This Porsche Macan-Bodied Rally Raider Was Built For The Dakar
A version of this story has previously appeared in GT Porsche Magazine
Still photography by Robb Pritchard, in-action photography by Marian Chytka
We thought we’d look back on one of the more intriguing rally raid cars built in recent years: the LP Racing Porsche Macan.
On this site, most of the machines wearing the Porsche crest are presented in full gleam, freshly detailed and sat under professional lighting, so it might be quite a contrast to see this mud-covered Macan-bodied beast. It’s no gimmick though. This is a serious rally-raid car built as a modern day homage to the Dakar-conquering 959s of the mid-80s.
With such a long, varied and illustrious history, “Porsche” of course means different things to different people. Le Mans fans will always revere the 917s or the Rothmans-era 956s and 962s, but if your chosen discipline involves rough stages hundreds of kilometers long through some of the world’s most inhospitable terrain, it will probably be the 959 that stands out. The technological marvel that took on and conquered the Dakar was Pal Lonyai’s favorite car growing up, and when he wanted to enter the rather longwinded FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies and Bajas, it was that spirit that he wanted to capture. “For me Porsche is the perfect idea, the perfect product, and I wanted a car I could be proud of. That’s why I chose the Macan body to race with.”
Rally raids are considered to be the absolute toughest form of FIA-sanctioned motorsport. Held on tracks both so rough and so long that no WRC car could make it through, they’re often made up of stages that are each longer than a whole day of typical rallying. For the amount of abuse they have to endure and the up to 400 liters of fuel they need to carry, the cars have to be made very robust, which is why they weigh nearly two tons. Obviously then there is virtually nothing on a rally-raid car that you’d find in a road car, and just like the famous Dakar Minis and Toyotas of the past, the only thing on this Macan that is really Macan are the lights.
The start point for a true rally-raid car is the tubular chassis. This one was made by Schlesser GP, a name well-known in motorsport circles. Jean-Louis Schlesser, apart from being one of the nicest people you could hope to meet, is a former World Sportscar champion with the Sauber Mercedes team, spent time as a Formula 1 driver, and then went on to become a two-time Dakar winner. He has spent the last 20 years focusing on rally-raids and builds. This chassis was made of 80 meters of chrome molybdenum tubing, and the result is a complicated lattice of metalwork focused on the twin principles of durability and safety. It’s designed around the engine and gearbox and although it would be nice to have an original Porsche engine in this Macan-esque machine—the 4.8 from the Panamera GTS for example—it would be virtually impossible to upgrade it to competition-spec as you’d have to machine everything yourself.
This car also has a very complicated fuel injection system, so tuning it through the ECU would also be very difficult. Without the obligatory 36mm air restrictor, the throbbing 5.0-liter V8 Ford Coyote block would easily push out 600bhp. As it is though, it’s pegged at 360bhp which is actually a little less than the road car, but it does give a healthy bottom end punch of 600Nm of torque. Although it’s not the sound of Porsche power when Pal starts it up and puts his foot down, the sound is enough to non-surgically gift you a new orifice. At full attack it slurps a staggering 60 to70 liters of fuel every 100km, which is why for the mammoth stages in South America it would need the full capacity of its 400-liter fuel tank. It’s certainly built of endurance: the six-speed Sadev gearbox the motor’s mated to is made specially made for these types of cars and is a box of cogs many times stronger than anything you’d ever find in a road car, which is why they cost €20,000 a piece.
The double wishbone suspension is damped by a double shock coilover setup with remote reservoirs made by specialist firm Donerre and have the FIA-mandated 25cm of travel—a single shock and spring costs around €2,000 and each corner of the Macan has two. It’s expensive but with several hundred kilometers to complete every day, it’s a price every crew has to pay.
The car also has something I’ve never come across before; the differentials are all self-made. “There were two options. We could have bought the ‘cheap’ set, which are not really cheap at all, and don’t last so long, or the really damn expensive ones… But as we were building the car from scratch we knew it wouldn’t be reliable at first so there didn’t seem too much point putting miles on the transmission when we didn’t expect to be finishing the events in the first year. That’s why we made our own.” Designing, machining, installing, and testing the diff ratios was a slow process to begin with, but Pal says it’s just like a business; if you have the right people with you and they get good at what they’re doing then it all comes together quickly.
For the body you’d be forgiven for thinking that all Pal needed to do was take some moulds of the original Porsche panels and find a way of tacking some fiberglass casts to the frame, but it’s not as easy as that. There is no compromise in the chassis design and no way to re-shape a structurally integral bar just because you want the body panel to go there. First, sheets of foam were laid down and skillfully and painstakingly sculpted to fit the chassis while resembling the Macan as close as possible. It’s longer, wider, taller, and the roof is slightly more compressed than the road car’s bodywork, but the result, despite being roughly 13% bigger than the road car, is easily recognizable. “I had no idea just how much the spectators would love it,” Pal says. “Because of its heritage, Porsche is obviously one of the most emotive brands in the world but when I am driving I can actually see people standing with their mouths open because they love the car so much. This is the same where ever we go, whether we are in Spain, Portugal or Italy. And that’s a very special feeling.”
Pal spent many years building his business of vitamins and supplements into a multi-million dollar company, and when he got to the point of having this kind of disposable income he decided to get into the type of motorsport he always loved. “I have full respect for people who do circuit racing, but in my opinion I don’t think there’s anything in the world like rally raids. The stages, especially in the bigger international events, can be over 300 hundred kilometers long, and it’s all done completely blind. The co-driver only has information about the distances between things and a few major junctions, so just about everything is a compromise about how fast you dare to go into each corner. And I love that. The aim is not to win as I know that I have absolutely no chance against drivers like Nasser Al-Attiyah, the two-time Dakar winner and WRC2 champion, or Mikko Hirvonen, but it’s just to finish that I find the satisfaction. To have pushed at every opportunity and to have beaten it, it’s really an amazing feeling.”
The sound of a tuned and angry V8 echoing off the trees, a pair of lights in front of a huge plume of dust. Sideways through a spray of water, drifting through a deeply rutted corner, and then getting almost a meter of air over a jump… These photos were taken at last year’s Hungarian Baja held near the north side of Lake Balaton, and Pal was obviously pushing as hard as he could.
From his first experience many years ago in a rented diesel Nissan Navara that he crashed on the 2nd stage, to having built a car that gets more attention than the MINIs and Toyotas, Pal knows what the biggest challenge with this car will be: the Dakar stands by far and away the toughest test of man and machine in the world. Some might say that would be Le Mans or the Isle of Man, but the Dakar—an event that takes place over an insane two weeks, all off-road, and has crews in the cars for 24 hours at a time—is just different. On stages in the Atacama for example, there’s 50 degree centigrade heat to contend with and then the same event goes to places so high above sea level that drivers get altitude sickness… Nothing else even comes close.
This is where Pal will take the Macan eventually. But he’s not ready yet. His approach to this event is the same brick by brick mentality that he built his business up with. “There are rich people who just buy what they think they need and go to South America… and retire in the first few days. That’s not what I want. The greatest challenge will be to finish the Dakar and for that you need car that has absolutely no problems in it, a great team of mechanics, and a service truck to go from camp to camp… And also a professional driver who has experience in the event. My plan is to have someone with much more experience than me in the first car and I will go in the one I am building now, then to have the first, and maybe even the second year to get some experience. That’s how I plan to make a success of it.”
The Macan looks awesome enough on European rally raids, but in the deserts of South America it will look absolutely sensational.