Porsche RSR’s Have Made A Move Forward
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
The curve was a long, high-speed, right-hand sweeper job – think of The Carousel at Road America, which was located just down the twisty farm-country back roads that made central Wisconsin so much fun to drive in the mid-’70s.
The car was a very evil looking black-on-black ’74 air-cooled Porsche 911 and behind the wheel with arms locked in the extended position and hands cocked to the right was a young guy with eyes fixed on the road.
As the 911 sped toward the gentle apex with flat-six screaming, the white-knuckled passenger asked, basically, “Um, planning on lifting any time soon?” The answer was unexpected; were he to lift then, the driver said, we’d spin like a top.
For the passenger, it was a first lesson in the counter-intuitiveness of driving a rear-engine Porsche with the right foot at hostile speeds. It is that famous counter-intuitiveness which has claimed many an uninitiated posing stockbroker and trust-funder, but it also has propelled 911s to more road racing victories than any other marque.
Last month, at the 55th running of the Rolex 24 in Daytona, the requiem for rear-engine 911s began as the works RSRs sported for the first time, engines that were moved ahead of the rear axel.
This weekend at tough old Sebring, the dirge continues.
The reasons for the revamping of the traditional engine placement are obvious; it reduces the pendulum effect in turns and also, by facilitating a new rear wing, improves downforce.
The results of the revamp were heartening to those at Daytona and back in Germany, home of Porsche. In its debut, the 911 RSRs ran near the front all day, led large chunks and, with Patrick Pilet, Frédéric Makowiecki and Dirk Werner driving the No. 911 car, finished second to a Ford GT.
“Now,” veteran Porsche works driver Pilet said, “I’m pleased. It was the maiden outing for our new car and the one little drawback was that we didn’t win. Still, it was an important step. Now I’m looking forward to Sebring.”
Added Makowiecki, “Congratulations to the entire team. What a great start to the season. The time that was invested in developing the new 911 RSR has paid off. The concept is good and it works.”
On the eve of Sebring, a completely different race than the Rolex – it has been called half as long but twice as hard – Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser, Head of Porsche Motorsport, said, “Our new 911 RSR celebrated a successful race debut at the season-opening round in Daytona. From this we gained a great deal of important insights that we now want to turn into an even better performance against very strong opposition. This alone will not be easy because this airfield course is a very special racetrack that puts huge demands of drivers and cars.”
But you have to think that somewhere out there/up there icons like Hurley Haywood, Augie Pabst and Mark Donohue are raising a dram of Martini & Rossi in toasting the rear engine 911s that were so ugly and so hard to drive that it became a point of pride to win a race in one.
For decades, the quirks which made 911s so odd and dangerous to drive also made them winners. The best at driving them use the massive oversteer to get the cars pointed straight coming out of curves and then, thanks to the weight behind the axels, get the power to the ground.
In part, it is the idiosyncrasies of the rear-engine configuration that have helped flat-six 911s beat on eight-, 10- and 12-cylinder competitors.
And also plow up many a gravel pit and dent many an Armco even in the hands of pros.
A couple years back, long-time Porsche 911 driver Andy Lally sat in the paddocks at Kansas Speedway and talked about the car and its raceability. He talked about its idiosyncrasies and the need to ditch driving intuition and the importance of driving with the accelerator instead of the brake.
Just then, fellow GT driver Leh Keen walked past and nodded. Keen, a veteran Porsche driver had just began to drive mid-engine Ferrari 458s for Scuderia Corsa. Trader, Lally joked under his breath.
Would Keen have trouble going from the quirky 911s to the 458s? Nah, Lally said. The trouble comes when front- or mid-engine drivers come over to Porsche.
After spending almost 10 years trying to deal the quirks of an air-cooled 911, I know of what he speaks.
But still, one has to feel just a little bit sad about an engine move that adds up to just a handful of inches. There something romantic and even dangerous about putting the engine of a car behind its rear axels. Something historic. Something insane.
Some of us think Butzi Porsche got the formula right when he designed the first rear-engine Porsche’s. And we hope that his quip that, “The 911 has many evolutionary changes, but all 911s are in the same family,” remains correct.
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Live TV coverage begins on FS1 at 12:30 p.m. ET.No Comment