FEATURING THE 1956 WORLD SPORTCAR CHAMPIONSHIP
The World Sportscar Championship was held for the fourth time in 1956. The only title up for grabs was for the manufacturers, a drivers’ classification wasn’t added until 1981. Despite the disaster at Le Mans in 1955 there were a number of works outfits, although not all manufacturers competed at every race. So the title fight came down to a battle of the big Italian brands, Ferrari and Maserati.
June 11 in 1955 is still the darkest day in motorsport history. Pierre Levegh’s Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR flew into the crowd like a fireball after a crash on the front straight at Le Mans. More than 80 people were killed, more than 180 were injured. The motor racing world was shaken to its core. Many countries considered banning motor racing. Switzerland actually went through with it. But elsewhere racing continued. Another two rounds of the World Sportscar Championship went ahead after Le Mans in 1955. Mercedes-Benz won the title with three wins, before pulling out of motor racing amid the fall-out of the Le Mans tragedy.
The ACO, organiser of the 24-hour race, was forced to make changes to the entry criteria for 1956 in the name of safety. The field was limited to 52 cars and in the prototype class engine capacity was capped at 2.5 litres. That meant the event no longer complied with the rules for the World Sportscar Championship and didn’t count for championship points…
PORSCHE 956 001 – CREATING A LEGEND
The Porsche 956 and 962 aren’t just the most successful racing cars in Porsche’s illustrious history, but also the most victorious prototypes in the near-seven-decade history of the World Sportscar Championship.
There are numerous books on the origins and racing history of Porsche’s famous Group C racers. But there’s never been a book that specifically documents the developments of the very first Porsche 956 – and therefore the thought process that drove the beginning of the Group C era and the problems that had to be overcome.
Like most of the cars, 956 001 is part of a valuable private collection. And it’s thanks to the owner in England that this book came into existence. He enthusiastically made the car available for photographs and had its originality checked by Porsche in Weissach. The support of Walter Näher, who passed away far too young, and “Mr 956” Norbert Singer deserves a special mention. With their help it was possible to sift through countless original documents from the development and testing phase for 956 001.
The start of a new era
If you’re following the current difficulties of managing the Balance of Performance between the LMH (Le Mans Hypercar) and LMDh (Le Mans Daytona hybrid) classes in the World Endurance Championship and IMSA, you’ll hold the greatest respect for the makers of the Group C rules back in 1982. Once the vehicle dimensions had been determined, the primary objective was to meet the fuel consumption limits. And the engineers were given free technical rein to achieve that objective.
Porsche accepted the challenge. On June 22 in 1981 the executive board of Porsche AG decided to build a Group C car. Working to those basic dimension specified by the rules Horst Reitter had the first drawings on the page by the end of the month. On that basis a 1:5 model was created and Singer took it into the wind tunnel at the Stuttgart University in early August. It was clear from the outset that the task at hand was to strike the right compromise between top speed through external aerodynamics and cornering speed through ground effect.
Porsche was entering new technical territory in several ways. The 956 was the brand’s first monocoque racing car and first ground effect racing car. But despite the challenges development progressed rapidly. The first test chassis, which was never numbered, was ready by November 1981. Porsche 956 001 followed soon after…