Porsche made quite a splash about their return to Le Mans in 2014. With their overall victory in this years 24 Hour of Le Mans, they broke a winless streak dating back to 1998.
About 30 years ago from their most recent return, Porsche debuted one of the more dominant cars in its storied history - the 962.
The 962 was developed as a significant evolution of the Porsche 956, which was developed in late 1981 for the Worlds Sportscar Championship and the North American IMSA GTP championship.
One of the primary focal points for the development team was aerodynamics. The development team recognized that, under then-current rules, they were unlikely to return to the days of 1000+ horsepower - like they leveraged with the 917 more than a decade earlier - as a means of competitive advantage. They needed to find other ways to gain an edge on the long straightaways. At the time, the Mulsanne straight still lacked the chicanes that are in place today. Porsche set out to win with straight-line speed and reliability.
The team played around with several versions of ground effects, initially attempting to repurpose Formula One technology, only to find it didn't work very well with a sports car body. After several creative experiments, they found a way to generate over two times the downforce of the most evolved version of the storied Porsche 917.
The initial 962 debuted at the 1984 24 Hours of Daytona with Mario and Michael Andretti driving the factory car. It led the race until lap 127, when it retired with engine and gearbox problems. It was initially fitted with the 934 derived air-cooled 2.8 L flat six and a single KKK AG K 36 turbocharger. The group C version utilized to smaller turbo chargers, but twin turbo systems were not allowed in the IMSA GTP class at the time.
The 962C (for Group C) version debuted in the world sports car championship in 1985, but ironically lost to the older 956, which had already won the championship four times. The team realized they needed to re-work the engine.
By the middle of 1985, the IMSA version of the 962 received the new Andial-built 3.2 L fuel injected flat six for the IMSA series. The new engine made the car more competitive against Jaguar. The engine reliability was right, so they refined the gearbox durability next.
By 1987, in the World Sportscar Championship, in order to compete with the newer cars from Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz, Porsche unveiled a new, more durable and more powerful 3.0 L engine. With the dogged emphasis on building in reliability paying off, the 962C took the overall win at the 1986 and 1987 24 Hours of Le Mans, giving Porsche it's seventh consecutive victory at the premiere endurance race.
Between 1984 and 1991, Porsche would produce 91 of the 962 model. Of those, 16 were officially used by the factory team, with 75 sold to customers.
Over the course of more than a decade, the 962, like the 917 and 935 families of cars before it, became one of the most dominant cars in motorsport. The stone reliability allowed it to win the World Sportscar Championship in 1985 and 1986, The IMSA GT championship every year from 1985 to 1988, the Interserie Championship from 1987 through 1992, and of course the aforementioned 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1986 and 1987 with factory cars, and also another as late as 1994 in a modified private entry.
Ultimately, aggressive factory efforts by teams such as Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan and Toyota would lead to the 962 becoming less successful, but in its time, it affirmed why many think of Porsche as the undisputed king of endurance racing.
Watch the fantastic drive of the 962 and interview with one of the engineers by Chris Harris