Rennsport Reunion VI Was A Porsche-Packed Weekend Of Classic Motorsport
Photography by Kenneth Midgett
Porsche is getting ready to release its first all-electric production car, the 919 Evo been setting high-profile lap records all year following its hat trick of Le Mans victories, and the classic side has shown off some adventurous heritage-themed projects—add to this the outpouring of enthusiasm for local rallies and shows and track days and it seems that the Stuttgart sports car manufacturer is having a pretty good birthday party this year in honor of its 70th. Attempting to contain such a milestone to just one day’s celebration would be a disservice to the company’s dense timeline of what’s been contributed to sports and race cars since the 356 made its first street legal voyage on June 8th, 1948, but if you had to choose a single event to call the “big one” then it would be Rennsport Reunion VI.
Four days of Porsche overload might seem like a recipe for repetition, but only when everything is brought together can you begin grasping the dimensions and the diversity in this story. It’s much more than a bunch of 911s running around the peninsula of Monterey. You’ll stand next to a 917/30 as it calls up more than 1,000hp, walk past a baker’s dozen of 959s under a particularly well-secured tent, see Type 935 turbo motor in an array of hermit crab homes from 935 to 962, see Jacky Ickx leaning on one of his old 936s, and that’s just a few highlights of general admission.
Chopard invited us to join them for the weekend, which meant we got even more access along with the much-appreciated hospitality—my Motel-6-for-the-price-of-the-Ritz on reserve was no competition for what you get when a Porsche Motorsport partner puts you up in nice digs instead—and thanks to that and the ability to happily lose a bit more of my hearing to high-powered German cars, my first experience at Rennsport Reunion lived up to the ideals I hoped it could.
It wasn’t so much a game of finding out if a certain car was in attendance, but rather where it was currently parked in the paddock. The weekend at Laguna Seca was a mobile display of history, and I hate it when that phrase is stuck onto an event that doesn’t deserve it. It’s typically a story of a copy writer crying wolf when you read things like that, but Rennsport has real teeth. Even if you aren’t a 911 die-hard or that much of a fan of them there’s something universally captivating about an air-cooled flat-twelve starting up; the complex noise of the engine’s auxiliary elements gets drowned out by the staccatos of warm-up revs and the whole thing is more like watching a team of ’90s sci-fi actors turning on some extraterrestrial antique they dug up than anything like turning on what is, essentially, a car. Of course, if you are taken by the shape of a 911, there were plenty of those to choose from too.
There were official classes with clever names like Weissach, Eifel, Gmünd, etc., but rather than talk about everything as it appeared in the program and go into documentary descriptions about what the humidity index was and how the le dogs smelled (“French-style” American hot dogs in stale-style American buns), the unofficial groups were the ones that stood out amongst the kind of company that makes that hard to do.
Meeting The 917 Family
The 917K, the one everyone knows best, done up in the livery everyone remembers from Le Mans and Le Mans is just one of those things you can’t get tired of. That’s not to say it’s not a car and a livery that have been “reimagined” and discussed to death, but however popular or exposed it may be, the treat of seeing one chased down a race track by a twin is categorically boredom-proof. It’s hard to say if they look better when you can get up close to them or when they’re on track, and seeing them going out for demonstration laps together (along with Mark Donahue’s 917/30, a sister car run in a body-in-white look, and a couple of 917/10s) was only eclipsed by seeing the 1971 Le Mans-winning Martini car on display in the adjacent pits.
For a car that nobody reportedly wanted to drive upon its debut certainly did some good work populating the Porsche trophy case. Funny how the Can-Am dominance of the Donahue car would be enough for any car to attain a lasting place in the motorsport canon, but it shared a name with the car that gave Porsche its first-ever overall win at Le Mans, which it went on to control like no other. Good genes and all that.
The Shape-Shifting Racing 911
The prototypes are expected to be rather wild looking, but it’s the cars based to some degree on street models that can have he most presence, and the 911, like no other sports car, has been modified for racing. Between rallying through African dirt, sticking to the banked walls at Daytona, getting airborne in the Eifel forest, compressing through Eau Rouge, sliding along Brands Hatch, and more or less appearing at the starting line to any race in the world for cars with four wheels attached, the venerable design has proven time and again that it can keep up with anything anywhere.
If the engineers could have enough budget and time, they could turn the 911 into a winner wherever it went, and in doing so the car took on some rather distorted identities in the process, summed up pretty well in the three pictures below which show the potential of customer and privateer racing teams throughout the years (the RSR parked next to the privateer 935), as well as the very loose interpretation of the what the name meant over the years (the GT1-98 and the classic long hood race cars like the ones raced by Peter Gregg’s Brumos team to so much success in the United States).
Even though the GT1 is probably the most radical 911, the fact that it bears little more than taillights and a painted-on number in common with Porsche’s bread and butter is one of the reasons the turbo cars from the ’70s are still more popular—and it’s not like the 935 didn’t win Le Mans first. The 935, and the 934 and 934.5s (a 934 that’s been modified to Group 5 specifications), were out in numbers over the weekend, and having a friend who knows the cars down to their chassis numbers and ownership timelines definitely made the game of 935 detective more enjoyable than usual.
Writing New History In Endurance Racing
Porsche won it’s class at Le Mans this year with the 911, and they have been frequent podium finishers in one of the most competitive GT eras in the past twenty years, and then there was the time before that when the GT and GT2 fields at endurance events were made up almost exclusively of the familiar Porsche 911 shape with wide arches and tall wings attached to it. Today’s competition 911 motor arguably sounds better than anything else in modern GT racing (especially when downshifting), but the fact that its center sits “in front of the rear axle” (I think that’s called mid-engined, or at least “Cayman”), is just further evidence of the flexibility in the 911 name. The GT1 above reminds us this is nothing new.
It will be interesting to see what Porsche develops if the new supercar-based GT class at Le Mans attracts enough attention when it replaces LMP1 as the top class beginning in 2020—if the race is well-attended manufacturer-wise, it might be an appropriate time to queue up an electric 911 should they win it with a hybrid race car that looks somewhat similar.
The 911 may have continued to rack up class wins after the factory team stopped bringing cars or supporting third-party efforts in the 1990s, but when Porsche decided to return to the most important endurance race there is, it only took them one failed attempt before they won the 24 Hours of Le Mans outright three times in a row with the 919 Hybrid. After retiring it following the 2017 WEC season, Porsche built it outside of any homologation standards to make it as quick as possible before taking it on a tribute tour around the world where it’s been lapping up major course records along the way, not least of which coming from the Nürburgring Nordschleife this year.
The unrestricted 919 Evo, as the record-breaking car is known as, came to Rennsport Reunion VI to show off and do a few demonstration laps—I don’t know the next time I’ll see something cresting 190 at this relatively scrunched-up track—and while the car in motion offers a chance to see some shots fired across the bow of physics, Chopard gave me a different and even more privileged view of the car when they got me behind the temporary barrier to ask some slightly stupid questions to some very smart people. Over the din of some other special car on the track adjacent to the garage, my new friend Martin explained to me how the team programmed the inboard suspension to communicate with the active front aero to keep the car’s pitch and roll stable, how one goes about presetting a car turn-by-turn for a record lap attempt, how every part on the 919 Evo save for the brakes and tires is an in-house item with its own part and serial number, and on and on in the matter-of-fact but slightly amused way that people explain complex things to interested people whose knowledge is way below their pay-grade when it comes to things converting excess boost pressure into reserve energy.
The tour guide taking us through the clipped history of Porsche in motorsport was knowledgeable enough, but having one of the lead engineers of the car that won Le Mans three times before being cranked even further to set the fastest lap time at the most fearsome track you can drive something with four wheels on? That’s pretty special, and something that’s only possible at events like the Rennsport Reunion with hosts like Chopard. Of course, a general ticket still meant oblivion for the senses.
Iconic liveries mixed in with lesser-known but equally striking vintage liveries in the paddock and then weave amongst themselves in a stream heading down the Corkscrew; there’s more than enough to look at for the full four days of festivities, and if you think everything built by Porsche sounds like the air-cooled flat-six in your college buddy’s dad’s Targa from way back when, then you’r really missing out on the collaborative potential of an air-cooled flat-eight that revs like something stung the tachometer needle on the ass. Car people will sometimes complain that the next generation of kids won’t be into classic cars, but that’s something that perhaps the preserved Model T owner’s club should worry about, because if the faces the kids made when a 908 was cold-started a few feet away were pretty good indicators that at least some of this antique car stuff has staying power.