For years Porsche played the role of a supporting player in sports car racing around the world. It played it well – perhaps Academy Award winning well, but nevertheless seemingly destined to remain as a class and not an overall winner capable of standing alone in the center stage spotlight.
Yes, there were outright wins in the unique over-the-road events like the Targa Florio as well as the important hillclimb arena. These, though, for all their tradition – the Targa going back to 1906 – were perceived to be outside the mainstream. The general consensus being that such affairs suited well a small displacement entry like a Porsche Spyder because handling and balanced performance rather than a reliance on outright horsepower and speed were the keys to winning.
That perception of Porsche changed one March Saturday in 1960 when Hans Herrmann and Olivier Gendebien drove their underrated RS60 Spyder to an overall victory at Sebring, leading a one-two Porsche sweep and humbling the far more powerful Ferrari Testa Rosa in the process. Before the decade was out not only would Porsche repeat its Sebring success in 1968, but would also go on to claim the World Manufacturers Championship just a year later.
But, while under Ferdinand Piech, then head of Porsche racing, and today the chairman of giant Volkswagen, Zuffenhausen transformed itself into the mega, global headlining sports racing star it now is, no where has its greatness been more evidenced than at the Florida 12-hour classic.
Porsche’s Sebring record shows it has amassed no less than 67 class triumphs, 207 top ten finishes, and led 19,977 miles out of the 2, 4 million miles covered by its cars and their 3,300 drivers that have participated at the Central Florida airport circuit.
Perhaps more important than those impressive statistics is the fact that of the 60 12-Hours held so far,Porsches have won 18, or just under 20 per cent, 13 of those wins being consecutive between 1976 and 1988. And, as if all that weren’t enough, it was Derek Bell who set the existing lap record of just 130 miles an hour in a Porsche 962 during the 1986 event.
Will Porsche win Sebring again? With the factory preparing to re-enter the prototype scene for 2014 don’t bet against the engineers from Weissach.. Remember their last overall Sebring triumph came in 2008 when Roger Penske’s supposedly underdog RS Spyders took the checkered flag ahead of the then undefeated headlining Audis. If they could do that, with a car not necessarily designed and made to race at the front, you can bet they’ll be a favorite to carry on what was one of their most proud winning tradition, not only at Sebring, but that everywhere they race.
Susann Miller, March. 2012
Susann Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a noted Porsche author and enthusiast, with 12 books and numerous articles to her credit on the subject of Zuffenhausen and its cars. www.porschebooks.org