Goodwood members meeting celebrates forty years of Porsche 956
In the early 1980s, the world witnessed a revolution in sports car racing. The arrival of Group C ushered in an era where fuel efficiency was paramount and the aerodynamic advances of ground effect would revise the accepted norms of design and performance forevermore. At the vanguard of this brave new world was Porsche, which produced a world beater in the 956, the manufacturer’s first monocoque sports-prototype race car. Fast forward four decades and the legacy of Porsche’s Group C behemoth remains unrivalled. At Goodwood Motor Circuit, on the south coast of England, for the venue’s seventy-ninth Members Meeting, some twenty-one examples of the 956 and its successor, the 962, assembled, spanning a scarcely credible twelve years of international competition, underlining the scale and scope of their extraordinary dominance as factory and customer racing machines.
Of the 956s and 962s which made the journey to Goodwood, sixteen were taking part in a special high-speed demonstration run, marking the largest number of works and privateer examples to have driven together to date. Needless to say, the spectacle promised to be unique and unforgettable, overloading the senses with vivid liveries, evocative smells and the incomparable, unmistakable sound of Porsche’s turbocharged flat-six at full chat.
OFF TO A FRESH START
As the cars lined up in the half light of evening, forming the traditional pattern of a Le Mans start, headlamps came on at intervals, resulting in parallel beams of white and yellow light cutting across Goodwood’s paddock straight. The pit lane cleared and a hush of anticipation descended on the packed grandstands. It was easy to forget the intervening forty years of Porsche’s engineering development and racing success — the very best of Group C had, for one very special weekend, returned in all its glory. Porsche’s Le Mans-winning works cars, dressed in their famous Rothmans liveries, were joined on the start line by the recently restored 962 C famous for taking Hans-Joachim Stuck to a decisive victory in the ADAC Supercup in 1987.
THE PORSCHE PARTY SERVED AS A WELCOME REMINDER OF A TRULY GOLDEN AGE FOR SPORTS CAR RACING
Alongside was a panoply of privately owned ex-works and customer 956/962s, including the bright red Richard Lloyd Racing Cabin 962- 200 and its Italya Sports sister car, complete with unmissable pink bodywork. No less striking was the yellow and black New-Man Joest Racing 956 (winner at Le Mans in 1985), nor the bright green Skoal Bandit 956 B, the Motronic engine management of which helped Derek Bell to the world driver’s title in 1986. One by one, the cars barked into life. Revs built and exhausts roared as the engines warmed through, the sound ricocheting off the pit walls and deep into the English countryside. Cockpits closed, the grid emptied and three-deep rows of spectators lined the perimeter, packing the grandstands and holding their collective breath. As the flag dropped and the engines screamed simultaneously toward their 8,000rpm redlines, the crowd appeared to reel back in a united awe. The first of Porsche’s works cars led a field weaving and sliding onto the famous Goodwood straight, spearing in close formation in the direction of the first corner before turning out of sight.
For the following twenty minutes, a tightly packed group of what many consider the greatest race cars of all time lapped the 3.8-kilometre circuit at near race pace, wastegates chattering and engines hitting shrill peaks as their drivers explored the limits of power and braking, wrestling with unassisted steering, heavyweight clutches and physical manual transmissions. The pink sky above the circuit deepened and each car’s headlights pierced the encroaching darkness, side by side through the challenging sections of Fordwater and St Mary’s, slipstreaming down the Lavant Straight before braking hard into Woodcote and the tight chicane preceding the start line. For a fleeting moment, Goodwood could have been Le Mans, Daytona or Sebring, these very same cars battling tooth and nail for the most coveted titles in endurance racing. All too soon, however, the drive was over, the most astonishing of sights consigned to memory as the cars pulled into the empty paddocks and fell silent once again. For drivers and spectators alike, it was a privilege to witness this incredible spectacle — a celebration, yes, but also a powerful evocation of an unrepeatable era in sports car racing.
Following its historic 1-2-3 victory at Le Mans in 1982 (the inside story was published in the March 2022 issue of 911 & Porsche World), the 956 and, latterly, the 962, would take Porsche to six further consecutive wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, alongside three back-to-back driver’s and manufacturer’s titles in the World Endurance Championship. In 1983, the 956 — in both works and customer guise — took an incredible nine out of the top ten places come race end at Sarthe. This was also the year in which Stefan Bellof set the long-standing lap record around the Nürburgring’s Nordschleife during qualifying for the Green Hell’s legendary 1,000km race, the remarkable combination of Norbert Singer’s ground effect car and Hans Mezger’s potent turbocharged boxer engine uniting to clock a time of six minutes and eleven seconds, still the fastest single lap for a series race car around the famously dangerous circuit.
The preeminence of the 956 and 962 was not only demonstrated by the early successes mentioned here, but also by the steady stream of silverware both models would go on to accumulate for Porsche during many years of battle — the 962 won its last race in the IMSA GTP Championship at Road America in 1993, took its last Le Mans victory as a reclassified road car in 1994 and scored its final victory by winning the All Japan Grand Touring Car Championship event at Fuji Speedway a few weeks later. It’s worth remembering, this last hurrah came twelve years after the 956 made its racing debut. The Porsche party at Goodwood, forty years on from that incredible first year of Group C, served as a welcome reminder of an unparalleled epoch for Porsche and a truly golden age for sports car racing as a whole. The Goodwood Members’ Meeting is a thrilling weekend of epic motor racing, high speed track demonstrations and fun-packed festivities. Uncrowded, intimate and offering access all areas, the annual bash is open to members of the Chichester site’s Road Racing Club community. In addition to 956/962 demonstrations, this year’s Members’ Meeting played host to reveal of the Gordon Murray Automotive (GMA) T.33, a 607bhp Cosworth V12-powered two-seater similar in size to a Cayman. Gordon Murray and the Duke of Richmond were on hand to introduce the car and to pull the covers off for eager onlookers. GMA’s halo model, the 654bhp T.50, served as pace car during the Porsche Group C demonstrations. Same time next year?!