Rennsport recap – a look at Porsche’s sixth racing reunion

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Racing Porsches on track at Rennsport Reunion VI. Photos courtesy Porsche AG.

Since 2001, the Porsche Rennsport Reunion has paid tribute to the brand’s racing cars, as well as the men and women behind them. WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca has hosted the event — which now takes place every three years — since Rennsport IV in 2011, and on September 27-30, the storied California track was the home of Rennsport Reunion VI.

Over the four-day event (up from three days previously), attendees and participants enjoyed everything from racing to interviews and autograph sessions, interspersed with product displays, and — befitting Porsche’s nationality — a Biergarten, bringing a taste of Oktoberfest to the Monterey Peninsula. Rennsport VI reportedly drew more than 500 vehicles (plus another 1,600 in the Porsche Club of America corral), and roughly 350 were raced during the reunion. A total of 81,550 visitors were on hand to enjoy the festivities, an increase of 20,000 spectators over Rennsport V, held in 2015.

Dr. Wolfgang Porsche with 356 number 1. Remaining photos by Hoch Zwei, courtesy Porsche AG.

Among the cars turning laps on track was Porsche 356 number 1, the first vehicle registered by the company in 1948. Behind the wheel was Dr. Wolfgang Porsche, chairman of the supervisory board of Porsche Automobil Holding SE and Porsche AG, and the youngest son of Ferry Porsche. Driving the track’s famed “Corkscrew” for the first time, he proclaimed the original “far more impressive” than the rough approximation built at Porsche’s Leipzig test track.

George Batcabe, who celebrated his 86th birthday on September 27.

At age 75, Dr. Porsche was far from the oldest driver turning a wheel in anger. One potential candidate was George Batcabe, who celebrated his 86th birthday on the opening day of the reunion and credits his 1956 Speedster for keeping him “young and fit.” In the late 1950s, Batcabe flipped the car on his way to Road America, prompting his insurance company to total the Porsche. Batcabe never gave up on it, storing the car for five-plus decades and restoring the 356 in time for the 2015 Rennsport Reunion. “Why shouldn’t this still be fun when you’re older?” Batcabe asked, “As long as I’m in nobody’s way, I’ll keep driving. Age doesn’t matter.”

John Oates poses with the “Pink Pig” tractor. The front wing didn’t help, as Oates failed to win his heat.

Sometimes, neither does horsepower. As pop star John Oates demonstrated by racing a Porsche tractor done up in a “Pink Pig” livery, one can still have fun wheeling a 4,600-pound vehicle that produces just 25 horsepower, particularly if one is competing against like vehicles. His current insurance policy forbids him from driving race cars, but tractors — even at Laguna Seca — apparently are not verboten. “I have several tractors on my farm in Colorado,” Oates said, “I know what you can do with them.”

Jacky Ickx aboard a Porsche 936.

Racer Jacky Ickx posed for a photo in a Porsche 936, a chassis he co-drove to victories in the 1976, ’77, ’78, ’79, and ’81 24 Hours of Le Mans. It was the 1977 running that he remembered most vividly, describing the victory as “seemingly impossible.” Battling against the Renault Alpine A442 — a car expected to dominate the race — the Porsche 936 faced long odds. When the 936 he’d driven to victory the year before expired on lap 46, Ickx shared the driving duties of the second team car with Jürgen Barth and Hurley Haywood. As the entered Renault Alpine A442s began dropping out of the race (the last expiring on lap 258), a new challenger emerged — a Mirage GR8, powered by a turbocharged Renault V-6.

With an hour remaining in the race, Ickx’s 936 lost a cylinder, but the team refused to give in. Mechanics removed the ignition and cut off the fuel to the cylinder, and the car limped home on the remaining five, completing a total of 342 laps to the Mirage’s 331. “For hours we fought tooth and nail,” Ickx remembered. “The team gave their utmost. In the end, we climbed to the top of the podium. We made the impossible possible. No one gave up — you never forget such lessons.”

Jochen Mass poses with a Porsche 962 C.

For driver Jochen Mass, the Rennsport Reunion is a reminder of all the Porsche models he raced over his extraordinary career. His favorite, the Porsche 962, comes as no surprise, since the prototype dominated the competition — on both sides of the Atlantic — for years after its 1984 debut. Often altered by privateer teams, the 962 earned its final 24 Hours of Le Mans win (as a Dauer 962 Le Mans) a full decade after its introduction, but Mass wasn’t a fan of the “improved” cars. “I think how magnificent it was to drive the works cars,” he recalled, “When customer teams slightly modified the 962, often the good balance was gone. What does that tell us? Leave a Porsche as it is. That’s as good as it gets.”

The 81,000 Porschephiles that attended Rennsport Reunion VI would surely agree.

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