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Time Traveling with Porsche

2015 Le Mans 24 Hours Like almost every other aspect of life here within our modern civilization, motorsport has witnessed enormous changes even during the recent working life span of those who toil in this endeavor. To understand these changes it is instructive to look back and appreciate what we had and what we have today. During the maelstrom that surrounds the Le Mans 24 Hours I had the opportunity to take such a step, this time in the company of a man, widely acknowledged as one the greatest engineers to ply his trade at La Sarthe: Norbert Singer. P00_9287_a4 For those of you unfamiliar with the record of Herr Singer and the cars he was responsible for, a little history lesson is appropriate. Norbert joined Porsche AG on March 1st, 1970 and was immediately put to work in the racing department at Zuffenhausen. Porsche's first outright win at Le Mans came in 1970 and was repeated the following year, both times with the Porsche 917. Obviously the 917 was largely complete when Norbert arrived, but as with any racing cars there are details to improve and modify, and in such a small operation as Porsche's racing department back then everyone made a significant contribution. HDK-2066-orig The first projects that Singer headed up was the development of the 911 RSR and 911 Carrera RSR Turbo. I had a detailed look at the latter of these two cars, HERE and HERE. P13_0114 New regulations in 1976 for the World Championship of Makes meant developing the RSR Turbo into the 935, and that was also evolved over time into one of the most distinctive all Porsches, 935-78, aka "Moby Dick". 24h Le Mans 1976 And as if that was not enough to keep Singer and his department occupied, Porsche built a challenger for the World Sports Car Championship, the 936. Three victories at the Le Mans 24 Hours was a good record by any standards, I wrote about the car that brought the famous win in 1977 HERE. HDK-2941-orig The '80s saw the introduction of the Group C regulations to govern endurance racing and as ever Singer and Porsche were waiting, this time with the Porsche 956. Victories at La Sarthe in 1982-83 for the factory and 1984-85 for Joest Racing and generally dominating the sport was the result. 2015 JB General The 956 was revised into the 962 and two further wins followed in '86 and '87. There were rule changes that effectively squeezed out Porsche and it was 1996 before the factory team returned to Le Mans in search of the top step of the podium. In between those years Singer's interpretive skills with the rulebook meant that in 1994 the 962 was transformed into a street-legal Dauer GT, which was eligible for the GT class at Le Mans and duly scored Porsche's 13th outright win. 1998_LeMans24_jb_0003 In 1998, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of Porsche, Singer and his men were once again successful. That was the end of the story for Porsche's attempts to win outright in La Sarthe until 2014. Last month they managed to add another victory to the 16 they already had claimed, though this would be the first without input from Norbert Singer. He is now enjoying retirement and acts as a consultant to the ACO on various technical and sporting matters, he remains as focused as he was during his time with Porsche. 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours To those who are familiar with the many great achievements of Norbert Singer, I apologize for the brevity of this explanation which does absolutely no justice to his record. The more attentive of you might have questioned the opening photograph. What does this have to do with Norbert Singer, Porsche and Le Mans, this otherwise unremarkable workshop? 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours Garage Michelin Anthony is located in the small commune of Teloché situated to the south of Mulsanne, the town that gave its name to the most famous straight of them all. It is a typical non-franchise auto repair business in a rural community, all the colors - all the sizes, taking on most car related tasks for the local populace. What makes this place special is that from 1951 right through to 1980 or 1981 it was the headquarters for the factory Porsches when they were racing at Le Mans. kachel_41_01_1020x620 In 1951 it was difficult for a German team to find locals to take them in, the memories of the recent second World War and the German occupation were too painful and personal for many. Garage Provost (as it was known then) did accommodate their German guests and the relationship blossomed over the years. 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours The present owner of the business allowed us free reign to explore his property, some of which looked as if was undisturbed since the days when Porsche used the facility. 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours Norbert recalled that the team were billeted in local houses with the two bosses, Herr Piëch and Herr Bott, getting the house with the bathroom. The hospitality extended to the local Café du Sport providing a hot meal when the team returned from the night practice sessions at around 2:00am, with wine of course! Sitting at the long tables would be the mechanics and technical staff, around 30 to 40 depending on how many cars were entered. After the race there was often something to celebrate, even if some fell asleep, the wine flowed as it so often does in France. 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours In recent years the Teloché has recalled with pride its former guests and there have been events staged around the weekend of the race. Norbert sees an old friend in the shop window; the garage proprietor produced a book from his office that had photos of Porsche's time in Teloché, of course Norbert was in some of the shots, much to the surprise of our host. kachel_41_02_1020x620 Perhaps the most incredible change between then and now is that the race cars were driven to and from the circuit on the public highways. This is the winner in 1971 waiting to travel to the race... There was no warm-up session prior to the race, so Porsche tested out the effectiveness of their post-practice repairs on the streets of Teloché, no one seemed to be concerned as the 917s were fired up and run 'round the town. 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours Look familiar? 1971-Teloche-b- This image, from Norbert's collection, is also from 1971, showing the unique Porsche 917/20 with its aerodynamic bodywork designed by the SERA organization; the Deux Chevaux is quite a contrast. kachel_46_01_1020x620 The pink 917, seen here in the pits at Le Mans after its journey from Teloché, had a sticker on its front wheel-arch "Der Trüffel-Jager von Zuffenhausen" (The Truffle Hunter of Zuffenhausen) and was adorned with the names of various cuts of meat to be found on a pig. The car's main sponsor, Martini, did not see the funny side of this German humor and took their stickers away; not even the aero package worked well in the race, though it was used as a basis for later 917 Can-Am efforts. kachel_41_03_1020x620 This scene is from 1973 with the RSRs preparing to drive to the track. The orange 911 in the background finished fourth overall. LeMans-1973-2 Norbert has a passion for photography and took this on the way to the circuit. The only similar occurrence in today's motorsport world is at the Spa 24 Hours, where the entire grid is brought down in a convoy from the track to the centre of Spa, like THIS. 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours And this is a pale attempt at a homage, even if it is a 911 Turbo S on the road to la Circuit de la Sarthe from Teloché. The time changes, much is better than it was some 30-plus years ago, some is not. It was time to say au revoir to Norbert and also to Le Mans for another year. (Photos: copyright and courtesy of Norbert Singer and Porsche AG; John Brooks)

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