x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Californian reunion is a Porsche paradise

Rennsport Reunion showcases the finest collection of racing Porsches ever gathered in one place.

More than 300 Porsches competed in front of 35,000 spectators at the Rennsport Reunion event. Courtesy of Porsche
More than 300 Porsches competed in front of 35,000 spectators at the Rennsport Reunion event. Courtesy of Porsche

To non-Porsche enthusiasts, they may well just be numbers on a page: 917, 908, 935, 962, 550, 356. But to those in the know, these digits and their allocation to some of Porsche's most significant historical motorsport machines conjure up images of classic racing, fearsome track battles and countless famous victories. The Porsche brand has much to celebrate when it comes to its proud motorsport history, so when a party is thrown in its key market of California to recognise this, the result is beyond the spectacular.

This is Rennsport Reunion, and the weekend of October 14 to 16 saw the fourth running of this festival of Porsche motorsport, held in the USA every three years. It's no simple "show and shine" though. Much like the UK's Goodwood Festival of Speed, fans are able to wander among these priceless racing vehicles, chat to legendary drivers, then watch as they take to the track.

In contrast to Goodwood gatherings, Rennsport celebrates just a single marque. But with a racing heritage that boasts some 30,000 motorsport wins to date, Porsche has no shortage of vehicles to bring to the party. And what a party. This year's Rennsport Reunion IV - the first to be held on America's west coast at the picturesque Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca, near Monterey - attracted more than 35,000 spectators, more than 300 competing Porsche race cars, 50 legendary drivers and an impressive 1,300 Porsche vehicles from Porsche Club North America.

Aside from numerous displays, shows and Porsche-relevant distractions for the spectators to enjoy, the true highlight of the weekend was the track action. A seemingly non-stop stream of racing Porsche exotica took to the undulating Laguna Seca circuit.

Arguably the most distinctive and famous racing Porsches are the flat 12-cylinder 917 models of the late 1960s and early 1970s. These cars were immortalised in the Steve McQueen film Le Mans (1971), dressed in their distinctive Gulf Oil orange and blue livery. Several 917s were on static display but three examples of the model that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1970 and 1971 competed on-track and proved a major crowd-pleaser.

Under brilliant sunshine, Sunday's feature race, the Weissach Cup, saw the three 917s battle similar-era Porsche 906, 908 and 910 entrants. With the advantage of being suited to a shorter circuit, plus being piloted by British sports car legend Brian Redman, a 1971 908/3 took the win in front of two fast-finishing 917s.

A huge field of 1950s and 1960s cars including Porsche's first production automobile, the 356, the 550, the RSK and other racers - many with significant histories - battled for the Gmund Cup, with the earliest competing cars now nearly 60 years old.

With such track action and by just simply strolling (often open-mouthed) around the infield, the sheer amount of rare and historical metal was almost overwhelming.

In attendance were cars from two very significant collections: the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen, and the Revs Institute for Automotive Research at the Collier Collection in Naples, Florida. Stuttgart provided the Targa Florio-winning 1973 911 RSR, the "Moby Dick" original 935, and one-off specials: the Porsche 961 race car (based on the 959 supercar) and the 1971 Porsche 16-cylinder intended for the Can-Am series.

Brought over from Florida, meanwhile, was the very first Porsche 550 built - a 1953 550 Coupé that raced at Le Mans. Alongside it sits a 1960 Porsche Abarth-Carrera GTL that also saw action at the La Sarthe circuit's 24 Hours and a 1967 911R that won the 1969 Tour de France and Tour of Corsica.

The drivers that famously piloted such vehicles also descended on the California coastline along with current drivers. Le Mans 24 Hours winners were in abundance: Richard Attwood; Jurgen Barth; Hurley Haywood; Vern Schuppan; Jochen Mass; and Jackie Oliver were all on-hand to share stories and sign autographs. One notable attendee was Briton Derek Bell, one of Porsche's favourite racing sons. The five-time Le Mans winner, four of which came in a Porsche, was seen dividing his time between fans and in the cockpit of various rarities.

While vintage fare was certainly the main emphasis of the Rennsport event, there were also some more modern Porsche cars on show. The next-generation 911 Carrera - code-named 991 - made its North American debut, with examples taking to the track to show the gathered fans just how capable and entertaining the new, longer wheelbase, more powerful and more economical 911 is.

From a racing point of view, the tight battles by drivers in the Cayman Interseries, who competed in two events at Rennsport Reunion, were real highlights. This one-model event is only open to Porsche Cayman S models built between 2009 and 2011 and, adding to the spectacle, each car's livery is based on famous Porsche racing colours of the past. To see modern interpretations of such distinctive colours as used on the Gulf/Wyer, Martini and Salzburg 917s; Lowenbrau and Miller High Life 962s and Akin/Coca Cola 935s made for an attractive and closely fought competition.

As a spectator, the Rennsport Reunion felt understandably American, yet with a distinctly German flavour. Co-hosts throughout the weekend were renowned German Porsche engineer Norbert Singer and the American comedian Jerry Seinfeld: a huge Porsche enthusiast who counts the Gulf-sponsored 917 from Steve McQueen's Le Mans film among his collection. And as expected, alongside live music as part of Saturday evening's entertainment at the track, a large screen gave a full showing of the movie many deem the ultimate motorsport story ever to grace the silver screen.

This was a full weekend of Porsche automotive paradise for the thousands of spectators, for even when the track was silent, there was a Concours d'Elegance open to race participants' cars; a celebration of 911 racers through its many generations; merchandise tents; racing simulators; model cars; vintage photos; and original paintings.

Quirkier rarities such as the 1968 race car transporter used by Porsche to ferry its cars to Le Mans between 1968 and 1989 could be found, and in one corner of the infield, self-styled Team Australia was making itself heard with token kangaroo merchandise and its collection of racing Porsches brought over to California in shipping containers especially for the event.

It would be hard to imagine a finer collection of racing Porsches and their star drivers gathering in one place at the same time before. Rennsport Reunion IV was a true celebration of this legendary German marque and to allow spectators to relive or experience for the first time these beautiful and sometimes brutal racers in competitive action is a credit to the event organisers, private owners and Porsche itself. Expect to see Rennsport Reunion V at the same location in 2014, but it will have a tough job to outdo this year's sun-kissed Porsche extravaganza.