Let’s Go Racing!!

Porsches and racing go hand in hand like milk and cookies, cheese and crackers, pretzels and beer, and just about any other awesome combination of things that you can think of.  Therefore it is my personal opinion that every Porsche owner owes it to him/herself – and his/her Porsche – to experience what it’s like to drive their Porsche car at speed on a racetrack.  And if you haven’t yet experienced what it’s like to drive your Porsche on a racetrack then, well, you haven’t yet experienced what it’s like to really drive your Porsche.

Now don’t get me wrong, I fully understand that racing isn’t for everyone.  But the thing about Porsche cars – more than any other car from any other manufacturer, past present, or future – is that they are the absolute best go-anywhere-do-anything sports cars ever made.  The beauty of a Porsche sports car – see, I have to make that distinction because Porsche builds SUVs and 4-door sedans  now – is that they are equally comfortable commuting in the city to and from work as they are carving the corners in a canyon or barreling into the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca.  No other sports car can make that claim because no other car from any other manufacturer has the historical data to prove it.

That’s why when I made the decision to participate in the 2013 Porsche Owners Club’s (POC) Performance Driving Series (PDS), I chose to compete with a car that I occasionally use to drive to and from work; a car that I drove from the Vermont/Canada boarder, down the Eastern Seaboard, and across the northern part of the United States in the Spring of 2012.  My goal was to attend every PDS event of the season and to drive the car to the track, race it for the weekend, and then drive it home … no trailers allowed.  My primary goal was to prove that a 1974 911 street car could actually be competitive in today’s POC, and that it could be raced on Sunday and driven to work on Monday.  My secondary goal was to experience the POC driver education system – to start at the bottom as an entry-level participant and work my way up through the program to eventually participate in the Cup Race Series.

I dove in head first.

The little 1974 911 was too heavily modified to run in a “stock” class – 2.5L twin-plug, carbureted engine; close-ratio gearbox; turbo brakes; monoball bushings front and rear; 23/31 torsion bars – so I classified the car via power-to-weight ratio and ran it in GT-5.  My two closest competitors in GT-5 were a full-blown 1970 911 racecar with RSR bodywork and a 3.2L engine, and a street-driven 1976 European Carrera 3.0L with a blueprinted motor.  The great thing about the GT classes is that they are totally unlimited in terms of allowed modifications just so long as the cars’ power-to-weight ratios fall within a certain range, so it really comes down to the drivers’ ability.  Sure, certain modifications will give competitors and edge in the way of ultimate grip or stopping power, but for the most part it’s a driver versus driver competition.  And it … is … FUN!

Over the course of the season the guy with the 1970 RSR-bodied car collected enough 1st place finishes to lock up the class championship.  That left myself and the guy with the ’76 Carrera to duke it out for second place; my ’74 was a bit lighter, but his car had 20 more horsepower – not to mention the fact that he was (and still is) a STELLAR driver – so the gap between us was usually only a tenth or two tenths of a second.  This made for some great battles and a fun rivalry for the season.  It also led to me making a bunch of new friends.

Here’s a video from the 2013 season.  It was my first time driving at Auto Club Speedway, and it’s obvious that I still had a lot to learn.

Unfortunately (for me), with about three or four events left on the calendar my rival came to the realization that his ’76 Carrera was too valuable to be throwing it around a racetrack.  He went out and bought himself a 2004 Boxster S and instantly chopped 2 seconds off his time.  WHOA!!

When the dust settled on the 2013 season I had been relegated to third place in the series.  And although there was no trophy for third, I felt that I had done what I set out to do with the car – to prove that a vintage, street-driven 911 could be competitive in a non-vintage racing series.  I had also achieved my personal goal of working my way through the POC driver education system; I earned my PDS license early on in the season, and I earned my Time Attack license at the very last event of 2013.  Small bit of trivia: The Time Attack Series replaced the Time Trial Series for the 2014 season.  I was issued the very first Time Attack license in the history of the POC.

The 2014 POC race season is nearly at the halfway point, and next weekend is one of the biggest events on the yearly schedule … The Tribute To Le Mans.  This year marks a much-welcomed return to racing under the lights as the 4-hour endurance event heads back to Willow Springs Raceway after too many years at Auto Club Speedway.  It’s shaping up to be a huge weekend for the POC – in addition to the 4-hour enduro Tribute race on Saturday night (from 6-10pm), there is also Friday practice, Cup Races #10 and #11, Time Attack #7 and #8, and PDS #7 and #8 – and based on what I’ve seen this year, there is going to be some good, good racing.

Here’s a link to more information on this year’s Tribute weekend: Tribute To LeMans Information

This weekend also marks the retirement of my 1974 911 from regular competition use, although I do still plan to use the car for semi-regular commuting and the occasional track day.  The reason for the car’s retirement is simply due to a natural progression of things; as I continue to work my way through the POC driver development program, the next step up from Time Attack is a move into Cup Racing.  To earn a Cup Racing license a driver is required to attend two Racer’s Clinics, however cars used in the Racer’s Clinics (and Cup races) are required to have roll cages, fire suppression systems, and other race car-specific hardware.  As I have no intention of converting my ’74 911 into a full-blown race car, the only logical step forward would be to build (or buy) a purpose-built race car.  So as the ’74 bows out a previously-retired piece of TLG racing hardware returns to the ring.

We were fortunate to recently acquire a car that my father, Tony, built for a client back in 2001.  A 1970 911E, The Red Car (name suggestions welcomed) was originally built to compete in the VARA/HSR West 2.0L Challenge; however, it was never seriously campaigned by the owner and it spent the majority of its life in storage.  Having sat unused for the better part of a decade, The Red Car will make its POC debut flying the TLG colors at this weekend’s Time Attack event.  It’s going to be a shakedown weekend as the car hasn’t seen competition use in nearly a decade, but the preparations made over the last two weeks lead me to believe that the old girl still has a fighting spirit.  At a fighting weight of 2,175lbs. (with driver and 5 gallons of gas) with a 210hp 2.4L carbureted engine, it looks like GT-3 will be where she makes her stand.  Here’s hoping for a decent showing.

Admittedly, I caught the racing bug.  But it was difficult not to because, after all, Porsches and racing go hand in hand … like Blackmore and Gillen, Mick and Keith, and Paige and Plant.  Racing is something I’ve always enjoyed – either as a spectator or a participant – but driving fast and racing competitively are only part of what got me hooked.  More than anything else, really, it’s the camaraderie of The Club that keeps me coming back.  It’s people helping people – either to learn their way around the racetrack or lending tools or parts in the pits – that makes going to the track enjoyable.  The well-structured, smoothly run event weekends make for low-stress environments where new attendees can feel comfortable as they learn how to drive their Porsches at speed.  And the driver education program – which in its design helps foster relationships through a mentoring program – helps to keep people safe as they develop their skills on a racetrack.  In short, the POC is the perfect environment for owners of Porsche cars to go out and GO FAST!!

So, as we roll into next week – and the month of May for those of you who are like me and find yourself regularly caught off guard by the rapidly changing months and seasons – I urge you to take a look at your calendar to see what you have brewing for next weekend.  If you have an opening on Saturday night you should seriously consider heading out to Willow Springs Raceway for the Tribute to Le Mans … and bring a jacket because the desert gets cold. There’s nothing quite like watching the fire-spitting upshifts, and glowing-rotor braking of a pack of Porsche race cars as they jockey for position … for four hours!  And for those of you with larger openings in your weekend schedules, I would highly recommend signing up for the PDS event on Saturday or Sunday and getting involved in yet another aspect of the Porsche Ownership Experience (besides commuting to work or driving the canyons).  You owe it to yourself and your car to try something new.

I hope to see you out there.