Monday, March 25, 2024

Porsche’s modern day Open Wheel Racing exploits

With Stuttgart triumphing in Formula 1 briefly…


The 1980’s were heady times for Porsche, with it’s multi-pronged foray’s into single seater racing, a discipline that Stuttgart wasn’t renown for…


Thee Ronster’, aka Ron Dennis shrewdly enticed Mansour Ojjeh, owner of TAG Electronics to foot the bill for a brand new 1.5-litre turbocharged engine. Although McLaren’s Nicholson massaged Cossie’ (Cosworth) normally aspirated 3.0-litre DFV V-8’s were still competitive vs. the turbo revolution in 1982. Obviously the writing was on the wall…


The 90 degrees 1.5-litre V-6 Porsche designed engine, built to McLaren’s Technical Director John Barnard’s tight packaging specifics, in order to mate to it’s revolutionary MP4/2 chassis were ultimately fast-tracked with a hastily converted MP4/1E racecar for the end of the ’83 F1 season, making it’s debut at the Dutch Grand Prix.


The McLaren MP4 was the first carbon fiber composite racecar to compete in Formula 1, for which the MP4/2 was an evolution designed specifically for the TAG-Porsch turbo engine, since it’s predecessor had been built for the aging Cosworth DFV V-8.


Upon the firing of thee “Professor”, aka Alain Prost from Renault, Dennis immediately snapped up the Frenchman’s services in favour of Wattie’, aka John Watson. And with Prost joining Niki Lauda, the rest was History!


And although initially Porsche was weary of having it’s name upon the engine due to fears of uncompetitiveness. Obviously this quickly changed, as Prost and Lauda won a total of eleven races, with Prost outscoring Lauda 6-5. Yet it was Niki “The Rat” Lauda winning the 1984 F1 World Championship by a solitary point ahead of teammate Prost!


McLaren would also win the first of two, consecutive F1 Constructors Championships with the TAG-Porsche engine that season. With the Woking based outfit utilizing updated MP4/2B and MP4/2C chassis for the 1985-86 Formula 1 season.


Prost would claim His first F1 Drivers titles in 1985, before clinching a second consecutive crown in ’86. With “The Professor” ultimately outscoring Lauda 16-6 for wins over the duo’s three years before Lauda retired from F1.


For ’87, Prost got a new teammate, with ‘lil Stevie Johnson, aka Stefan Johansson joining McLaren for one year. Yet the once dominant TAG-Porsche V-6 turbo was nearing the end of it’s lifecycle, especially with Honda’s V-6 turbo becoming a real threat!


Alas, McLaren could only muster three wins with it’s MP4/3 in 1987, all by Prost vs. Williams/Honda’s nine. Along with two more Lotus/Honda victories for a total of eleven by the Japanese rival! In what would be the final year of competition for the TAG-Porsche lump’.


As McLaren would score 25 wins and seven Poles enroute to three F1 Drivers titles and two Constructors Championships between 1983-87.


When I think of Porsche and Indy Cars, I immediately think of the iconic green and white Quaker State March Porsche that Teo Fabi drove during the late 1980’s. For which I’ve kept an unbuilt Monogram? 1:24 or 1:25 scale plastic model kit forever, which I’d planned to build when I still had my eyesight! Yet I’m getting ahead of myself.


Porsche actually planned to race at the Indianapolis 500 in 1980, in a purpose built IndyCar chassis. As Ted Field commissioned Eagle IndyCar Designer Roman Slobodynskyj to pen His Interscope IR01.


This single seater chassis was intended to be powered by a air cooled Flat six turbocharged variant akin to what the Porsche 935 was powered by. And not being a stressed member engine, the IR01 consisted of a tube frame rear end “cradle” to house the Porsche engine.


Originally running to stock block turbo boost regulations of 55-inches. Word got out about how fast the racecar was, after setting an unofficial lap record at IMS sister track Ontario during testing! With fellow USAC competitors effectively lobbying USAC to reduce the Porsche’s boost to 48-inches and effectively neutering the Porsche’s “advantage”. With Porsche quickly pulling the plug upon this effort.


Porsche returned to IndyCar in earnest in the Fall of 1987, with the project led by the late Al Holbert.


As Porsche introduced it’s own carbon fibre chassis dubbed the 2708 in 1987. Which made it’s debut at Laguna Seca wit big Al’ (Unser) at it’s controls, finishing a quiet P24 after retiring on lap-7.


Yet Porsche quicky dropped it’s own 2708 IndyCar chassis for a March 88C customer chassis the following season. With Teo Fabi scoring six Top-10 finishes and a best of fourth at Nazareth enroute to tenth overall during Porsche’s first Full season campaign.


As the Porsche North America IndyCar entity reached it’s zenith during the 1989 CART PPG IndyCar World Series season. Once again with Teo Fabi as it’s driver.


Yet during Porsche’s most successful season Al Holbert wouldn’t get to witness Teo Fabi scoring Porsche’s first Pole position ironically at my Home track of Portland International Raceway during the 1989 Budweiser/G.I. Joes 200. Or Fabi subsequently scoring Porsche’s lone IndyCar victory also from Pole at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course later that summer.


As Holbert would perish in a private plane accident after taking off from Columbus, Ohio following the IMSA Columbus street race on September 30, 1988. With Teo Fabi finishing an impressive fourth overall in the championship during the ’89 IndyCar season.


Porsche then expanded to a two car entry during it’s final IndyCar season (1990) with Fabi being joined by “Gentleman John” Andretti, with the duo racing in white and blue Fosters livery.


Yet John Andretti could only muster tenth overall in the championship with a pair of fith place finishes at Cleveland and Vancouver, BC.


With Fabi scoring one Pole at Denver and the team’s solitary podium, a third place finish at the Meadowlands enroute to P14 in the standings. Before Porsche withdrew from IndyCar at season’s end.


Porsche then made one last, dismal attempt at returning to formula 1 for the ’91 season, which spectacularly failed! Providing what Alan Jenkins, then Footwork Arrows Technical Director says was basically a “reheated”, warmed-over V-12 lump!


Claiming the 3.5-litre normally aspirated V-12 unit was nothing more than two old 90-degrees V-6 turbo motors mated together minus the turbocharging units.


Yet the Porsche 3500 V-12 motor was reportedly overweight, lacked Horsepower and suffered from Oil starvation, with Footwork failing to qualify for half of the races entered that season! Before the team dumped the Porsche V-12 in favour of customer Cosworth DFR V-8’s instead.


As Porsche has since solely focused upon Sports Car racing, although it’s planned attempt to return to F1 in 2026 as an engine supplier to Red Bull ultimately failed due to Stuttgart wanting a 50-50 partnership with Red Bull. Whilst Seester’ VW owned Audi has bought the Sauber F1 Team, which will become a Full werks’ Audi effort in 2026…