RENNSport Reunion VI: Porsche, Personified
For about four days in September, the sleepy Monterrey Peninsula south of San Francisco, CA is overrun with Porsches of every stripe.
Salinas, CA — It’s the sound; you never quite get away from it. Flat-4s, -6s, -8s and -12s ‘round the clock, and while there is a track in the area that we spent a lot of time at, the Porsches wrapped around those great motors weren’t just relegated to the track. This is RENNSport Reunion VI and for about four days in September, the sleepy Monterrey Peninsula south of San Francisco, CA is overrun with Porsches of every stripe. You hear them when you go to bed and night and when you wake up in the morning that classic exhaust note fills your ears. If you’re a Porsche fan, it’s glorious.
“It’s the world’s biggest candy store,” said Marc Ouayoun, Vice President of Porsche Canada. “It’s almost overwhelming.”
He’s obviously better equipped than I am to handle it; there’s no “almost” on my end. It’s 100 per cent overwhelming, in the best way possible. How else can you describe walking the paddock at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, and actually having to wait for a Porsche 956 racer, as it crosses your path on the way to the track? What about looking in any given direction, only to eyeball yet another Porsche racing legend? Derek Bell over here, Hurley Haywood over there, Jacky Ickx having lunch; even Dr. Wolfgang Porsche himself made an appearance, driving the original Porsche 356 brought along all the way from the Porsche museum in Germany.
Believe it or not, that feeling of shock and awe does subside – slightly – after a while and you learn to go with the flow as best you can. It becomes a bit of a choose your own adventure kind of thing; you could spend hours just gawking at the Choppard Heritage Display in the middle of the paddock. Need a break? Take a stroll over the Michelin bridge to vendors row, where you can get everything from a custom-fitted leather jacket, coloured to recall some of the very same race liveries you’d just left; Gulf blue and orange, Rothman’s blue, red and gold, and so forth.
You can have whatever you want, as long as you’re willing to part with US $6,400-plus required to get one. Move down the aisle a little more for Fuchs-look wheels, brake systems, diecast cars and books. That last one is perfect for the autograph table and its rotating roster of drivers and engineers – it’s all so easy to do, too, because there’s a RENNSport app that will notify you of the goings on in the area. When the surroundings are as packed full of content as this, it’s very necessary.
Then, of course, there’s the racing.
When you’ve been racing non-stop since the ‘50s, you’re going to have a lot of cars, spanning many different eras and classes. It’s necessary, then, to split them into groups – seven groups, to be precise – starting with the Gmünd Cup and its classic 550, RSK and 356 racers running all the way up to stuff like the 996 and 997 GT cars.
My personal favorite is the Werks Trophy, a kaleidoscope of Porsche racers from the ‘60s and ‘70s; I’m talking 917Ks, 908/2/3s and 910s, stuff of legends that I originally became infatuated with upon seeing Steve McQueen’s (oh look! There’s his son, Chad, signing autographs!) Le Mans and having the classic Gulf blue and orange livery plastered all over my parent’s old Toshiba tube. And now, there it was – almost the exact car – dropping into the famous turn 8/8A Corkscrew, in real time. I even had the picture to prove it. No longer would I have to Google “Gulf-Porsche 917K” images; I had my own. Incredible.
After awhile, I found the hardest part was not having to deal with the massive amount of content on-hand, but pulling myself away from the racing – they run these groups back to back, and how can you just walk away from seeing Classic 911TRs going up against 914/6s, not to mention the bonkers turbo’d 911 models of the ‘70s and ‘80s that are on-deck? It’s not every day you see this – actually, considering RENNSport only runs every four years (perhaps five this next time, as that would take us to Porsche’s 75th Anniversary) it’s not every year you get to see this stuff, either.
You would be doing a terrible injustice to yourself, however, if you did find a way to pull yourself away from the action on-track; especially if you happen to be watching at the popular turn 2 Andretti Hairpin. I mention this area specifically because A) it’s a great place to watch the action from and B) a 180 degree turn from the track reveals the Porsche Corral, where all the Porschephiles who drove their own 911s, 356s and 928s park in designated groups; modern GT cars over there (you’ve probably never seen this many examples of the GT3 RS parked in the same place, or this many classic Porsche racing liveries on ordinary road cars), original 911 models over here, and so on; heck, I even counted five of the 1-of-1,963 50th Anniversary Edition 911 models from 2014. It’s literally a sea of Porsche, and I’d imagine you could spend an entire day – an entire half day, at least – just wandering up and down these aisles. I’ve been to the Le Mans race, and even its parking lots are nothing like this.
Of course, behind all these cars you see – from the racers to the customer cars driven (or possibly transported) from as far away as New Hampshire (I caught plates from NH on none other than a 959) and Florida – there are the people. The engineers, marketers and racers that have spent their entire lives making Porsche what it is today, and it pays to at least try and have a chat with one of them. It’s not hard to do considering the whole affair is so wide open.
Indeed, there’s really no way to replicate the feeling you get when you talk to someone who has been there since the beginning, through all the ups and downs, to be sitting here today surrounded by the brand he or she has spent so much of their life building.
One of the best examples of this I encountered was when I managed to corner engineer Norbert Singer for an autograph in a book I owned. It’s called the “Porsche Museum Catalogue”, but it’s not a found-in-the mail-rag. It’s a properly bound book with astounding photography and entire pages dedicated to a single model.
While Singer has had his hands on pretty much every Porsche racer from between 1970 and 1998, I decided to have him sign the Porsche GT1-98 page, featuring the last car he ever worked on. As soon as I presented it to him, the emotion washed over his face.
“Such a beautiful car,” is all he could muster before signing, then quickly mentioning that there was one just over that way. Naturally, I made my over there right away, and there it was: I wouldn’t have been surprised if I’d looked back at my book and seen a blank page where the car standing in front of me once was.
It was like some kind of great movie; I may as well have been transported onto the pages of that book, so all-encompassing was the experience of RENNSport VI. As much as I love the numerous car shows or museums I’ve visited, I seem to always be saying “geez, that was awesome but if only this car were here…” Whether I’m being too tough to please or not is a question for another day, but that doesn’t change the fact that I left RENNSport with not a single doubt in my mind that it had been everything I’d hoped it would be, and more. In reality, the only regret I had was that I couldn’t stay longer (they took the bonkers 917/30 out the afternoon after I’d left. Not too happy about that), as there was just so much more to see, so many more people to talk to.
If that’s not the sign of a meticulously planned and executed event, I’m not sure what is.
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