Le Mans-winning Porsche races the clock to Phillip Island Classic
The famous Porsche 936/81 Spyder that dominated the 1981 Le Mans 24-Hour is again racing the clock – this time to make a ‘fashionably late’ appearance at the 2013 Phillip Island Classic Festival of Motorsport from March 8-10.
The 360km/h open Porsche is currently en route from the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart, but the ship carrying it is not due to berth in Melbourne until March 7 – the day before official practice and qualifying for all participants in the Victorian Historic Racing Register’s 24th annual historic race meeting.
If it arrives on schedule, special arrangements are in place to speed the Porsche in its container to the circuit, where it will then be inspected by Australian Customs officers, along with many of the other high-powered sports cars arriving from around the world to take part in the meeting.
2004 Australian Carrera Cup Champion and current FPR V8 Supercar driver Alex Davison is on standby to take the Porsche’s wheel in the International Sportscar Challenge feature race of the meeting.
If all the stars align, he and the 936/81 will line up for a rolling start alongside a near-capacity grid of ‘big banger’ sports cars from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. The high-powered field includes nine Lolas, eight McLarens, four Elfins, three other Porsches, two Le Mans Matra-Simca MS670s, a Ford GT40 and six-time Bathurst winner Larry Perkins in a DeTomaso Pantera.
Ten of the entrants are coming from the USA, seven from the UK, two each from Germany and New Zealand, one from Hong Kong and the rest from Australia.
Porsche ‘Museum on Wheels’ custodian Klaus Bischof will arrive with a factory technician in advance of the Le Mans winner, ready to take charge of one of the Museum’s prized exhibits.
The 936/81 occupies a special place in Porsche history as a three-time winner of the world’s greatest endurance race.
After victories at Le Mans in 1976 and 1977, the open-cockpit 936 was enjoying a well-earned rest in the Porsche Museum when Porsche’s then-chairman, Peter Schutz, decided that the company should not sit on its outright victory laurels for the 1981 race.
There was no time to develop a new car, so the veteran 936 Spyder was dusted off, fitted with a new 2650cc twin turbo engine with water-cooled cylinder heads producing 462kW at 8,000rpm and sent to the race.
Carrying ‘Jules’ (a Dior mens’ fragrance) sponsorship and with Belgian Jacky Ickx and Britain’s Derek Bell at the wheel, the lone 936/81 Spyder went on to dominate the race, qualifying on pole position and taking victory by 14 laps, while reaching 360km/h in the process – the fastest of any car in the race.
The victory also marked a significant anniversary for Porsche, as it came exactly 30 years after the company’s first Le Mans participation in 1951, when a 1.1-litre aluminium-bodied 356 Coupe took a class win.
Joining the 936/81 in the Paddock at Phillip Island will be another spectacular ‘Le Mans’ winner – the naturally aspirated V8-engined Porsche RS Spyder that won the American Le Mans Series LMP2 category in 2006.
The famous RS Spyder #6 with its mid-mounted 480HP (353kW) quad camshaft 3.4-litre V8, was the first of the new generation of Porsche racing sports cars when it made its debut in 2005.
This car competed in 11 American Le Mans Series races spanning the 2005 and 2006 season, recording four LMP2 race victories and never finishing outside the top three positions in its class.
The presence of the ‘Le Mans’ Spyders in Australia is poignant, as Porsche has announced that it will return to the French endurance classic in 2014 with a factory-entered team targeting outright victory.
Porsche is already the most successful make in Le Mans history, with 16 wins spanning the period 1970-1998.
The 24th annual Phillip Island Classic is being staged by the Victorian Historic Racing Register and is supported by Shannons, CoolDrive, Penrite and Bosch, with race officials supplied by the Victorian Mini Club.