The 1983 Group C World Endurance Championship was arguably one of the most exciting and competitive racing seasons in years. So, why was 1983 a good year in Group C? Well, this was the first year in which Porsche released the new 956 race car to its approved customer teams, and this resulted in increased competition, and packed grids. All good stuff for both the spectator and the sport.
In 1982, a new racing class, Group C, was introduced that would keep sports car racing fans spellbound for a decade. The new class of cars eligible for Group C would reach speeds previously not thought possible on the circuits of Europe, the UK and Japan. Porsche’s entrant in this class was the Type 956, a full ground-effects Group C prototype race car.
The 956, produced between 1982-1985, was powered by a 2649 cc twin-turbocharged 6-cylinder boxer engine. Developing around 620 bhp and with a top speed of around 360 km/h, Porsche’s big advantage came in the form of its reliability. The boxer engine had proven itself over and over again in the production arena as well as in countless motorsport applications. The engine featured water-cooled heads and air-cooled cylinders, and was in principle the same as that engine that had powered the 936/81 to victory at Le Mans in 1981.
However, the only 956s available in 1982 were those raced by the Rothmans Porsche works team. It would be another full racing season before the customer racing teams would get their hands on a Porsche 956. But when Porsche made the 956 available to their broader racing customer market, it would usher in a period of financial fruitfulness unlike Porsche had seen before. The 935 had done well financially for Porsche but the 956 and its successor the 962 (although internally the company saw this as one and the same model), lifted the customer racing department to a different level altogether.
For the start of the 1983 racing season, Porsche made the 956 available to its customers for entry, in most cases, into the World Championship for Makes. Other championships also saw the 956 in action, such as the DRM in Germany. Although the 956 was produced from 1982 to 1985, the 962 was introduced in 1984 for the American IMSA series, and in 1985 for the Group C series in the World Championship for Makes.
But, back to the 956, privateer Porsche driver and team manager, John Fitzpatrick, managed to acquire two 956s in 1983. It’s quite possible that Fitzpatrick secured the first customer 956 to leave the factory, chassis #102, as chassis #101 had been allocated to Alain de Cadenet but he failed to collect the car. Chassis #101 was then sold to Kremer Racing. Fitzpatrick then took delivery of #102 in February 1983, but the car in question here, #110, was collected by Fitzpatrick just prior to the Le Mans 24 Hours that year.
Porsche 956-110 in competition
Le Mans 24 Hours 1983
Following several races with their first 956 (#102), Fitzpatrick had chassis #110 collected from the factory in Stuttgart and painted just in time for the car’s debut at the 1983 Le Mans 24 Hour race. Racing under the #11 and sponsored by JDavid, the Californian financier, Fitzpatrick qualified the lead car in eleventh place on the grid, one place behind the #16 sister car. The #11 Porsche was driven by Britons John Fitzpatrick and David Hobbs with the Austrian Dieter Quester. Unfortunately for the recently finished chassis #110, a faulty fuel pump saw this car retire after 135 laps (just over one-third distance), but Fitzpatrick joined the #16 sister car which finished a credible fifth place.
Fitzpatrick was then contacted by the folk from SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) to see if he would be interested in running in a couple of Can-Am events. Keen to get some exposure for the 956 in America, he accepted and sent the car plus crew across for the first race at Road America on 17 July. Fitzpatrick qualified the car on pole position, four seconds quicker than he had done in the 935 K4 the season before. He proceeded to win the race, making chassis #110 the only Porsche 956 to win an international race on American soil.
The next race was the Labatt’s Can-Am event at Mosport Park in Canada. Starting from fifth on the grid, Fitzpatrick brought the car home in third place, on a notoriously bumpy circuit. The car’s next appointment was to star in a film and so Fitzpatrick took the car down to Riverside for the shoot. Fitzpatrick was then due to run an IMSA race up in Portland Oregon, where the officials wanted to see the 956, and to decide whether to allow it to run in the IMSA series. The car lapped between four to five seconds quicker than the 935 K4 that they were running in the race, and this Fitzpatrick felt, had something to do with the officials ruling the 956 illegal for the series.
Spa-Francorchamps 1000 Kilometres 1983
The Spa 1000 km on 4 September 1983 was the next World Endurance Championship round, and for this race Fitzpatrick was joined by friend David Hobbs. The car qualified in fifth place on the starting grid, but at the start of the race the two works 956s tore off into the distance. As the race unfolded, the #11 Fitzpatrick had to pit with a puncture, but the furious pace had taken its toll on some of the competitors. Fitzpatrick and Hobbs worked their way back up through the field and came home in third place behind the two works cars.
Brands Hatch 1000 Kilometres 1983
Fitzpatrick Racing wanted to make amends at the Brands Hatch 1000 Kilometres for what they considered a disappointing showing at Silverstone. The team signed Derek Warwick to accompany John Fitzpatrick as the team’s regular, David Hobbs, was away driving in an IMSA race in the USA. The 956 had a small set of louvers in the underbody, ground-effect tunnels, which aided engine cooling during the race. For qualifying however, these were closed off as the engine would not stay hot for long, but they would be opened again for the race. Closing off these louvers would reduce the drag and could reduce lap times by as much as a second a lap, so it was a worthwhile exercise. However, the Fitzpatrick Racing team worked out a way of closing off the louvers while still cooling the engine by alternative means, thus giving the car an advantage.
Having qualified fourth on the grid, on race day it was pouring with rain and Derek was able to slip into the lead right from the off. In the trying and difficult conditions, the #11 car scythed its way through the field and they had lapped the entire field with the exception of the two Porsche works cars. The Fitzpatrick car was never threatened, and they romped home by a lap from the two works Porsches, and the #11 car finished a full six laps ahead of the fourth-placed car.
Fuji 1000 Kilometres 1983
The following race was the Fuji 1000 kilometres on the 16 October. The Fitzpatrick Racing team travelled to Japan with chassis #110, but the car was involved in a horrendous accident during first practice. A tyre had deflated and Fitzpatrick slid off the track into a barrier, and the car was comprehensively damaged. As a result, the team packed up and went home as repairing the car at the circuit was out of the question.
Imola 1000 Kilometres 1983
Without the presence of an official Porsche works team, the field was left open to the Lancia works teams and the Porsche 956 privateer teams, of which there were a good few. Fitzpatrick Racing brought chassis #110 to be driven by the familiar duo of Fitzpatrick and Hobbs. Group C was all about managing the fuel allocation while maintaining track position, but some teams seemed intent on using up all their fuel before the race was finished. The #11 JDavid Fitzpatrick Racing Porsche 956, which qualified in fifth place for the start, was managed at the track by the wily Keith Greene, who had managed more than his fair share of race teams in the past. Following a well-paced race plan, Fitzpatrick/Hobbs brought their #11 Porsche home in second place, behind one factory Lancia and ahead of the other, thereby beating one of the works teams in the process.
Mugello 1000 Kilometres 1983
Once again, the works Porsches were absent from the field, and the privateer Porsche 956 contingent was left to battle it out with the works Lancias. Despite the presence of the extremely fast Lancias, the first three places on the starting grid were occupied by privateer 956s, with the #11 Fitzpatrick car starting in third place. For this race, the very talented Belgian Thierry Boutsen joined the familiar pairing of Fitzpatrick and Hobbs. A fairly uneventful race ensued but the Fitzpatrick car did suffer from oversteer, and the Porsche was eventually dislodged from its second place by one of the Lancias. By the end of the race, the Fitzpatrick car had dropped back another place, which is where they ended the race, in fourth place.
Kyalami 1000 Kilometres 1983
Kyalami race track is located at almost 6000 feet above sea level, and lies just a few miles to the north of Johannesburg. Around December (South African summer time), the afternoons are characterised by very sudden and violent thunderstorms that can unleash such volumes of water, that racing would become a game of Russian roulette. John Fitzpatrick did not drive in this race, having decided after Mugello to hang up his helmet and to manage his team instead – the car was thus driven by Thierry Boutsen, David Hobbs and local star, Desire Wilson.
Having qualified the car in fourth place, the race was indeed punctuated by one of the Highveld’s notorious thunderstorms, that saw several cars eliminated at certain corners which had been turned into small lakes. It was David Hobbs who was at the helm of 956 as it hit one of the lakes, and he instantly became a passenger, piling into the catch fencing. Thus ended the season, one of many highs but also of some big lows, but such is racing.
Monza 1000 Kilometres 1984
John Fitzpatrick secured a new sponsorship deal with Skoal Bandit for 1984, the American chewing tobacco brand that replaced the JDavid sponsorship. The JDavid sponsorship deal collapsed when J. David Dominelli’s financial scam caught up with him, putting him behind bars for 25 years. The Skoal Bandit deal was to run two cars for two seasons. As Fitzpatrick had retired from racing, he brought in the two British drivers to pilot chassis #110, Rupert Keegan and Guy Edwards. Unfortunately, the Monza race resulted in a DNF when the car lost a wheel.
Silverstone 1000 Kilometres 1984
The Silverstone race went rather better for the Keegan/Edwards pairing. Qualifying in tenth place on the grid, Keegan/Edwards finished in third place, overtaking the sister car driven by Thierry Boutsen/David Hobbs which suffered from gear selection problems.
Le Mans 24 Hours 1984
Chassis #110 was sold ahead of the 1984 Le Mans, and it was entered in the French race by Charles Ivy Racing. Behind the wheel was Alain De Cadenet/Allan Grice/Chris Craft, but the car only qualified in a lowly 32nd for the start. The race didn’t go much better for the new team either, as they retired after 272 laps with engine problems and were classified as NRF.
Porsche 956-110 post-race career
Following the 1984 24 Hours of Le Mans, the car’s last competitive outing in period, chassis #110 retired to a private collection and has had just three private owners since that time. The car has been with its last owner for sixteen years, and the well-known 956 still wears its 1983 Le Mans livery, making it one of the most original examples of this model in existence.
“The 956 is an important addition to our Porsche 70th Anniversary auction line-up,” said Alexander Weaver, Car Specialist, RM Sotheby’s. “The 956 model was a highly successful sports racing car and is considerably rarer and more user friendly than its Group 6 sister car, the iconic 917. Given that the car was raced by one of just two privateer teams to ever beat the works Rothmans team with a 956 in a 1000 KM championship race, and the only 956 to win in the U.S., it is especially fitting that the car be offered at the Porsche Experience Centre Atlanta during the 70th anniversary year. This is a rare opportunity for Porsche racing enthusiasts that won’t soon repeat itself.”
These two books will provide a useful insight into the success of Porsche racing with Fitz – My Life at the Wheel, and the Porsche 956/962 A Photographic History giving the 956 and 962’s complete development history and its racing achievements.
RM Sotheby’s estimates that the 956 will achieve $5,250,000 – $6,750,000 when it crosses the podium in Atlanta.
For anyone looking to speak with an RM Sotheby’s specialist for further information about the car, they should contact:
Car Specialist, RM Sotheby’s
Culver City, California
+1 310 559 4575
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Porsche Werkfoto and Matthew Howell © 2018 Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s