jürgen Barth, who was the President of BPICA (Bureau Permanent International de Constructeurs des Automobiles) along with the other committee members, began to thrash out the framework for a new set of rules to come into effect in 1982, replacing the Group 5 and 6 categories. It quickly became apparent that what the FIA and the manufacturers wanted, was to return to a flagship sports car prototype formula that would once again draw the crowds. For Porsche, having Barth as President of this body was extremely useful in that he and his boss, Norbert Singer, could discuss what car Porsche might build if these rules came into play. Broadly, Porsche’s intention was first to enter their new Group C racers as a full works team, and then to follow this by supporting approved customer teams with the new racer.
The manufacturers represented on the BPICA panel all had their own plans and agendas, but progress towards an agreement was made during the 1978 and 1979 seasons. This allowed for cars to be constructed with a free chassis and engine, although the engine had to be sourced from an existing production car. How convenient this turned out for Porsche at the time as their production engine for the new racing series had its origins in the standard 3.0-litre 930 turbo road car, and this unit could be easily adapted to suit the new Group C regulations.
From the outset, BPICA determined to create a set of rules that were consumption-based, as this created a level playing field. The Group C regulations defined a car as a two-seater intended only for competition purposes but engines were not limited by capacity, configuration or induction system, provided they were based on a recognised production unit. Klaus Bischof, chief technician in charge of the team’s number two car, explains, “[Engine] capacity was not a ruling you know, it was the crankshaft housing that had to be from a homologated production car. For us this was the 911.”
Type 956 design and development
Under the watchful eye of Norbert Singer, the new Group C Porsche Type 956 began to take shape. The step up from the 936 to the new 956, besides the obvious differences in upper body form, lay also in the under-car developments and chassis construction which was no longer a spaceframe, as in the 936, but an aluminium chassis fitted to a monocoque. With this new breed of racer, Porsche entered the realms of a super sports racing car with a full ground effects body with chassis design carried out by Horst Reitter.
It had become clear that a tube frame chassis would not meet the current safety standards specified for the new Group C racers and this prompted Porsche to explore the fabrication of a monocoque chassis. Porsche racing driver and engineer, Jürgen Barth, explains, “It was clear that a tube frame chassis was not as strong as a monocoque in a crash, but it was the first time that the factory had made a monocoque and so it was quite a challenge for Mr Singer, but it worked out quite well I think.”
An official proposal was drawn up at the beginning of 1981 according to Singer that roughly laid out the dimensions of the car, and which looked into the feasibility of constructing a car based on a fuel consumption ruling. “For a manufacturer like Porsche, this was the most challenging thing because this is an interesting challenge for a manufacturer, not just to make a race car and to go racing, but it was also a technical challenge,” Singer explained.
The Group C rules stipulated that the underfloor of the car, measured as that area behind the front wheels and ahead of the rear wheels, should be a ‘solid flat, hard, rigid and continuous surface’. On this surface, a ‘rectangle of 1000 mm measured along the transverse axis, and 800 mm measured along the longitudinal axis’ could be inscribed – in other words a flat plate with one aero channel running on either side – but the rules did not stipulate what should happen behind this point, except that the channel should be an integral part of the chassis/body and not be flexible or movable in any way.
The 956 was a good-looking car, right from the start. “In December ’81 we showed a one fifth scale model at a Porsche Cup party, but on that model the floor was [completely] flat because when all the people and the press saw it, they turned it over and looked for the tunnels underneath to see the ground effects, but they didn’t see anything because there was nothing there. We had hidden that because I had said this was the secret of the car which we didn’t want to show because the others would copy it,” Norbert Singer explained.
Key to Porsche’s dominating performance throughout 1982 was the team’s attention to detail back at the workshop in Weissach, as well as at the various circuits where they raced. This policy paid off as the Porsche 956 scooped up four victories in the World Endurance Championship in 1982, which included: Le Mans 24-Hours (June 19/20), Spa 1000km (September 5), Fuji 6-Hours (October 3) and the Brands Hatch 1000km (October 17). Non-championship victories that year included the 200 Miles of Nürnberg (Norisring, June 27) and the popular Kyalami 9-Hours (November 16) held in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The Porsche was dominant in its first three years, until that is, it was replaced by the 962 which was just more of the same thing. The 956 was not allowed to race in the USA, which of course is where Porsche wanted to make a big impact, and the reason for this were the driver’s feet, which were ahead of the front axle line. No problem for Porsche, they just extended the wheelbase, and this brought the driver’s feet back behind the safety line of the front axle.
The 956 and 962 constitute such a huge subject in the world of Porsche, as these two models dominated for a decade, and even though other manufacturers eventually pushed Porsche off the top step of the podium, they were always a threat at the head of the field. That said, a Porsche 962 won the Daytona 24 Hours in 1989 and again in 1991. Right up until 1993, the 962 was a regular visitor on the podium in the European Interserie.
Put simply, the achievements of the Porsche 956/962 have not been equalled in the world of motorsport since those heady days of the 1980s. This model (the 956 and 962 are considered one and the same model, if you talk to the folk at the Porsche factory) will go down in history as the most successful racing prototype ever.
Porsche 956/962: A Photographic History – by Glen Smale
In 2011, the author was commissioned to write a history of the Porsche 956/962 to be published in time for the 30th anniversary in 2012. It was no small task, to compile such a huge history about the most successful prototype that ever raced, and to limit the result to just 500-pages. About 40 Porsche 917s were built for the World Championship of Makes and a further 19 saw action in the Can-Am series. By comparison, around 150 of the 956/962 were produced between 1982 and 1994, so to include the achievements and provide images of all of these cars over more than a decade was indeed a difficult challenge.
The reason why the results extend beyond just the Group C years (1982-1992) is because the 1994 Dauer 962 Le Mans GT is considered part of the 962 family. This car was the brainchild of Norbert Singer, and it was quite a brilliant vision by the gifted and much-liked Porsche engineer. In total, the 956/962 amassed no fewer than 232 major international victories during its reign, the largest number, 64 victories, coming from the European Interserie, with 47 wins in the World Sportscar Championship and a further 54 in the American IMSA series. Other wins came in the Japanese Sportscar Championship and the DRM, plus some others.
If you drill down into the results that the 956 amassed in its debut year, the 956 scored a 1-2-3 whitewash at Le Mans, and it followed this with a 1-2 at Spa later in the year. But 1983 must rank as one of Porsche’s all-time best years, as the 956 occupied the first seven places at Monza, the top five places at Silverstone, and the first four places at the Nürburgring. And then came the Le Mans 24 Hours where the 956 finished in 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-10 places, with a lonely ninth being occupied by a Sauber/BMW. The rest of 1983 saw similar domination by the 956, and 1984, 1985 and 1986 continued in the same manner, but by this stage, it was the 962 that was doing all the damage.
During the research process, the author interviewed many 956/962 drivers, Porsche engineers and team personnel. It is only when you talk to the folk who were actually there in the day, that you can begin to paint a picture of what the competition was like, and just how good the Porsche was. Once again, the author has also consulted with a large number of photographers and he sourced images from all over the world. In the end, in excess of 600 images made it into the book and these had to be accurately captioned, and in a “Photographic History” book, this constitutes a significant proportion of the total word count. In fact, the author received a call from a rather worried Publishing Director at Haynes, asking if the word count of circa. 120,000 words could please be trimmed back to around 90,000. How do you do that? It was like leaving out great chunks of history, and what fell onto the cutting room floor almost amounted to a small book in itself. But commercial viability had to be considered, and the result is still a substantial piece of work.
“…Now Haynes have published the book “Porsche 956/962 – A Photographic History,” a long-awaited book by Glen Smale, who has outdone himself this time. This is a really massive volume about the most successful racing car in the history of endurance racing… Norbert Singer wrote the Foreword, which is followed by a detailed chronology of the development as well as a summary of all the races in which the Porsche 956 and 962 raced, in 14 parts and 42 chapters… As is explained by the sub-title ‘A Photographic History’, photographs form a substantial part of this publication. And there is indeed no comparable photographic documentation on the market yet that covers these Porsche models. Smale has made a stunning selection from the numerous well-known archives. From illustrations of technical details to photos of enthralling racing scenes to photos of the happenings around the race track as well as some driver portraits, no wish remains unfulfilled….” by Thomas Nehlert, Powerslide magazine, Aug/Sept. 2012
Now a piece of Porsche 956/962 history can be yours. To order your copy of this book, just complete the boxes below (price includes postage, just select country: UK, EU or USA and click Buy Now). You can also request Glen to write a personal message in the book, if you so wish. Just let us know what you want him to say in “My personal message.” Otherwise each book will in any case be autographed by Glen. We will dispatch your book promptly.
|Title||Porsche 956/962: A Photographic History|
|Format||240 x 288 mm portrait, jacketed hardback|
|Page count||512 pages|
|Images||More than 600 photos, including colour|
|Price||£80.00 (incl. P&P) for UK|
|£96.00 (incl. P&P) for Europe|
|£105.00 (incl. P&P) for USA|
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Porsche Werkfoto and Virtual Motorpix/Glen Smale