It’s an electrifying race. The red competition vehicles are approaching the curve . . . they’re coming closer . . . and closer . . . and closer . . . until finally the many Junior, Master, Standard and Super models hit their top speed of about 20 km/h and turn into the opposite straight in a wild cloud of diesel fumes. A pack of Porsche tractors, built in the 1950s and 1960s, is going all out at the legendary Porsche Rennsport Reunion in Laguna Seca. The winner of today’s first-ever Porsche tractor race is the American works driver Patrick Long: “That was by far the slowest Porsche I’ve ever driven. But it was lots of fun!”
A lot is changing in America right now – but Porsche remains, especially in California. So, too, the enthusiasm for the sports car made in Germany. Porsche North America CEO Klaus Zellmer: “The Golden State has always been a second home for us.” And no wonder. In no other region of the world has Porsche sold as many cars as here.
So it only makes sense that the largest Porsche festival is held in California – even if the event debuted as a quaint little meet in Lime Rock, Connecticut, in 2001. But Porsche’s 70th birthday bash has brought more than 50,000 fans to Laguna Seca. Porsche Club USA is here, with 1,500 vehicles, to marvel at the more than 500 Porsche racing cars (350 of them on the track) and meet some 50 legendary drivers. The high number of former racers is evident in this year’s motto: “Marque of Champions”.
The drivers and engineers are worshipped as always. The fans throng around Reunion co-founder Brian Redman and fellow legends Hurley Haywood, Jochen Mass, Chad McQueen, Manfred Schurti, Gijs van Lennep and all the rest. A total of eleven Le Mans winners are here telling the wildest stories from their day. In two shifts of 25 signatories each, the old – and a few young – drivers autograph books, caps, posters, photos and even go-cart parts. And when, 31 years after the fact, Derek Bell climbs out of his Löwenbräu 962 drenched in sweat following his sprint across the 3,601-kilometer track, the crowd goes wild. Norbert Singer is here, too, the father of the 962. Or Hans Mezger, who designed the engines for GT2s and GT3s and developed the Turbo 911. August Achleitner, responsible for the current street-legal Porsches, is congratulated on his influence somewhere between the supercar parking lot (“959 parking only”) and the Momo 356 RSR Outlaw (Rod Emory irreverently fitted a 400 hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder twin-turbo engine from Rothsport Racing and TurboKraft onto the chassis of a 964-type Porsche 911 and forced the body of a 1960 Porsche 356B on top). The party is going strong.
What also remains is the fascination for the cars. A whole line-up of 906s, 908s, 910s, 917s and 956s roar their flat-engine tirades into the California air, and when the 919 Hybrid Evo, on its last official round after the homestretch, etches a whopping 185 (mph!) onto the speed clock, the voice of the track announcer nearly turns summersaults. The crowd, which has to make do with a rare maximum of 80 miles on the highway, goes berserk. Elsewhere, the restored 1939 Berlin-Rome race car – on loan from the Hamburg Prototype Museum – is casting its spell on visitors in the exhibition tent, while a duplicate, unpainted version of the Type 64 sits among the enthusiast cars, in between a gold 911 highly tweaked by the Japanese tuner Rauh-Welt Begriff and a modernized 1984 911 Turbo RSR by Accumoto Motorsport Präzision in Bewegung from Waunakee, Wisconsin.
So, business as usual? Almost. Because the world’s best racing driver isn’t here: Walter Röhrl. From what we hear, the former rally world champion doesn’t like the recent political and societal changes in the United States. And just can’t be bothered to visit.
There’s nothing as constant as change.
Info: First appeared in the ramp #44