Monday 28 September 2015

Porsche Rennsport Reunion V, automotive heaven in Monterey

This weekend, the fifth edition of Porsche Rennsport Reunion transformed the Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey into a true Porsche walhalla.  Take ideal weather conditions, add a staggering setup of cars and drivers ... automotive heaven set up camp in California last weekend.

Porsche Rennsport Reunion is the world's greatest gathering of Porsche racecars, celebrating more than 60 years and countless victories of Porsche in motorsports. With this only being the fifth edition in 15 years (edition IV took place in 2011), anticipation for this unique event was high, attracting Porsche and motorsport enthousiasts from all over the world. No other manufacturer has such a rich history and constant succes in motosport and sportscar racing; celebrating the "Legends at Le Mans" couldn't be a better theme for this edition of Rennsport Reunion.  Surely not after celebrating their record breaking 17th overall victory at Le Mans past June with the 919 Hybrid LMP1.  The original date for the event set to clash with the WEC round at Fuji was even rescheduled to be able to have the Le Mans winning car at Laguna Seca over the weekend, adjacent to Porsches third consecutive victory in the WEC at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin last weekend.

2 Grand Marshals have been named for this edition of Rennsport Reunion.  Jacky Ickx, "Monsieur Le Mans", six time Le Mans winner, Formula 1 racer (and winner), two times sportscar world champion, Paris Dakar winner & Can Am champion; the 71 year old Belgian has one of the greatest racing careers around. Co-Grand Marshal is 67 year old Hurley Haywood, one of the most succesful American endurance drivers.  He won Le Mans three times, the Daytona 24 five times, two victories in the Sebring 12h and has two IMSA GT titles under his belt.  Combining both champions achievements in racing, it will be hard to find better ambassadors representing Porsches rich history at that certain village in France.  

The amount of cars on and around the track is massive.  There's just too many to list.  From the early cars of the 1950's with the 356 and 550 to the mighty 917's, 935 "Moby Dick", the impressive 956 and 962, the 911 GT1 who gave Porsche their 16th win at Le Mans, the LMP2 Spyder which made its debut at Laguna Seca back in 2005 and last but not least the Le Mans winning LMP 919 Hybrid on track for some daily demo laps.  Overall there were 300+ racecars on track during the weekend.  Some of them exclusively brought over from the Porsche museum in Stuttgart, others from raceteams and private collections such as Brumos Racing, the Rev's institute, the Ingram collection and Canepa design.  Add to that an extra ordinary selection of cars on display in the paddock with all Porsche Le Mans winning race cars presented in the pit garages and a selection of 75 racecars in the Heritage exposition, most of them also linked to the 24 hours of Le Mans, and it was hard to know where to look first.  In the car corrals inside the track, more than 1400 cars were lined up, on the parking lots probably even more.  

At Porsche's centre feature in the paddock, the Legends of Le Mans display showed 3 of the most iconic cars in Porsche history; the 356, 917K and 919 Hybrid. Perhaps the most anticipated car was the #46 Porsche 365.  This is the first Porsches works entry at the Le Mans in 1951, immediately winning its class (under 1500 cc) and finishing 20th overall.  Since 1951, every year a Porsche has raced at Le Mans, another record streak that still stands today.  The #23 red/white Porsche 917 K won the race at La Sarthe in 1970, the first outright Le Mans win for Porsche, with Richard Attwood and Hans Hermann at the wheel.  1970 was also the backdrop for Steve McQueen's Le Mans movie.  The 919 Hybrid gave Porsche its record breaking 17th victory at Le Mans earlier this year.  Porsche also intruduced a limited edition 911 Carrera GTS Rennsport Edition, of which only 25 will be produced.  Pretty exclusive stuff !

Renn Reunion is not only about the cars, it's also about the legendary Porsche drivers who attend this event in big numbers and mingle inbetween the fans with interviews, autograph sessions ...  Some "legends" that can be found around the paddock during the weekend are Vic Elford, Derek Bell, Hurley Haywood, J├╝rgen Barth, Gerard Larousse, Jackie Oliver, Jochen Mass, Gijs Van Lennep, Hans Stuck ... Besides the legends, lots of Porsche (factory)drivers are making their appearance this weekend. Fred Machowieky, Le Mans winners Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy, Mark Webber, Patrick Long, Brendon Hartley, Norbert Singer ("father" of the Porsche 962) ... the list is endless.

Over the weekend, racing on the track was divided over 7 different groups, each celebrating an era of Porsche race- and/or sportscars.
Group 1 PCA Sholar-Friedman cup
This class is exclusively reserved for Porsche Club America cars
Group 2 Gmund Cup
Early Porsche racecars from the 1950's to the early 60's
550(A) - RSK - RS60-61 - 2000GT - Abarth Carrera - 356 - 904
Group 3 Eifel Trophy
All early 911's up to 2.5 litres and the 914
911 - 911TR - 911 ST - 914 (4 and 6)
Group 4 Weissach Cup
Porsche prototypes with fibreglass body's from the 1960's to 1971
904 - 906 - 907 - 908 - 909 - 917
Group 5 Carrera Trophy
All Porsche Carrera's over 2,5 liter : RSR - 3.0 RSR - 2.1 Turbo - 934 - 935 - 936 - 924 GTS - 924 GTR
Group 6 Stuttgart Cup
Protoypes and GT cars from 1982 to 2016 : 956 - 962 - GT1 - WSC - RS Spyder - 964 - 993 - 996 - 997 GT cars
Group 7 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge.
The seventh and final class is the  Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA which had its season finale and crowned Elloit Skeer in his rookie season as 2016 champion on Sunday.

During practice and qualifying track action was quite smooth, but as soon as the green flag falls down on race day, these cars are being used for what they're made for ... go fast and go hard. Close battles, yellow flags and safety cars are no exception during these hictoric races with expensive and rare machinery.  Some end up in the gravel trap, the rather unlucky ones go home with some scratches and bruises on their bodywork. In the end it just feels right to see the racing heritage lives on, using these amazing cars to what they have truly been built for on a track instead of a museum.  Watching these vintage racecars going round the track, takes you back into time ... when a racecar still sounded like a proper racecar should, and looked the part. 

In 2001, the first edition of Rennsport Reunion attracted 2000 people, the last edition in 2011 34000 Porsche enthousiasts visited Laguna Seca.  This weekend, during the fifth edition, over 57.000 people found their way to the track.  As Detlev von Platen, president and CEO of Porsche cars north America said in his closing speech on Sunday afternoon, this whole weekend was more than just a gathering.  "It was real magic, a pure Porsche paradise with a unique atmosphere bringing people together like a family reunion.

If you're a petrolhead, this event has to be on your bucketlist, there's no other place on earth where such a collection of Germans finest is on display.  Next edition in 4 years, think I've got a date with Laguna Seca in 2020 !

More pictures and race results to follow !

Kristof Vermeulen.