|Prototypes for Success: The Porsche 956 and 962
Porsches have claimed some 23,000 victories race victories since 1948,
when Ferdinand Porsche’s nephew, Herbert Kaes, drove the very first Porsche
chassis to a class victory in the first auto race held in Austria after
World War II. By far the most successful car manufacturer in international
motorsport, Porsches have been winning throughout racing’s modern era.
Among the more dramatic eras of Porsche dominance took place during the
1980s, when the amazing 956 and 962 models conquered prototype sports car
racing on both sides of the
The genesis of the concept was the introduction of the Group C category
for the 1982 World Endurance Championship, which was instituted to expand
manufacturer interest in the series. Group C rules removed restrictions
on engine capacity, but limited fuel consumption to 600 liters for the
1,000-kilometer races that made up the bulk of the schedule, and 2,600
liters for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Porsche’s response to the new rules was an all-new aluminum monocoque
chassis that utilized ground effects through the use of venturi tunnels
under the car. Power was provided by a 2.65-liter twin-turbo flat-six engine
With backing from the Rothmans tobacco company, Porsche’s works team
won five race in its first season. This included a decisive triumph at
Le Mans, where Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell led all the way from pole position,
and bettered the winning miles-completed total of the previous year’s winning
Porsche 936 by a staggering 46 miles!
For 1983, Porsche built a full dozen 956s for sale to private teams—although
the works team still had an ace up its sleeve in the form of a new Motronic
engine management system that upped output to 640hp and improved fuel consumption.
The results spoke for themselves as 956s swept the top eight places at
Le Mans in 1983 (with (Vern Schuppan, Al Holbert and Hurley Haywood leading
a 1-2 sweep for the works team), while Ickx repeated as the WEC driving
champion. Although the works team sat out Le Mans in ’84 over a dispute
with the rule makers, Joest Racing won the French classic for Porsche anyway
with a customer 956.
With the Group C program in good hands, Porsche looked to bring the
956 to America and the IMSA Camel GTP Series. IMSA differed from WEC, however,
in having rules based on an engine equivalency formula rather than fuel
consumption limitations. IMSA also specified that the driver’s foot pedal
box be behind the front wheel centerline, for safety reasons. The resulting
IMSA-spec version, designated 962, incorporated a 2.4-inch extension to
the wheelbase to accommodate the footbox regulation along with slightly
differing bodywork to accommodate IMSA requirements, which resembled the
"longtail" aerodynamics developed for the 956 at Le Mans.
The 962 premiered at the Daytona 24-hour in 1984, and appeared set for
victory before mechanical teething problems intervened. The independent
teams that made up the bulk of the IMSA series immediately recognized the
possibilities represented by the car, and a long line of customers beat
a path to Porsche’s door. One of the strongest customer teams was Al Holbert’s
Löwenbräu-backed effort, which won three consecutive Camel GT
titles from 1985-’87. All told, the 962 would capture no fewer than 54
Camel GT race wins.
European rule makers ultimately copied their IMSA regarding the driver’s
footbox, so Porsche adapted the 962 back to Group C. For 1985, the works
team replaced its 956s with 962C models that were powered by water-cooled
three-liter versions of the familiar flat-six turbo. Despite increasing
competition from the likes of the factory-backed Jaguar team from Tom Walkinshaw
Racing, the Rothmans Porsches secured Le Mans titles in 1985 and ’86 with
The advancing age of the 956/962 design seemed finally to have caught
up with it when Jaguar’s factory team finally supplanted Porsche as World
Endurance Champion in 1987 (although Bell and Holbert teamed up to win
Le Mans yet again that year), and the works team withdrew. However, customer
cars remained the backbone of the series for several more years, and were
still winning IMSA races as late as 1993, the final year of the GTP formula.
There would be no quiet retirement for the 962, however. For 1994, Porsche
joined with specialty car builder Dauer Racing to prepare a GT-category
version of the 962 for Le Mans, adapted from a limited-production road
car built by Dauer. Although seemingly overmatched by the much more powerful
Group C Toyotas, the more fuel-efficient Dauer Porsches made up time on
their Japanese rivals by making fewer pit stops, and they also proved more
reliable. At the end of the 24 hours, Yannick Dalmas, Mauro Baldi and Hurley
Haywood stood atop the podium to celebrate a seventh victory for the 956/962
at sports car racing’s most celebrated event. It was a worthy sendoff for
one of the greatest designs in the history of sports car racing.
ground-effects 956 (TOP) gave rise to the 962 GTP version (MIDDLE) and
then came full circle with Dauer's 962LM (BOTTOM). (Illustration by