Driving the ultimate factory Porsche 962C

The superlatives flow from Andrew Frankel as he recalls his trackday at a chilly Silverstone in the racer that finished second in the 1988 Le Mans 24 Hours. And what a car it is...

Porsche 962 on track at Silverstone
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I have been lucky enough to track test a couple of Porsche 962s. The one you see pictured was Porsche’s own, a Le Mans winner and was driven at Weissach, the home of Porsche motor sport, under grey skies. That’s about as good as it gets. But despite this, the one I recall most vividly was Henry Pearman’s 962-010 that I drove at Silverstone a few years ago.

This was the factory’s last laugh, a one-off car built to win Le Mans in 1988 –and it almost did. Even without qualifying boost, so probably with ‘only’ around 750bhp under my right foot, it was a revealing experience.

The interior still looked primitive, far closer to that of a 1960s racer than a modern sports racing car. And for all the progress made under the engine cover, there was still significant turbo lag. It needed more than 3000rpm on the clock before it would show any interest at all, and then you had to watch out because when the power did turn up, it wasn’t shy about announcing its arrival.

On a dry but cold track and probably old slicks there was no point in putting your foot down in second. But in third the thrust was extraordinary.

Andrew Frankel drives a Porsche 962C

Our writer sits where Hans Stuck, Derek Bell and Al Holbert have gone before

Andrew Frankel in the cockpit of a Porsche 962C

It felt a little cumbersome in slow corners, thanks no doubt to its locked differential and the kind of spring rate required to support a body capable of generating so much downforce, and as we were using the National circuit it was only through Copse that I felt it starting to work. And it was incredible: fast, but also inspiring complete confidence. All I didn’t much like about it was the slow, ponderous gearchange.

Having driven it, the thought occurred to me there was one more reason the 956 and 962C did so well and survived for so long: these were easy cars to drive, pretty straightforward in operation, forgiving by nature with reliability built into their DNA. In long-distance racing such qualities are as important as pure power. There was no single reason for the success of the 956 and 962, but all these factors combined.

As for racing longevity that’s simple: as has been said before, nothing succeeds like success.