Decked out in the iconic Rothman's livery, possessing 650 horsepower, and capable of 240 miles an hour, this gleaming Porsche 962 should give Chris Harris plenty of reason to grin. However, between sampling this Le Mans winner and talking to the man who helped create it, it's not certain which Harris enjoys more. The affable, unassuming man sitting across from Harris is Norbert Singer, a motorsports genius who took some "large steps" toward developing downforce in the days when aerodynamics weren't well understood.
The Product of Successful Experimentation
Singer was a critical element in the development of most major racing Porsches since the 917. But even compared to that incredible 917-30 and the outrageous power it possessed, the 962 stands above as it was a much more capable machine. In the early eighties, the understanding of downforce was limited, but a series of experiments conducted by Singer eventually led to the 962 producing twice the grip of the 917.
The sliding skirts which sealed the underbody of F1 cars in the early eighties weren't applicable to the wider 962, and this drove Singer to try funneling air from the sides of the car into its venturi tunnels. Singer also experimented with a Gurney flap at the rear to learn that it had a positive influence on the front end! These discoveries revolutionized the downforce game in the eighties, and likely helped this Porsche enjoy the unrivaled success it had.
The Complete Package
Beyond producing power and grip, Porsche and Singer were obsessed with reliability. First, they sought to make the engine, stretched to a full 3.0-liter, run 24-hours without blowing. Then, making the syncro-mesh gearbox withstand the abuse of running at top-speed, for extended periods of time, in one gear, was another hurdle they had to cross. Yet, they made the gearbox withstand that relentless wave of torque that carried names like Stuck and Bell all the way to an 8,000-rpm redline for a complete day.
To help harness that torque, they used a spool instead of a limited-slip differential, and yet, the Porsche doesn't exhibit lots of understeer. Of course, tire technology of the time limited the amount of rear traction, and since going fast on the straights was the priority here, they aimed for maximizing corner-exit speeds. Compared to its rivals, the 962 possessed perhaps the best compromise of abilities for endurance racing.
While it wasn't always the fastest car throughout its extended career, it could compensate with its breadth of ability. Not only was the 962 quick, it had the robustness to carry it the distance, a surprisingly friendly character, and a soundtrack to die for. Underneath all the popping and chirping and the baritone bellow of the flat-six, you can hear Harris giggling.
Perhaps the innovations associated with this 962 is what makes it shine, or perhaps it's the turn-key usability. Maybe its those enviable good looks. Whatever the reason, it seems to have left all of those associated with it completely smitten.