Porsche 917 meets 963 at Daytona
By Wayne Batty
There’s even earlier history here, but the last time Porsche went top-tier endurance racing in both the North American IMSA series and the FIA’s WEC (née World Sportscar Championship) in the same season was all the way back in the mid-1980s with the all-conquering Group C and IMSA 962s. Now, nearly 40 years later, the crack German outfit is at it again – a situation that has only come about because of the strategically aligned new LMDh (Le Mans Daytona hybrid) regulations.
Though its all-new 963 hybrid competition cars fell short at the season opener, suffering a variety of technical issues and finishing 14th overall at this past weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, you can bet that Porsche, being Porsche, won’t be down for long. You don’t hold records for most number of wins at Daytona and Le Mans by chance.
The significance of this aligning of the motorsport stars is certainly not lost on former Works Porsche driver Hurley Haywood, a man who has won no less than five times at Daytona and three times at Le Mans, all in Porsches. While Porsche had already won the Daytona 24 Hours with its 907 LH in 1968, it was the fearsome 917K’s wins in 1970 (on its race début) and ’71 that captured imaginations and helped to cement Porsche’s endurance racing legend. So it was particularly fitting that, late last year, the now-retired racer was tasked with driving the legendary 917K (a Brumos Collection car) around the Daytona International Speedway alongside the brand new 963.
Apparently, Haywood has been following the 963’s pre-race testing and development, not in the hopes of making a comeback, but because old habits die hard – he’s been heavily involved with Porsche motorsport since the 1970s.
‘Going back to the days of Peter Gregg, I have no idea how many new cars I have been a part of. The 956, 962, 917-10,’ said Haywood. ‘Each one was an innovation. It was a solution to a problem. For instance, the 962 was the answer to IMSA not allowing the 956 to compete in North America because the driver’s feet were ahead of the front wheel centreline. So, Porsche brought the feet back and the wheelbase was lengthened and it became one of the most successful race cars ever built. It ran in various versions for over ten years. The longevity of it is amazing.’
When asked if he, America’s most successful sports car racer, would still be up for a competitive drive in the 963 at one of the official races planned for 2023, Haywood answered candidly: ‘In one view, I am glad I am retired. I honestly don’t think I could drive a new car with all the responsibilities a driver has now. The cars are so electronically controlled. My foot was the traction control, my foot regulated the braking. I worked out to have the strength to move the wheel against all the force and now the cars have power steering. Shifting is on the wheel and the electronics regulate matching the engine revs with the transmission. My focus was entirely inside that race car and on the track for 100 percent of my stint. No outside interference. Now they have engineers speaking to them from pitlane requesting critical changes to the car, to the systems. All of that has to be done on the steering wheel, through a complex set of dials, buttons and paddles. This is spaceship kind of stuff. I am sure I could learn it but is a very difficult scenario for these modern guys to drive the cars competitively and fast, doing what had to be done in a car like the 917 K or the 936 or 962s that I raced plus all of these requests. Some things might be easier for them but there are so many additional responsibilities we didn’t have to deal with. It is a new world in many ways but the desire and drive to be the best never goes away.’
Whatever happens in the races to come, Porsche, by honouring both iconic machine and legendary driver, has once again demonstrated immense and admirable respect for its motorsport heritage. It’s the kind of feelgood viral content that makes fans easily – we can think of one or two automotive brands that should probably be taking notes.
By Wayne Batty