Every three years in the USA, there is a Porsche gathering of epic proportions that goes under the name Porsche Rennsport Reunion, and the sixth such gathering took place in late 2018 at Laguna Seca raceway in California. Rennsport Reunion V1.
For the uninitiated, Rennsport is German for ‘racing sport’ and in the automotive world, no brand has a deeper connection with motorsport than Porsche which has earned more than 30 000 race victories around the globe since a 356SL took a class win at Le Mans in 1951.
It’s also a brand that has generated for itself a passionate following in a country, USA, that historically drives motor cars which are the very antithesis of a Porsche. It is that passion that’s behind this gathering of all things Porsche with an emphasis on motorsport hardware and the people who have designed, driven and maintained the cars over many decades.
There could hardly be a more evocative venue than Laguna Seca with its testing ‘Corkscrew’ feature that’s a famous – infamous for some – landmark within the track’s upper reaches. The presence on the track’s approach roads of a miscellany of 918 Spyders, 911 Turbos, 356 Coupes and Speedsters and all manner of ‘lesser’ Porsche derivatives should have prepared me for what lay ahead, but the reality exceeded any lofty expectations.
The massive circuit paddock was open to all and contained within its many garages were an unprecedented 350 racing Porsches together with parking lots and display areas packed to the rafters with thousands of Stuttgart’s finest dating from 1948.
For any motor sport fanatic, and an incredible 81 000 of them jammed into the circuit over four days, this has to be a highlight on the calendar, but for a Porsche aficianado, it’s nothing less than nirvana.
Aside from all the cars, the paddocks and marquees were populated by famous faces associated with racing, engineering, designing and managing everything to do with racing Porsches. And the organisers made sure that these heroes of the last 70 years – Porsche was founded in 1948 – were fully accessible.
Think for example, of Derek Bell, Jacky Ickx, Hurley Haywood, Gimmi Bruni, Vic Elford, Jochen Mass, Kevin Estre, Dickie Attwood, David Piper, Patrick Pilet, Patrick Long – the list of former and present works drivers goes on and on – but for me the highlight was the presence of the incredibly modest Norbert Singer, the moving force behind the near-invincible Porsche 956/962 models and architect of so many of Porsche’s 19 Le Mans wins.
For three days, I cruised the paddocks in wonder, gaping at the 1 200HP Porsche 917/30 that blew all American opposition off the track in the early 70s; bowing before innumerable 956/962 models many of which I had watched in live action in the 80s; salivating over scores of 918 Spyders and a multitude of 959s not to mention more 2018 911 GT2RS models than have ever been assembled in one place.
Of course, all this fabulous machinery was not confined to the paddock. In truth, the whole reason for the existence of Rennsport is to provide owners with a chance to run their cars hard on the track. So, from soon after sunrise to just before sunset on each of four days, the rolling hills surrounding Laguna Seca echoed to the howl of flat-four, flat-six, flat-eight, flat-12 and V8 racing Porsches.
It was nothing less than magical, and to add a dash of humour to the proceedings, the organisers, Porsche Club of North America, had assembled a fleet of Porsche diesel tractors – some bedecked with spoilers and even the famous “Pink Pig” livery – which were piloted by famous names from the past and present.
History was certainly the theme of Rennsport, but to ensure the American public were given a chance to see the most up-to-date of racing Porsches, the specially-modified 919 Evo version of the company’s triple Le Mans winner was brought along to blast its way around the sinuous circuit.
Many hoped this venture would include an attempt on the circuit lap record set by Marc Gene in an F1 Ferrari way back in 2003, but it seems the 919’s set-up was not ideal for the circuit layout, and in the interests of preserving the car and driver, Earl Bamber, Porsche did not allow a full-out run. Nonetheless, Bamber effortlessly lapped within two seconds of the record time and set an all-time speed record down the very short main straight of 306km/h.
For lovers of historical racing, there could be no better sight than a veritable fleet of mid-eighties 956/962 models in period liveries competing with the much more recent Porsche RS Spyder V8 models that so dominated the second tier of American sports car racing some ten years ago. The howl of those normally-aspirated V8s contrasted markedly with the sharp bark of the turbocharged flat-sixes employed more than 30 years back. But be under no illusions that the older cars would struggle. Down the straights, the 750HP 962s were right up with the more modern competition and over a full lap, a 962 recorded a third-place time behind two RS Spyder models.
Naturally, the invincible 917s also paraded their wares and massaged the ears with their flat-twelve rumble but space restrictions demand that I curtail my enthusiasm. It would be very easy to devote ten pages to this utterly incredible event which demonstrated not just mankind’s love affair with the motor car, but more particularly, the simply unequalled appeal of the Porsche brand. Given that the company’s cars are only accessible to the well-heeled, it is astonishing that so many car fans should pitch up at and partake with massive enthusiasm in a one-brand show.
The late Ferry Porsche, son the company founder Ferdinand Porsche, always espoused a policy of “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” in reference to the eponymous company’s racing participation. For sure, his philosophy has taken root as all those participants and spectators confirmed in the California countryside.