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Group C Porsche display

Group C Porsche Party

By Serge Vanbockryck

For as long as I could remember I’d heard nothing but the best possible comments about the motorsport events that the Duke of Richmond and his team organised each year in Goodwood. Whether it was the Members' Meeting, the Festival of Speed or the Revival, ‘best possible’ was the understatement of the year, every year. Until 2019, work or family holidays had prevented me from experiencing the Goodwood magic in person, but three years ago Porter Press provided me with the perfect excuse to make the trip when my first book, Ultimate Works Porsche 956, was launched at the Revival. 

Serge Vanbockryke at Goodwood Revival in 2019

Though seriously underdressed, despite wearing a vintage Irvin flying jacket, it was a weekend to remember for all the right reasons, and a solemn pledge was made right there and then to come back to Goodwood as soon as possible.

Then COVID-19 stopped the world in its tracks.

The only possible advantage of the pandemic I can think of is that it allowed me to spend more time at home working on my next book, the ‘natural sequel’ to the first one, fittingly titled Ultimate Works Porsche 962. More time in my case inevitably means more research which just as inevitably translates into more words. I believe that, with the book now in the final stages of pre-production, the various counts stand at around 700,000 words, 1,400 pages and 1,800 photos, in 3 volumes.

Since the 2019 Goodwood Revival I had been quietly hoping Porter Press would again launch the new book at this prestigious event (which – lucky me – they will later this year), but then to my surprise the Goodwood team decided to hold a 40th anniversary celebration for the Porsche 956/962 at this year’s 79th Members' Meeting; the first of probably many such celebrations which will be held around the world this year and also next, when Porsche celebrates its 75th anniversary as a car manufacturer. 

For those not familiar with the subject: the Porsche 956/962, built according to the ‘Group C’ regulations back in 1982, is the most successful purpose-built race car in the company’s history. Group C was the sportscar class created 40 years ago, and which spawned other legendary cars such as the Sauber-Mercedes, the TWR-Jaguars, the Aston Martins, Martini Lancias and screaming Mazdas. The 1982-1990 period of the World Endurance Championship was – and still is – the greatest era in sportscar and endurance racing the world had and has ever seen. Thus Goodwood was the perfect backdrop to officially announce Ultimate Works Porsche 962.

So this year, quite unexpectedly, I would be getting two Goodwoods for the price of one and so it was with great expectations that I set off for West Sussex in early April.

I wasn’t disappointed. From the perfect organisation – why is it that only in Goodwood the traffic jams generally last minutes, whereas delays at many other motorsport events around the world can be calculated in hours? – to the beautiful spring weather, Goodwood once again set the stage for an unforgettable automotive time-travelling experience. 

For ‘an old-continental’ like me there is something enviable about the way the ‘Brits’ organise events. There is always this great respect for tradition, which, coupled with immense enthusiasm and obsessive attention to detail, results in a quite unique atmosphere. 

And in that respect, this year’s Members' Meeting did not disappoint. Au contraire, what had started as ‘shall we get a few 962s together and do some demo laps at the Meeting?’ ended up as one of the largest gatherings of Porsches 956s and 962s I have ever seen, and that includes all of the legendary Porsche Rennsport Reunions I have attended. No fewer than 20 cars were neatly lined up in the paddock – that’s almost ten per cent of the total number of 956s and 962s built between 1982 and 1994. All of which were in concours condition, coming from famous collections like the Historic Porsche Collections and the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart.

Group C Porsches photo

What’s more, 11 of these 20 were ex-works cars, most of them decked out in the legendary colours of tobacco sponsor, Rothmans. Never before had so many works Porsches been gathered at the same event. 

Rothmans photo by Serge

Collector Shaun Lynn brought chassis 956 001, the very first of the 28 Porsche 956s built by the factory, while the Porsche Museum showcased the freshly restored chassis 956 002 – the 1982 Le Mans winner – for the first time since it had been painstakingly reassembled as a fully working race car, having spent years hanging upside down from the Museum’s ceiling. The Museum also brought along chassis 962 006 – the 1987 Le Mans winner – and chassis 962 009 – Hans-Joachim Stuck’s special PDK-equipped Supercup car from 1987 and 1988 which had been immaculately restored by the Museum engineers a year ago.

Chris Crawford presented 956 007, the very car which Derek Bell and Stefan Bellof drove to victory in the 1983 Silverstone 1,000 Kms before the rapid young German totalled it at the next race at the Nürburgring in his search for more glory. Afterwards it was dismantled by Porsche and its identity given to another crashed and repaired 956 used as a camera car. What was left of the original monocoque and mechanicals spent decades in the US as a cobbled-together show car for various sponsors before it was brought back to Europe and meticulously restored to its 1983 glory.

Henry Pearman

Above: Image by Rob Overy

Henry Pearman brought his gaggle of works 956s and 962s, including chassis 956 008, 962 007, 962 008 and 962 010, the last being the Shell/Dunlop car which came so close to winning Le Mans in 1988 in the hands of Hans-Joachim Stuck, Derek Bell and Klaus Ludwig. Former Porsche works drivers Jochen Mass and John Watson were on hand to ‘gently’ drive these cars around the circuit on their demonstration laps, but were quickly back to their old habits.

Porsche 962 at Goodwood Members Meeting 2022

On the ‘privateer side’ there was Shaun Lynn’s Joest New Man 956 117, which famously won Le Mans two years on the trot in 1984 and 1985; the second time beating the mighty works Rothmans Porsche team in the process. That shock win, and the alleged secret which has surrounded it for almost 40 years, is finally explained in elaborate detail in Ultimate Works Porsche 962.

Three of the last four special Nigel Stroud-designed Richard Lloyd Racing Porsches, chassis 962 GTI 200, 201 and 203, were also in attendance, resplendent in deep red, bright pink and lavish turquoise. German master chef Rainer Becker brought his Kremer Kenwood 956 101, the very first customer Porsche 956 from 1983 which, uniquely, has been driven by no fewer than three former F1 champions: Mario Andretti, Alan Jones and Keke Rosberg.

Seeing the cars take to the track on Saturday evening as the sun set over the classic Goodwood circuit, lights ablaze, is a sight few of the tens of thousands of spectators will easily forget. I certainly will not.

962 & 956 Porsches at sunset

Above: Photo by Gun Hill Studios

With the editor and the designer working hard to get the third volume of Ultimate Works Porsche 962 signed off in July, I now have a few months to come up with suitable attire for September’s Goodwood Revival. The Irvin flying jacket was just too warm.

By Serge Vanbockryck

Click the following link to register your interest in Ultimate Works Porsche 962 - The Definitive History, by Serge Vanbockryck, or for more information on this title click here.

Ultimate Works 956

 

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