It’s hard to know where to begin when writing a report on Porsche Rennsport Reunion VI. It was both an emotional and a sensory overload! A reunion with people not seen for a while, and the historical impact of all the rare cars. This was the sixth iteration put on by Porsche, and just when you think you had seen it all, Porsche improved it yet again.
Rennsport was started by the late Bob Carlson with the help of Brian Redman in 2001. The first one was held at Lime Rock Park race track. As it expanded, it moved to Daytona for Rennsport II and III. Editions IV, V and now VI, have been held at the WeatherTech Laguna Seca Raceway.
A large placard as one entered the Porsche paddock enclosure summed up what the event was all about: “Porsche Rennsport Reunion is the world’s largest gathering of Porsche race cars, renowned drivers, legendary engineers, historians, collectors, and enthusiasts. It’s an event where we can gather to celebrate racing and pay tribute to the men, women and cars that have helped build the Porsche Legacy”.
Porsche does a superb job in organising this event. As you can imagine, the logistics of arranging it are challenging with hundreds of cars showing up. Many are brought from the Stuttgart factory to California just for this event, but most are however brought by private owners. Some race in the race groups, while others just sat on display in the magnificent Chopard sponsored Heritage display. This display was in the centre of the paddock under a huge tent. Cars here were on display by invitation only and were selected to represent the defining cars over the 70-year life span of Porsche. They ranged from the 1938 Type 64 Berlin-Rome racer to the 1951 356SL Gmünd coupe all the way up to the 919 Hybrid. While none of these cars were raced, a few did some demonstration laps, including the Type 64 Berlin-Rome racer!
One thing was guaranteed, you would certainly see at least one of every significant race car that Porsche has ever made (assuming you have the time to make the rounds). Hundreds, if not thousands of Porsche fans, showed up with their road cars. There was even a paddock area just for the road car display. Porsche built a sort of ‘village’ in the paddock which included all kinds of attractions such as a ‘goodie’ store (which had lines of people waiting to get in), a large stage for interviews (which was also used for a concert on Friday night), technical as well as new car displays. A fan favourite was the driver pavilion where the drivers signed autographs, the lines here were always long.
A link to a review of the fabulous book (being autographed above) on the Porsche 917 by the late Walter Näher can be found here. Porsche used the Rennsport Reunion to announce a new car which would appeal to the track day enthusiast, the 911 GT2 RS 935!
You would also get to meet many, if not most, of the Porsche drivers who drove these cars in period. The list is too long to mention, as is the list of cars. I am not sure who the oldest driver there was, but they ranged from the era of Vic Elford, Brian Redman, George Follmer, and Willi Kauhsen all the way through to the current factory drivers (all of them). At recent events, Porsche has started a trend of also inviting some of the better-known engineers and team managers, and this year’s list included John Horsman, Kevin Jeannette, Alex Job, Hartmut Kristen, Hans Mezger, Valentin Schaeffer, Norbert Singer and Alwin Springer.
My Rennsport attendance started a few months ago, when I got a call from long-time friend Kevin Jeannette. He and his wife Sharon own and run Gunnar Racing, a restoration and racing shop in West Palm Beach Florida. As it turns out, they have been in the business for 40 years this year! So, well done! He mentioned that they were bringing some 15 cars to Rennsport and signed me up to help the team. I had actually worked with the team before with the IMSA crew in the early 1990s on the Gunnar 966. Kevin and I also worked together on the Bayside team in 1987 and 1988. The Gunnar car list included no less than five 962 variants, three RS Spyders, two 935s, several Porsche cup cars, a 959-safari car, and several RSRs for display in the Chopard heritage tent.
Rennsport has turned into a full four-day event. Amazingly, several fans mentioned in passing that it needed to be longer, as there just was just not enough time to see everything and everybody, and to also enjoy the other attractions. I think four days is about the limit of endurance for most however.
In the Gunnar mix of cars, some cars were for running and racing, and some were just for display. We had a great crew for the cars which included Bret Plazak (crew chief), Andy Jensen, Nolan Fingerhut, Martin Rabatie and his son Andrew, Tim Munday, Kevin Doran, Drew Slayton, myself, and Sharon Jeannette. Kevin Jeannette gave overall direction, but spent a lot of time with his Porsche duties, as he was one of the invited guests.
Gunnar had just restored the 935-77 of Claude Haldi (Jürgen Kannacher) and it was in the livery as Haldi ran it at Le Mans. Drew Slayton, Andy Jensen and I spent most of the time working on this car. It was brand new and had not run, so it had a few teething issues, but all was sorted in the end and it ran well with Rod Emory driving. Not having driven a 935 single-turbo before, he mentioned after the first stint, that maybe the engine had some problems as there was a lot of turbo lag. We laughed and said, “No that is the way these cars are!” This car was also entered in the Rennsport Concours, so we waxed it and vacuumed it out and it won the “Best Restoration” category. The second 935 did not run at all, this being one of the Peter Gregg cars that was sold to Bruce Leven. Hurley Haywood was to drive it, but he was so busy with the Brumos 917-10 and the IMSA Supercar of the early ‘90s, that he did not have time to drive it.
In the 962 category, we had the Holbert Lowenbrau chassis 962-HR1 (first Holbert Racing car built at Holbert’s in Pennsylvania). Kevin Doran (crew chief at Holbert in 1985-1987) was on hand to manage this car and Derek Bell drove it. It ran pretty much faultlessly, and all we did was add fuel, and check the tyre pressures and oil level. Derek seemed to enjoy himself as he ran in all the sessions except one, when he and Alwin Springer did a tribute on stage to the late Al Holbert, which was well done and well received. David Donohue shuttled between 962-106 (a BFG IMSA car with single turbo), and 962-123 (a twin-turbo water-cooled car). Justin Bell drove the Kremer K8 (a 962-based Kremer built car) that won the Daytona 24 hours in 1996, until the engine had a problem on Saturday. So, he was then shifted across to drive in the Porsche tractor race on Sunday.
The Porsche tractor race was a big hit with fans. There was a Le Mans start on the start/finish straight and the tractors ‘raced’ over to turn 5 at Laguna Seca. Thank goodness, they did not make them navigate the corkscrew! The Gunnar tractor however had a big handicap, as it was dragging around a cart with a bunch of small kiddie tractors, all painted up in the ‘Pink Pig’ 917-20 paint scheme. John Oates (of the rock group Hall & Oates) drove this tractor on Saturday, and Justin Bell drove it on Sunday. Although we did not win, the Gunnar tractor did win the award for best tractor! Kevin Jeannette had once again hit a home run with his tractor preparation!
Jeroen Bleekemolen was on hand to drive the various Spyders and the Dauer 1994 Le Mans winning GT car. The Dauer GT (962-LM GT003) was the 962 GT that the factory used to circumvent the rules in 1994 when only GT cars were allowed. It won the race with Haywood, Dalmas and Baldi driving. It only ran one session at Rennsport but did well in the Concours, winning the racing category. As it happened, with high speed Le Mans body work, it was not well suited to the Laguna Seca circuit. Jeroen spent most of his time shuttling between the three RS Spyders: 9R6-704 (Muscle Milk car), 9R6-708 (Van Merkstein car) and 9R6-711 (Lista Office car), eventually settling on chassis #711 in which he finished second in the prototype race with the 962s. Gunnar Jeannette won the race in WeatherTech’s RS Spyder (Essex car), the two RS Spyders at the front basically lapped every 962 in the 25-minute race. Derek Bell remarked that it seemed strange that while driving a car in which he had won a lot of races, that he kept having to look in his mirrors for the RS Spyders that were coming up behind. The Laguna circuit certainly favours the Spyder over the 962.
But on Sunday after the last race, is when the real work began. All these hundreds of cars had to be packed up for transport. The semi-trucks started to arrive, and the chaotic loading began as cars had to be shuttled to the back paddock and lined up with the proper truck for loading.
It was announced that the crowd attendance for the weekend was some 81,000 which is a lot for this circuit. It is probably the most I have seen there since the days of MotoGP at Laguna Seca, but I am sure those who attended were not disappointed. Those who missed it should plan for the next one, tentatively in 2021. The venue has not been announced, so stay tuned.
Written by: Martin Raffauf
Images by: Martin Raffauf and Chris Hill