The first one is an ill-tempered racing prototype – a thoroughbred, which isn’t exactly forgiving, and requires a certain level of talent to tame its 700 horsepower. The other one was born to race in the GT class, and its road manners mask its 600bhp beautifully. Fortunately, we got to sample both these icons back-to-back.
Autodrom Most, Czech Republic. A day that’s unlike any other. Waiting for us are two sacred monsters of endurance racing – a Porsche Kremer 962 CK6 and a 911 GT1 Evo. The first one, Chassis CK6/03, which has been restored to its 1992 Le Mans 24 Hours livery, sports the red and black Kenwood colours. Number 51 Porsche Kremer was driven by Manuel Reuter, John Nielsen and Giovanni Lavaggi back then, and managed to finish seventh overall (and second in its category). Compared to that, the 911 GT1 looks more understated, but it strikes a delicate balance.
Getting in and out of the 962 CK6 is quite a task too. The massive sill and tiny door require you to have some acrobatic skills – let’s just say that there’s nothing graceful about it! But once in the cockpit, you surprisingly feel at ease – there’s good visibility all around, the steering wheel is well proportioned, the digital equipment is easy on the eyes and the 5-speed gear-shifter is easy to use. Everything is reassuring, or so it seems, until you fire up the engine. This brute of a 3.0-litre six-cylinder water-cooled boxer engine bellows to life, and you’re left shaken and intimidated. It sounds raw and angry – as if to say, “I am not your friend, so you better not mess with me.”
There’s no denying that the CK6 is a bad-tempered car. It won’t let you feel relaxed behind the wheel even when standing still. Its 700 horses are released brutally. And, to be honest, driving it is a constant tussle. Only professional racers will be able to exploit its vast capabilities. As for the rest of us, we need to put in serious effort just to keep it pointed straight. At the same time, sitting behind the wheel of the Porsche 962 fills you with pride and nostalgia – for here is an icon that has taken part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans six times. Having said that, approaching it gently wasn’t going to work…
On leaving the pits, the only advice given to us was this: “Do you see all those buttons? Do not push any of them, just drive.” That made sense, since driving it – fast or slow – is a task in itself. But, before taking it to the racetrack, it would be a good idea to look back at the history of this thoroughbred. Founded in Cologne (Germany) in the early sixties by two brothers – Manfred and Erwin – it took Kremer no time to become the reference point among Porsche’s privateer teams. The consecration of the team happened in 1979 with the triumph of the 935 K3 at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, followed by the success of the 962 in Group C races in the mid-eighties. But then it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine post that. Following the fatal accidents in which Stefan Bellof (Spa Francorchamps, 1985), Manfred Winkelhock (Mosport Park, 1985) and Jo Gartner (Le Mans, 1986) lost their lives, it became clearly evident that there was a problem with the rigidity of the aluminium frame in Kremer cars – meaning they didn’t offer enough protection to the drivers in the event of a crash. Kremer, therefore, appointed a Brit named John Thompson to design a more rigid frame. Consequently, Kremer started to label their cars CK6 in order to distinguish them from standard 962Cs. Development of the CK6 continued into 1990, with the final cars using an even more sophisticated carbon fibre chassis. Subsequently, this was also used in the development of the new Spyder version. The CK6/03 – which you see on these pages – has a vivid history of racing achievements. It took part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1991, 92, and 93. And post a sabbatical of two years, it came back to Le Mans in 1996, ‘97, and ‘98.
Once retired from racing in 1999, this 962 remained in storage with Kremer until 2011 – at which point it was sold to a Belgian collector. He restored the Spyder R8 to its coupé configuration that was adopted at Le Mans in 1992. Then, in 2015, it was passed onto German trader B. Lühn, who had it set up further by Britec Motorsports of Mike Gensemeyer. Now, though, it was our time to take this legend out. Being unaware of the circuit layout, we got going at an easy pace. It’s such a pity that this rhythm doesn’t match the CK6’s wild temper at all – entering corners is tiring and working through the gears isn’t all that simple. On a straight road, I managed to gather some courage. And that sense of being catapulted forward took on a whole new meaning. Beyond 4,000rpm, you enter a dimension unexplored by a regular driver. It’s a zone that requires you to follow different judgment parameters. The acceleration is crazy! Imagine being tied to a cannonball – that should give you a vague idea of how this thing picks up speed. Hit the 6,000rpm mark, and the boost gauge indicates 1.2bar – which means that it’s time for an upshift. At this point, it’s virtually impossible to keep it straight even on the straightest of roads – trust me. This thing is a tough cookie and requires a driving style that’s as aggressive as the machine itself. It’s impossible for a gentleman driver like me to exploit the limits of the CK6. I took it out for a couple more laps around the track, but there was no love lost between us. This meant I had to return to the pits with a heavy heart. But, on the upside, there was another machine waiting for me – the 911 GT1 Evo. For the uninitiated, the 911 GT1 was launched in the mid-nineties, mainly owing to the success of the inaugural season of the BPR Global GT Series in 1994. The series came to be known as the FIA GT Championship in 1997. After the victory of the McLaren F1 in 1995 at Le Mans, there was an urgent need for a vehicle that would be more competitive. Zuffenhausen required a winning car, and so they turned to the 911.
Initially, the 911 GT1 featured a steel cockpit with body panels made of Kevlar and carbon fibre. In 1998, however, it adopted a frame that was completely made up of composite materials.
In order to reduce costs, project engineers Norbert Singer and Horst Reitter gave up the idea of realising a carbon frame and opted for the front section from a standard 911 (the 993). This also helped the car clear all the crash tests necessary for homologation. This front end was married to a tubular structure. The race car was lowered by 60mm, and the windshield from a Speedster was used to contain total height. This configuration ensured excellent weight distribution and a more efficient body profile in terms of aerodynamics. The 3,163cc six-cylinder boxer unit was liquid-cooled and generated over 600bhp. To obtain homologation, 20 GT1 Evo models for the street were also built.
The 911 GT1 had its first competitive outing in 1996, where it bagged second and third places at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The following year saw the Evolution version roll out with minor aesthetic modifications (it featured the headlamp cluster of the 996) and some mechanical refinements. And now here it is right in front of my very eyes. This one was chassis number 05, which narrowly missed victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1997. That Sunday, on June 15, Ralf Kelleners drove car number 26 for Porsche AG. In the closing laps of the race, it was proceeding to take top honours with the precision of a Swiss watch and the chequered flag was almost within sight. But, as luck would have it, at 1:40pm, Kelleners found himself unable to shift gears and soon the cockpit was full of thick smoke. After leading the race for 112 laps, the GT1 Evo’s run came to a sudden halt because of a trivial oil leak.
After this misfortune in France, the sporting career of “05” continued in 1998 in the US, with podium finishes at Sebring, Road Atlanta and Watkins Glen. It ended its racing career in a black Texaco livery, driven by Gunnar Jeanette at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2001 – finishing in a barely dignifying 78th position. Today, it’s owned by Jan B. Lühn, who had it repainted in its 1997 scheme from the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
But, now, it’s time to return to our once-in-a-lifetime experience with the GT1 Evo. It’s a lot less aggressive and a bit more welcoming. Also, getting on-board doesn’t require the flexibility of a contortionist. Then, when the lights go green, the Evo displays a much milder personality than that of the 962. The acceleration is powerful, but gradual – no delay or lag in response. The 6-speed manual transmission is precise, fast and one of the best we’ve ever tried on a race car. The presence of a power-assisted steering makes life easier as the speed increases. While the 962 was trying to intimidate and impose its will, the GT1 made us feel at ease – like an old acquaintance. It’s at that very moment when Kelleners’ words occurred to me: “The GT1 is not at all a difficult car. It’s damn pleasant to drive, even at high speeds. A slight tendency to understeer, which is rectified without any effort, gives you a great sense of safety.” I can’t help but agree with him – wholeheartedly!
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