Porsche created the 956 during the early 1980s for FIA Group C competition. The design and components of the vehicle would further evolve over the years and become known as the 962. The 956 project was lead by a very determined and experienced project manager named Norbert Singer, who had his sights set on winning the 24 Hours of LeMans race. With Derek Bell and Jacky Ixckx, the factory team drivers, the cars easily dominated the season and won the championship for the team.
The 956 was an evolution of the 935 and 936 cars which had proven to be very competitive racers. Porsche chose to stick with the tried-and-true, reliable flat-six engine which had powered the Porsche 936 to a LeMans victory. It was fitted with an electronic engine management system to help reduce fuel consumption. The FIA had imposed a limit of 100 liters per fuel tank size and allowed only 25 refuelings. The idea was to add an extra level of difficulty for teams and to inspire creativity and innovation. By doing so, they were hopeful that new technology would be born that could trickle down to production vehicles.
Porsche chose to stick with the smaller engine and adapt a turbocharger, another attempt at combating the fuel restriction rules.
The body was very modern, aerodynamic, and elegant. Extensive use of exotic materials, and ground effects were employed that included a venturi positioned between the front wheels, rear wing, and rear venturi. The chassis was comprised of a very rigid monocoque comprised of aluminum and a composite body.
The Porsche 956 made its inaugural debut in 1982 at the Silverstone 6 Hour race, the second round of the World Championship for Makes. The car was piloted by the factory drivers, Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell. They missed the second round at the Nurburgring 1000km but returned for the running of the 25 Hours of LeMans. The cars led the entire race and captured the checkered flag. The three factory Porsche's finished in the top three positions.
After proving the potential of the 956, Porsche began selling them to privateers such as Kremer Racing, John Fitzpatrick, Richard Lloyd, Brumm Motorsports, and more. Porsche continued to make improvements to the vehicles such as reducing the overall weight by incorporating even lighter aluminum chassis. The aerodynamics were improved which made the car quicker and more fuel efficient. Additional safety features were added such as a tire pressure warning system. At the 1983 LeMans, the cars bearing the Porsche badge took nine out of the top ten positions.
The Porsche 962 was based on the 956 and intended for IMSA GTP class competition. To prepare the car for competition, the vehicle required changes to bring it into alignment with ever-changing rules and regulations. For 1984, rules stated that the pedal box had to be mounted behind the front axle. To comply, the wheelbase of the 956 was extended to accommodate additional space. A steel roll cage was also integrated into the car at the time.
The factory began work on a larger engine. In the meantime, Porsche had to find a replacement for the twin K27 turbochargers since twin-turbo's did not comply with GTP class racing regulations at the time. In its place, a single Kühnle, Kopp und Kausch AG K36 turbocharger was fitted.
Porsche named this updated version of the 956, the 962. Five examples were debuted at the 24 Hours of Daytona. One was driven by factory drivers, Mario and Michael Andretti, while the other four were privateer entrants. The factory car led most of the race and appeared that it would go on to claim overall victory, but it was side-lined due to engine and gearbox problems after 127 laps.
For the following season, Porsche created the 962C, which featured a 3.2-liter engine and twin-turbochargers. It was entered in the World Endurance Championship where it was beaten by a 956. For 1987, another new engine was introduced. Though it was in 3-liter form, it was more powerful and durable than the unit it was replacing. The engine carried Porsche to its seventh consecutive victory at the 24 Hours of LeMans.
The Porsche 956 and 962 were very dominate vehicles which lasted for nearly ten years. From 1985 through 1987 they won the IMSA GTP. They were World Sportscar Champions from 1982 through 1986 and are considered the most successful prototype race car in the history of motor sports.
During the early 1990s, Jochen Dauger was able to get the 962 reclassified as a GT1 road-legal car. They were raced at the 1994 24 Hours of LeMans and captured its final overall victory.By Daniel Vaughan | Mar 2007