The Porsche 956 and its successor the 962, are widely and justifiably regarded as the most successful sports racing prototypes of their era, and quite possibly ever. Over a period of some twelve years, this model racked up 232 international victories on every continent in the world. This included the World Sportscar Championship, IMSA, Japanese Sportscar Championship, DRM, Interserie, Supercup and Can-Am. No other car of its type was successful for more than one or two seasons at best, but the 956/962 reigned supreme for at least 6-8 years, and was successful at an international level for up to twelve years. This is the story of the works Porsche 962-006.
If you speak to any of the Porsche engineers associated with the development of the 956 or the 962, you will be told that these two models are regarded within the racing department as one model. In an interview with Jürgen Barth in 2011, I asked him what the difference between the 956 and 962 meant to them in the race department, and he replied, “No difference, it was only the length of the chassis. For me it [the 956 and 962] is the same thing.”
Only ten examples each of the 956 and 962 models were made and retained by the factory for use by the official works teams in period, with a further total of (approximately) 130 units being manufactured for the various privateer teams over a 12-year period. Engines sizes varied from 2.65-litre in the first 956 model to 3.2-litres in the later 962 models that raced in Europe (Group C) and the IMSA series in the USA. Turbocharging also differed between the Group C models where twin turbos were permitted, to the IMSA series where only a single turbo was permitted in the USA.
The model featured here is the works Rothmans 962C chassis #006 that was completed by the race department on 8 September 1986. The car’s debut race was the Spa 1000km on 15 September that year, where Jochen Mass/Bob Wollek qualified the car third on the grid (wearing the race #2). On pole was the #17 Porsche 962C of Walter Brun (chassis #117) driven by Thierry Boutsen/Frank Jelinski, with the #1 Porsche works car driven by Derek Bell/Hans Stuck in second place. Unfortunately, in the race the #2 Porsche (chassis #006) was delayed at first by a flat tyre, and later with a broken oil line, resulting in a sixth-place finish overall.
The car’s second race was the Fuji 1000km on 6 October, where the car again did not bring home the bacon. At Fuji, the ninth and final race of the season, the #2 works Porsche (chassis #006) was driven by Al Holbert/Henri Pescarolo because the duo of Mass/Wollek were over in the US participating in an IMSA race. The pit board used for passing messages to the driver was headed HOPE, the first two letters of each driver’s name, while the sister car driven by Bell/Stuck used the BEST abbreviation. Although HOPE was running high for our feature car, a problem with the differential forced its retirement with 150 (of the winning 226) laps on the scoreboard. This race signalled the last race of the 1986 season for chassis #006.
The new season started for chassis #006 with the Jarama Supersprint, a 360km round of the Sports-Prototype World Championship, on 22 March 1987. However, at this race the car was not called into action, instead it only served as a spare car in case it was needed. The same fate awaited chassis #006 at the Silverstone 1000km on 10 May, the fourth round of the 1987 Sports-Prototype World Championship, as the car was again only used as a T-car for practice purposes.
A week after the Silverstone race, on 17 May 1987, Bob Wollek would pilot chassis #006 in the official Le Mans test day on 17 May. Wollek posted the second quickest time of 3:25.04 in the #17 Rothmans 962C that day. Four weeks later, at the Le Mans 24 Hour race, Bob Wollek posted the quickest time in qualifying of 3:21.09, but this time it was in the #18 Rothmans 962C (chassis #008).
A political disagreement broke out ahead of the ’87 Le Mans 24 Hours, when Bernie Ecclestone took on the running of the FIA’s promotional activities. When the FIA tried to assume the responsibility of running the 24-hour race, the ACO objected strongly pointing out that they owned the rights to the race and all the associated trademarks.
With that disagreement settled, it was the GPDA (Grand Prix Driver’s Association) who next raised concerns over driver safety. “I became a member of the GPDA in ’72 with Jackie Stewart, and we were concerned with improving circuit safety as well as car safety generally. I had some misgivings about the attitude of Le Mans because the [ACO] Club was wrong and they were a bit arrogant in their approach. They didn’t fix the guard rails properly because where they should have had a triple layer guard rail there was just a double layer, and that wasn’t even fixed properly in the ground. So, whenever a car hit it, it just keeled over, and the car was launched into the woods. We had marshals killed every year,” Jochen Mass explained.
The running of the 55th Le Mans 24 Hours took place on 13/14 June, the race also forming the fifth round of the 1987 Sports-Prototype World Championship. The rather formidable trio of Derek Bell/Hans Stuck/Al Holbert were allocated the #17 Rothmans 962C. No less than thirteen Porsche 962Cs were entered in the 1987 Le Mans 24 Hour race, showing just how highly teams regarded the 962C as a winning machine. In an attempt to slow the cars down as they sped past the pits and headed for the Dunlop Bridge, the ACO installed a chicane just before the bridge. Previously the cars picked up speed as they approached the Dunlop Bridge, their speed increasing dramatically as the crested the brow of the hill and descended towards the old Esses.
Despite the on-going safety concerns raging at the time, the preliminary entry list for the Le Mans race was as impressive as ever, and included no less than thirteen Porsche 962Cs in the C1 class. Other top manufacturers in the class included Jaguar, Sauber Mercedes, WM Peugeot as well as Nissan and Toyota, so a fine contest was expected.
With strong opposition from the works Jaguar and Sauber Mercedes teams, Porsche was under pressure to come up with an improved package that would extend the competitive life of the 962C. Already seen in action that year was Stuttgart’s new 3.0-litre engine which had proved reliable, and even if it had not produced a victory as yet, Le Mans was where it counted. To highlight just how seriously Porsche viewed the race, three works cars were prepared for the 24-hour race, although only two would make it to the start.
Of the trio of works cars, the #19 Rothmans Porsche, to be driven by Schuppan/Cobb/Nierop, would not even make it to the starting grid as it was comprehensively destroyed in practice when Price Cobb struck oil at Maison Blanche, launching the car over the barriers. The resultant car-less drivers were however redeployed, and Kees Nierop took the seat in the works Porsche 961 vacated by the factory test and racing driver Gunther Steckkonig. But the Dutch-Canadian, Nierop, would have his own troubles with the 961 which burst into flames following a missed gear change near Indianapolis.
Around the time of the start of the race it rained on and off, to such an extent, that it caused most of the cars to make multiple trips to the pits to change tyres. It also quickly became evident that the incorrect microchip had been fitted to the Bosch Motronic engine management system of the Porsche 962s. This caused their engines to run too lean, resulting in burned pistons and thereby engine failure. Seldom had Porsche suffered such a disastrous start to any Le Mans, as three of the top privateer Porsches, two Joest and one Kremer car, were out with just seven race laps on the board. The Wollek/Mass/Schuppan #18 Rothmans works Porsche, which had started from pole position, was out after sixteen laps without the poleman Wollek even sitting in the car on race day.
Fortunately for the Bell/Stuck/Holbert team in the #17 Rothmans works Porsche 962-006, the problem was identified in time, and once fitted with the correct microchip, the car ran faultlessly. For the #11 Leyton House Kremer 962, concerns ran high that they would suffer the same problem as so many of the other 962s, including the team’s #10 Kenwood-sponsored sister car that had completed just six laps. As a precaution, the #11 Leyton House car came into the pits to have its chip replaced. The plan worked because, driven by South Africans George Fouche and Wayne Taylor together with Kremer regular Franz Konrad, the #11 Leyton House car continued without further problems.
In a race that was subject to four hours behind the safety car due to numerous rather serious incidents, Porsche machinery occupied the top four spots at the final chequered flag. The #11 Kremer Porsche 962C of Fouche/Konrad/Taylor finished fourth, and the #13 Courage-Porsche of Raphanel/Regout/Courage came home in third place. Finishing in second place, twenty laps down on the winners, was the #72 Obermaier Porsche 962C driven by Juergen Laessig/Pierre Yver/Bernard de Dryver. The winning car, the #17 Rothmans works Porsche 962-006 of Derek Bell/Hans-Joachim Stuck/Al Holbert completed 355 laps without incident, this victory being Bell’s fifth Le Mans title.
In 1988, chassis #006 was once again prepared for action in the Le Mans 24 Hour race (11/12 June), dressed this year in the yellow/black colours of its new sponsor, Shell/Dunlop. But here the car was relegated to that of being a T-car, and was used in practice only. But the T-car did not just sit idly by in case one of the cars entered fell out, as Norbert Singer explained, “We had a T-car in case something happened, that’s what you had, there was no spare chassis. Because we had this T-car, it had to go through scrutineering and it would then run in practice with the starting number T.” The T-car, therefore, had to be fully prepared, scrutineered, and made race ready but in 1988, chassis #006 was not called into action at Le Mans.
Between 1988 and 2017, Porsche 962C-006 has carried the flag for the company by being a Museum display vehicle, a reminder to enthusiasts of the glorious Group C days. In 2017, for example, the itinerary for chassis #006 has included:
Porsche 962C-006 schedule for 2017
|February||Movie night at the car store in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen|
|May||Porsche Road & Race photo shoot|
|July||Formula 1, Red Bull Ring Austria|
|Driven by Hans-Joachim Stuck|
|October||Loaned out to Porsche Centre dealer|
|November||Used at a movie studio in Munich|
In May 2017, I was permitted to photograph the works Porsche 962-006 in Porsche’s ‘secret warehouse’ in Stuttgart, a privilege that was not lost on me. Being so close to this wonderful car, and helping to push it around for photographing, was something that I won’t ever forget. Studying the form of the 962C at length, I was able to confirm in my mind that this race car is without doubt the most beautiful, and graceful race car ever built. Porsche’s design philosophy has always been functional, but this resultant graceful form just confirms the old adage that if it looks right, then it is right.
I hope that you enjoy reading this brief study of one of Porsche’s finest, the works Porsche 962-006, as much as I did researching and photographing it.
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Virtual Motorpix/Glen Smale & Porsche Werkfoto