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Seven decades of motorsport: Porsche turns 70

By Cameron Kirby, 26 Sep 2018 Features

Seven decades of motorsport: Porsche turns 70

Ferdinand’s finest has become the world’s most prolific maker of race cars, delivering more than 300 track-only specials each year. The legacy burns brightest in these categories

Porsche’s 70th birthday sees the marque in ruder health than ever before. Wheels celebrates the company’s seven decades of engineering excellence forged on road and track.

GT

GT racing marks the intersection of Porsche’s road car and racing businesses. Its current GTE, GT3, and GT4 racers all start life alongside the road-going vehicles, before undergoing circuit preparation in the continuation of a tradition that started with the original 911 RSR of 1973 and carried through the likes of the mighty 911 GT1 homologation special. The heightened competition in global GT racing today has prompted a 911 first, with the current GTE-spec 911 RSR playing against type – but not the rules – with a decidedly mid-mounted flat-six.

Read next: 2018 Porsche 911 GT2 RS - The Five Greatest 911s

ONE-MAKE

Porsche’s credentials span from grassroots racing to the pinnacle of international motorsport, but its cornerstones are the one-make Carrera Cup and GT3 Cup Challenge, which have spread to almost 20 championships across the globe. The first Carrera Cup was held in 1986 in Germany and the series has since grown to be the most prolific one-make category in the world. To keep it relevant for the man on the street, the current crop of Carrera Cup cars share the GT3’s 4.0-litre atmo engine.

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RALLY

The image of a gravel-spitting 911 might seem incongruous, but Porsche made a success of international rallying, starting in 1967 when Polish racer Sobiesław Zasada drove a 912 to capture the European Rally Championship. Irishman Cathal Curley followed with a run of international rally wins in a standard 911 Carrera RS 2.7, leaving competitors scratching their heads in his wake. The 911 became a must-have rally car, particularly in Ireland, which was a hub for European rallying at the time, and more than half of the 17 911 RS 2.7 Sports allocated to the UK competitively took to Irish rally stages in the 1970s.

Factory-backed 911s only won twice in global rallies, but while the Porsche factory’s rally results didn’t quite measure up to its road racing successes, a pair of outright victories in the fearsome Paris Dakar rally in 1984 and ’86 (back when the route began in the French capital) cemented the brand’s loose-surface credentials. If Porsche went racing, even in the inhospitable conditions of the Ivory Coast, it was going to win.

Read next: The Incredibles - 959, Carrera GT & 918 Spyder: Porsche turns 70

ENDURANCE

The unique test of mettle – and metal – that is international endurance racing has provided a happy hunting ground for Porsche. Between the big four – the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Spa, Daytona and the Nurburgring – Porsche has 55 victories, and is the most successful brand in history at the Circuit de La Sarthe with 19 wins.

The course of endurance racing history has seen Porsche build some of motor racing’s most iconic machines. The likes of the 917, 936, 935, 956, 962 and 919 crushed the competition in races spanning two circumnavigations of the clock. In endurance racing folklore, Zuffenhausen is a giant.

Read next: 2018 Porsche 911 Carrera T review

OPEN-WHEEL

Ferdinand Porsche designed successful Formula 1 cars in the ’20s and ’30s for Mercedes and Auto Union, but his own company’s Grand Prix success came as an engine supplier, with works entries between ’57 and ’62 netting just a single victory in the final year thanks to the late Dan Gurney. Porsche in F1 is most fondly remembered through a partnership with McLaren, as the supplier of TAG-branded engines for four full seasons from late-’83 to ’87 – during which the Woking team took home two World Constructors’ and a trio of Drivers’ Championships. The next chapter in a revered motorsport history is about to open when Porsche fields a factory team in the 2018/’19 all-electric open-wheel Formula E world championship.