Though Dominic Dobson spent the majority of his professional career driving Indycars, he was one of the few Americans to race a Porsche 962 at Le Mans, through the narrow hairpins of San Antonio, and around the outrageous kinks at Road America.
It was a car that reveled in high-speed situations, and its incredible cornering forces could impress the steeliest of drivers. When Dobson first drove the Takefuji 962 at Le Mans 1989, the team told him he could take the Mulsanne kink completely flat. It wasn’t his first time out in the 962, but his first foray in Europe. Considering the speeds, Dobson was taken aback by the way the team casually relayed this tidbit. Then, to soothe his nerves, it started to drizzle on his sighting lap.
Made wary by the thin layer of fog settling over the track, Dobson lifted when approaching the kink the first time around. After getting acquainted with the track and the grip available, he found he could take the kink “easily flat” on the next lap. That long wheelbase was great for stability, and so, the 962 was fairly relaxed above 200 mph. That reassurance, combined with 750 horsepower, encouraged him to nudge 240 mph at the end of the Mulsanne, where the dashed line in the middle of the road appears solid due to the harrowing speeds.
Running at those rates requires a very disciplined approach, even with the aerodynamic stability the 962 offered. Above 200 miles an hour, the Mulsanne—a public road most of the year—would shuffle cars over its prominent crown. To avoid getting thrown by the surface undulations, Dobson had to pick a lane, stick to it, and avoid crossing over the full width of the Mulsanne when he could. As the 962 was one of the quickest cars there, Dobson often found himself overtaking on the inside and picking his spots to pass carefully. “You definitely didn’t want to run three-abreast,” warns Dobson with a stoic chuckle.
If those rules were respected, the 962 was almost comforting—for a car dependent on aero grip, and thus very stiff, it was supple at those outrageous speeds. Coming from the somewhat crude Indycars of that time, Dobson found the 962 refined and accommodating—“it rode like a road car, and was well-upholstered with leather everywhere.” You started the car on a key, the turbocharged engine wouldn’t make your ears bleed, and “the visibility was pretty good, although it had a few blind spots, and you couldn’t see behind at all.”
If the 962 was known for one thing, it was its reliability; much of the success could be attributed its resilience. It was kind to tires, the brakes were robust, and it was “a workhorse” which could handle most of what was thrown at it. While Dobson didn’t remember any distinctly weak links, he was instructed to avoid using first gear in the hairpins to save the gearbox. Plus, with way the turbos delivered their power, it could effortlessly roast the rears at slower speeds.
In fact, getting a good lap time out of the car revolved around minimizing wheelspin and harnessing the power delivery. As Dobson recalls: “the real skill was in managing the turbo lag.” You had to stop the car, get it turned, and try to “get on the throttle before the apex to start building the boost.”
Trying to use the torque to rotate the car mid-corner wasn’t easily repeatable due to the lag and the violent power delivery—especially with the IMSA-spec motors which ran a single, watermelon-sized turbocharger. However, if the car was reasonably straight at the apex, it put the power down well. Therefore, the 962 was a point-and-squirt machine, and the drivers who could get the blown motor on-song earliest and with the least wheelspin were usually those who went quickest at the end of the day.