Bill Howe's Porsche 962 brings a smile to his face every time he turns its production-series key. Over his twenty years of ownership he's had to constantly pinch himself; getting to drive this 700-horsepower beauty is a privilege which he's not completely comfortable with. "We have no business being in these things; none of us are as good as we think we are—you know that when you see a real, legitimate professional," he said.
Howe's generous nature and respect for the great names behind this car brought Derek Bell and this air-cooled, IMSA-spec machine together. During a recent vintage event in Lime Rock Park, one of the great sites of 962 success in the 1980s, Bell got to grips with this beauty in typically methodical style. Slow outlaps, a bit of fiddling with the boost controllers (dampfrad for those interested in racing terminology), and soon enough, he's off on a series of informative trips round "The Bull Ring."
How the 962 was so successful around "The Bull Ring" as Lime Rock is occasionally called, is not obvious. It's bumpy, it's relatively slow, it's oddly cambered in some sections, and there is only one truly fast corner to flex the car's venturi tunnels through. In other words, it's not the obvious strengths which the car was known for, but the complete package that brought it success in so many varied environments.
It's easy to appreciate Bell's delicate and regular taps of the throttle to build boost, how composed it is over bumps, and how it puts down power. Only through the improvised chicane at the top of "The Uphill" does it slide mildly (3:57). For a car with a violent power delivery—this IMSA-spec 962 uses a massive single turbo—it's not prone to spin the driven wheels much. The spool ensures both rears handle the power delivery, but it should also encourage a little understeer around tight corners, yet it doesn't!
Once Bell gets into his stride, we get to see how this car was so effective. With warm tires, he can trace clean lines and lean on that incredible traction. Fast corners, particularly "The Downhill" looks almost easy (10:10). Braking distances are short, and direction change is immediate. Bell's obviously leaving some on the table as this is a vintage event, but he still manages to end his session with a few searing laps that show he's still got it.