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GTP: Hotchkis At The Historics

August 24, 2009 by Mark Hotchkis 

Evolving from the all-conquering 956, the Porsche 962 made its debut at the 1984 Daytona 24 Hours and immediately showed incredible potential. Hotchkis Racing purchased the Porsche-commissioned Fabcar tub #962F01 from Holbert Racing in the summer of 1986, and has owned it ever since. As a kid, I remember staring through the same chain-link fence (which separated pit lane from the paddock area at almost every race track), watching my father John, co-driver Jim Adams and various other drivers — Chris Chord, Rob Dyson, Bob Kirby and my older brother John — all pilot the flame-belching purple Wynn’s car.

From the tight confines of the streets of Miami to the high banks at Daytona, the Hotchkis Racing 962 served as a dependable warhorse and never disappointed.

Today, the car lives in a deep, dark storage in Southern California, rarely seeing the light of day except for those one-time special events like the Rennsport Reunion and of course, the Rolex Monterey Historics. When we received our acceptance for the 962 at this year’s event, it was time to awaken the beast, dust her off and shake her down at a local track. All systems were go and considering the brief on-track time during the Historic weekend, we decided new tires would be a unnecessary, so we utilized our Goodyear rubber from the Rennsport Reunion in 2007.

Mark Hotchkis (L) poses with Gunnar Jeanette before their 10-lap race at the 2009 Historics. (© GrandTouringPrototype.com)

Mark Hotchkis (L) poses with Gunnar Jeanette before their 10-lap race at the 2009 Historics. (© GrandTouringPrototype.com)


Once we arrived at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and settled-in, it was time to head out for our first of two practice sessions. Our Porsche 962 is a 3.2ltr air-cooled single Garret turbo car, as opposed to a twin turbo water-cooled car. The engine is maintained by Porsche Motorsport North America and features the twin plug ignition of the later IMSA air-cooled 962’s, as opposed to the early single-plug, side intercooler engine. There is no mistaking an air cooled 962 engine as it warms up in the paddock. It tends to spit, shake and rumble at idle but is very crisp at the same time. For all of roughness while warming up, it clears up once it’s revved and the whine of the powerful horizontal fan takes over — almost like a supercharger sound.

Call me demented, but I could listen to the engine struggle at idle all day long – it’s too cool!

What is it like to drive a Porsche 962 at speed during the Historics? Although my time behind the wheel of this car is quite limited, it is without a doubt one of the most comfortable and confidence-inspiring race cars ever manufactured. As I slip down into the cockpit, I immediately recognize the well-planned ergonomics, all controls at my finger tips and a seat that anyone could easily fall asleep in.

Operating the 962 is quite simple: strap in, adjust the mirrors, take a deep breath then turn the key to start the engine. That’s right, the 962 utilizes a keyed ignition right out of a 911! Once the engine has lit, cockpit noise is dominated by the whirl of the horizontal fan. Select first gear — over to the left — pull back, and we’re off. The 962 uses a five speed synchro transmission with second through fifth gears set on a standard H-pattern. Accelerating up to speed, the engine’s fan gets drowned-out by the building turbo pressure and raw grunt of the Porsche flat-six.

Boost builds progressively and not at all like an on/off switch which one may think would be the case if they simply looked at the size of the turbo. Under hard acceleration, at 70 inches of mercury, it sounds as though an early-style jet engine is chasing from behind, but as the throttle is cracked for the next braking point, the twin wastegates make an instant loud chirp through the exhaust primary.

Our ten lap race for this year’s Historic was far too short. It should really be fifty minutes to an hour, or at least a fuel tank’s worth of running! We started on pole with Gunnar Jeannette alongside in the Kremer K8. Approaching the flag stand on the front straight it’s typical to hold the brake pedal with your left foot and build some boost with the right foot. At the green flag we both accelerated pretty well but I probably should have made it a second gear start instead of spinning the rears in first gear, but it all worked out entering Turn 2. Gunnar applied the pressure into the brake zones and through the turn-in points as I struggled for front grip.

The purple beast lines up alongside the Kremer K8 as the grid prepares to roll. (© GrandTouringPrototype.com)

The purple beast lines up alongside the Kremer K8 as the grid prepares to roll. (© GrandTouringPrototype.com)


The Hotchkis 962 utilizes a spool instead of a limited-slip differential and I still have not adjusted to it. This setup requires an aggressive corner entry with some rear brake bias to help rotate the car, and then to catch it with the throttle, otherwise the front end simply understeers too badly. For the first two or three laps Gunnar was right there, carrying monster corner speed while I was able to gap him in a straight line. As the pressures and temperatures began to build, the car came alive and I could get into a rhythm and concentrate on not making any mistakes and enjoying the brief time I had with such an incredible race car.

Aerodynamically and mechanically our car had good balance. The tunnels under the 962 really help with downforce and as speed builds the suction builds, and that is felt immediately through the steering wheel; it takes added effort to make even the slightest input. Braking during the race was pretty good. I don’t know if it was our old tires or the slick track or both but I would lock both the front and the rear separately at different brake points during the race. For example, I locked the inside front entering turn 2 and at the top of the corkscrew and locked the rears entering turn 11. Otherwise, the big Brembos hauled the car down at a good clip.

For the last four laps of the race I felt strong and mistake-free. Our car encountered traffic and simply sliced its way through, never skipping a beat and it gave me a chance to take it all in — the amazing engine sounds from behind me, the remarkable grip and ease of placement the 962 allows. Compared to other prototypes of the ‘80’s, the 962 is so comfortable and feels softly sprung without a lot of roll resistance so the knife-edge grip loss (common with other GTP cars) simply does not exist.

That’s probably the main reason why many drivers can step into this car and build confidence quickly – it’s that friendly. We went on to win the ten lap super-sprint and it all seemed to end almost as quickly as it began.

It was another race in the books for the Hotchkis 962 and I hate to say it, but now she’ll head back to the dark, dungeon-like storage facility. The purple beast will stay there until it’s time to be awakened again for another special Porsche event in the future.

GTP: Hotchkis Porsche 962 In-Car, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca from GrandTouringPrototype.com on Vimeo.

Comments

One Response to “GTP: Hotchkis At The Historics”
  1. Trent Barr says:

    This was the best sounding 962 there this weekend. All of the others sounded like flatulence. I was there Friday at the corkscrew and Gunnar Jeannette and Mr Hotchkiss were the only ones that were going flat out. Great video.
    Thanks.

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