Since I shamefully don’t have a 917 model in my collection, I thought I’d keep it in the family with another Porsche juggernaut, the 956. If the 917 started Porsche’s legacy of overall victory at Le Mans, this car cemented it.
This particular 956, chassis number 106, had a long and illustrious career from early 1983 to late 1986, receiving many unique updates throughout. Starting life as one of the early customer chassis (the very first cars were earmarked for factory use and had chassis number suffixes beginning with a 0, customer cars all started with a 1), the car went to GTI Engineering, latterly known as Richard Lloyd Racing, where it would later become known as one of two “956 GTIs”. This model is in 1983 Le Mans trim, where it would finish 8th in the hands of Jan Lammers, Jonathan Palmer (father of F1 kid Jolyon), and team owner Richard Lloyd. It was part of the steamroller of 956s that utterly dominated the race that year, with 9 of the top 10 finishers being of the type. The Rothmans 956s had kicked off the car’s stellar career with a 1-2-3 at Le Mans in 1982, after the 936-81 had proven its engine with a victory the year before, so when the factory started taking orders for customer cars prior to the 1983 season the floodgates opened, truly kicking off the Group C era with an unstoppable onslaught of Porsche power. Can you imagine if the factory made last year’s car available to privateers now? It’d be incredible, and I wish they would.
Powered by Porsche’s venerable 2.65L twin-turbo six (derived from that in the 936-81 and a product of Porsche’s Indycar effort) and producing over 630hp, the 956 was good for well past 215mph at Le Mans. But speed wasn’t its only trick, unlike some other Le Mans prototypes of the time. Thanks to its F1-derived ground effect aero using a flat floor and underbody tunnels, it was a grip monster as well, able to generate something like three times the downforce of today’s main feature car, the 917, without a significant drag penalty. This grip, in conjunction with the powerful flat six, is what enabled Stefan Bellof to put in what can only be considered a lap of the gods, perhaps the greatest single lap ever driven: 6:11 at the Nordschleife in 1983. I’ll repeat that: Six minutes, eleven seconds. Nurburgring. An unreal talent in an unreal car. He was tragically killed at Spa shortly thereafter, his death one of the reasons the safer 962 was developed. The 956 was not an “unsafe” car per se, but its design placed the driver’s feet ahead of the front axle line, thus the 962 was essentially a long wheelbase 956 to improve driver safety and make the car legal for US IMSA regulations to that effect.
After several top 5's, podiums, and a win at the Brands Hatch 1000k, Lloyd moved his team on to 962s for the 1985 season and this car was sold to Brun Racing, in whose hands it would win the 1986 team World Championship, ahead of even the factory Rothmans Porsche 962s, several privateer 962s and 956s, Saubers, and works Jaguar XJR-6s. Also in Brun’s hands, it would for a time become one of the most recognized of all 956s when it gained Jagermeister sponsorship and the full orange livery to match. It has since been restored and returned to this Canon scheme in which it spent most of its career.
This model is in 1/43 by IXO, and I think it’s a stunner. It’s got a bit of delicate weathering, the livery is sharp, and the red and white really accents the car’s lines. These cars defined the sports prototype for 20 years, so I’m happy to add another to my collection. Too bad the Rothmans cars command such a premium, and often have the sanitized livery, but those are obviously the ones to have. Now on to the rest of the pictures, happy Tuesday...I mean Wednesday!