Porsche. The name elicits so many visions of everything from spirited weekend drives to race wins all over the world. It is a very special marque with a religious following. Eighty thousand rabid enthusiasts — shattering attendance records — clamored to Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca last weekend to celebrate all things Porsche at Rennsport. All agreed — it was pure amazement. No wonder this event only comes every three years, as more frequency might be complete overkill.
Rennsport, as the event is called, translates from German to “Racing Sport.” In this case, the sixth installment is far more than just any car show or race. It is the jubilee that gathers so many like-minded individuals that ultimately meld into a collective of oohs and aahs at the sights, sounds, and smells of the vision that Dr. Ferdinand Porsche had 70 years ago as he put the pencil to the drafting board. It celebrates aesthetics, engineering, speed, status, passion…
So much to see, so much to do! Whether it is being mesmerized by the sight and sound of 917s and a 908 Longtail playing cat-and-mouse around the winding 2.238-mile circuit, or the hypnosis of looking in every direction and seeing more Porsches than one could ever witness in a single moment, or experiencing the latest aftermarket innovations. It was all there. If it was remotely related to the marque, its presence was almost mandatory.
The race paddock featured an elite group of 250 cars that all made their way to the track in a series of eight run groups that entertained fans all weekend. However, in some cases, the noise from the track was merely a sonic backdrop to car-spotting, people watching, and non-stop browsing. All of this was almost overwhelming. Certainly, if this was an annual event, it would not have the same impact. It is more of a bucket-list visit.
Access was easy for everyone. To walk amongst legendary drivers, famous cars, and celebrities was par for the course. Naturally, any time you have a gathering of expensive cars and tastes, you can generally find a crowd befitting of the environment. The huge crowds were almost as impressive as the event itself. Walking through the crowd, one could spot John Oates (of Hall and Oates fame), The Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir, Tennis Star Maria Sharapova … and so many others.
So let’s talk about the cars. There were so many it was hard to pick a favorite, so much as letting all of the atmosphere sink in. The paddock was chock full of some of the most famous Porsche-powered race cars to ever turn a wheel in anger. Most every race car had amazing provenance — as so many clapboard descriptions would tell.
Some of the standouts included several of the Interscope 935s. Interscope Racing was owned by Marshall Field’s department store heir, Ted Field. In the 1970’s, before he would go on (in the following decade) to discover bands like U2 and produce some of the most iconic comedies including Revenge of the Nerds and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, he was a racing nut, turning the wheel in the 24 hour races at LeMans and Daytona, and the 12 at Sebring. He also brought up a young upstart driver named Danny Ongais, whom he funded in Indycar, Formula 5000, and a few appearances with Roger Penske in Formula One in 1978.
Adam Corolla ran his Hawaiian Tropic 935, which he bought two years ago at auction here in Monterey during car week. A rabid fan of Paul Newman’s racing career, so much so he produced a documentary film, Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman, Corolla has collected several of the Datsuns that the late movie star ran. The Porsche was just another addition to that collection, as Newman ran the car at LeMans in 1979 as part of Dick Barbour Racing. The comedian/podcaster was rather quick throughout the sessions, as it was clear he continues to improve his racing chops, although he did spin it once.
To speak of the iconic 917 in Porsche company is undoubtedly heralded with a moment of pause. Group 2, the Werks Trophy race, had three 1969 917s to satisfy the hunger the three-year wait between events gurgles in the fans’ bellies. Bruce Canepa, the noted Porsche restoration guru drove one of the beautiful Gulf-liveried 917-K’s that so many know as Steve McQueen’s steed in LeMans. The other Gulf-K was driven by Chris MacAlister. A beautiful 917PA Spyder lent marvelous provenance to the run group, flanked by a couple of 908s, a handful of 910s and 906s, and even an Elva-bodied MkVIIS. On display were George Follmer’s and Hurley Haywood’s 1973 917-10s. Follmer won the Can-Am Championship that year with Haywood completing the season in Third.
To walk around in the parking lots, the paddocks, the infield was a feast for the eyes. The outlaw Porsche Club, R-Gruppe, had their own tent in the paddock and took their hot-rodded 911s and 912s onto the track during lunch break. To hear all those air-cooled motors fire together and pull onto the track was a symphony of flat-six music like no other. R-Gruppe, while not snobbish, is undoubtedly exclusive, having only 300 worldwide members — mainly to keep control of the club — which has a rather long waiting list.
A walk through the Chopard Legends display gave an amazing walk through the history of Porsche and its street and track personalities ranging from an early Type-64 to the mighty 917, 962, and 919. The Garages along the pit lane provided amazing looks at the winningest cars in history. To get up close to these is like getting an audience with the Pope — almost a religious experience for the initiated.
There were many new products to see as one walked through the paddock and vendor areas. Items included exhaust, suspension, fuel cells, bodywork, updated engines and components… One of the more interesting new products was Elephant Racing’s Vonnen Electric boost. The layman can add 918-like hybrid technology to their existing Porsche 911, boosting the horsepower at least 175 hp with 150 lb-ft of torque — all done with a front mounted battery, aft control unit, intercoolers, and an electric motor that fits between the flywheel and the transmission. According to Vonnen inventor Bill Davis, “Just adding 200 pounds of curb weight will give the 911 a horsepower jump into the 500 range. We will be creating similar products for many different types of cars in the future.”
Then there was the tractor race. Many do not realize that Porsche also made farm equipment. Certainly a celebration befitting the provenance of agriculture — and Porsche’s contributions — made for fun and nostalgia. It was a real crowd pleaser as the tractors putt-putted around the fabled circuit pushing their 25 horsepower motors to the limit. One particular tractor was very cool: the Gunnar Racing Team painted their vehicle in the ‘Pink Pig’ livery and added a large rear wing to lend the tractor a sporting look. Add to the bratwurst, beer, lederhosen and dirndl wearing attendants, it was certainly a real taste of the motherland.
Autograph sessions were everywhere. Sadly, so many icons of Porsche lore were looking down from racer-heaven, but that did not prevent the likes of Hurley Haywood, George Follmer, Jacky Ickx, Brian Redman, Jackie Oliver, Bobby Rahal, Jeff Zwart, Jochen Mass, Earl Bamber and so many others applying signatures to books, posters, flags, chests, etc. Needless to say, in a celebration of all things Porsche it would be empty without the greats, both modern and historical, who piloted the great marque to victory in all kinds of racing.
The crowd themselves were rather colorful. So many different languages being spoken. So many accents of English. This is undoubtedly one of the great international meets. Lucky for us in Southern California, it was merely a five and a half hour drive up the coast to experience such a deal. The apparel being worn was every Porsche item of clothing, jewelry, footwear imaginable. I might have been the only one in street clothes….
A quick visit with Barry Toepke, vice president of marketing for Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca, revealed even his amazement with the draw of the event. “Our Saturday crowd reached 81,000. That is 20,000 more than the last time (three years ago) when we hosted the event.” The look on his face was priceless. It gave hope to many of us who worry about the future of motorsport. Certainly the marque-centric event drew a worldwide attendance, but the rarity and attraction made it a “must-do” for sports car-minded people.
It will be three years again until Stuttgart unfurls its flags and tents — hopefully at Weathertech Raceway, which in just a year has evolved and improved its facility. But wherever Rennsport goes, the mystique and huge following will find it and crowd it — and love it. Wow. What an event…