1983 and The Porsche 956

1983 saw the return of Rothmans as the principal sponsor for the Porsche factory racing team.  The 1983 Rothmans livery was probably the most famous iteration of the car, and the one most often cited by people who remember the era.  How I long for the romantic days of motorsports before the outright ban of tobacco company endorsements.  By no means am I a smoker, but there was nothing better than seeing familiar tobacco brands scrawled across the sides of everything from Formula One to Rallycross machines.  They stood out so much it almost became the primary feature one would use to identify a race car.  Just as I was starting to pay attention to Formula One, they were wiped clean out of the sport.  Nostalgia aside, Rothmans would have been insane not to continue supporting their wining partner.  With no major regulation changes applied for 1983, Porsche stood out as the heavy favourite to once again take the Championship for Makes.  The top prize for driver however was more up in the air, as Porsche made available its 956 platform to customer teams looking to run them in Group C.  Factory cars were designated by chassis number 9560xx, and customer cars 9561xx. 

 #1 Rothmans Porsche 956 leading down the front straight of Le Mans

#1 Rothmans Porsche 956 leading down the front straight of Le Mans

                With a new lap record (6:11:13)  set at The Nurburgring at the hands of factory driver Stefan Bellof, a record which still stands to this day by a wide margin, Porsche and its 956 were heading into the Le Mans weekend with momentum, confidence, and total of 11 cars including the works team and customers.  Works car #2of Mass and Bellof retired due to engine problems.  The #3 car faced late issues that culminated in a nail biting finish to the 24 hour marathon.  A mistake by driver Al Holbert caused the door to fly off the vehicle while driving.  This disruption in air flow around the highly tuned exterior aerodynamics of the 956 caused a loss of cooling power on a side radiator.  Cylinder bank temperature rose beyond acceptable levels, and the engine gave its last heave.  In a smoking car, Holbert dragged the crippled 956 across the line for the victory, with Bell/Ickx closing fast.  The motor was damaged and seized, with Porsche engineers agreeing that the car would not have survived another lap.  Having done just enough to take the win, and not a kilometer more, the team of Holbert, Hurley and Schuppan were trailed by 7 more 956’s, and another one in tenth.  Porsche had decimated their competition, and published an ad poster reminding everyone of their success that year with the famous slogan “Nobody’s Perfect” sarcastically pointing to the fact that a single Sauber C7 finishing in ninh place took away a top 10 lockout from Porsche.

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