Single-make revolution

Spec series are few and far between in historic motor sport, so we went to Spa-Francorchamps to get a flavour of the latest success story - the Porsche 2.0L Cup

Spa-Francorchamps has been witness to many incredible scenes, but never anything quite like this. Forty-one beautifully prepared Porsche 911 racing cars waiting line astern in the endurance pit lane. Air rich with exhaust fumes, silence rent by the unmistakable rasp of more than three-dozen air-cooled flat-six engines. The landscape is a sight for sore eyes. Welcome to the all-new 2.0L Cup.

One-make championships are a big part of modern motorsport, but they are conspicuous by their absence in Historics. Classic racing stalwart Julius Thurgood pioneered the concept of a mono-marque series with the hugely successful Austin A35 Academy, but the 2.0L Cup takes this a step further with a series exclusively dedicated to 2.0-litre, short-wheelbase Porsche 911s prepared to pre-66 regulations.

This retro Porsche Supercup is the brainchild of self-confessed Porsche nut, James Turner, but quickly became a collective creation brought to fruition with input from leading lights in the UK Porsche scene. Add the support and endorsement of Patrick Peter’s Peter Auto organisation – the historic racing powerhouse behind Tour Auto and the Le Mans Classic – and you have something very special indeed.

I’ve been dropping hints to anyone who’ll listen and, more importantly, anyone with an eligible Porsche 911, since Turner first told me about the 2.0L Cup late last year. This paid off when Howard Donald (yes, he from the pop group Take That) offered to share his car for the first round at Spa.

LIKE ALL GREAT ideas, I’m amazed nobody has thought of something like the 2.0L Cup before, but, like all great ideas it’s the result of lengthy cogitation.

“In the past whenever I’ve been asked what’s an ideal historic series to get into I’ve always said Julius Thurgood’s HRDC Touring Greats,” says Turner. “It’s well run, good value and you might get invited to Goodwood. I also like Equipe GTS in the UK. However, I could see that there were no international race series that ticked the same boxes: good value track time, prestigious meetings, fun, clean racing, decent hospitality, safe cars. I’ve always loved 911s, so I thought a one-make series for these great little 2-litre cars could be a winning formula.”

Turner also tapped into the social side of historic motor sport, which is an increasingly powerful factor in drawing people away from modern racing.

“There is a huge demand from people who want to race with a mate or a partner, or a son or daughter, so this shaped my thinking around the race format and the overall feel of the series,” he adds. “It was important to strike a balance between encouraging professionalism and strong competition, but also friendliness and accessibility. Ultimately, if you’re going to spend a weekend away racing you want to do it in a fun car with a good bunch of people.”

There’s certainly no doubting the calibre of drivers attracted to the 2.0L Cup, with a glance down the Spa entry list revealing an impressive line-up of names including Mike Jordan (sharing with Mark Sumpter), Anthony Reid, Nigel Greensall plus other front-running British historic racers such as Martin O’Connell, Andrew Smith and Olly Bryant, plus the exuberant Dutch 911 specialist, Pascal Pandelaar. The cars are of an equally impressive standard, highlights being Historika’s rare and immaculately prepared 901 and Lee Maxted-Page’s historically significant 911, which was originally raced to the 1967 European Touring Car title by Karl von Wendt.

“If you’re deemed to have caused a crash, you’re invited to cover half of the repair, or you’re not welcome at the next meeting”

Maxted-Page is a well-known and highly respected figure in the Porsche fraternity, so it’s no surprise that he is one of the people Turner looked to for help and advice.

“Lee has been a great mentor,” says Turner. “He loved the idea and we jointly approached Kevin Morfett at Historika and Richard at Tuthill Porsche. Straightaway, we agreed on the potential. The real eureka moment was when I called Patrick Peter. Lee and I went to meet him at Paul Ricard and two weeks after that we had a signed agreement! We now have a joint venture that is 50 per cent Peter Auto and 50 per cent the 2L Racing Group. We have worked closely with the Peter Auto team in Paris on regulations and promotion and invested our own money in having our own scrutineer, photographer, website and Instagram account. It’s a classic series with an up-to-date approach.”

I don’t know about you, but whenever the term ‘one-make’ is used I associate it with driving standards that are never less than robust and often borderline reckless, so it’s encouraging and typical of the 2.0L Cup committee that they are crystal clear on racing conduct.

“Clean racing is essential and one of the reasons that I chose Peter Auto was because they are so strict on driving standards,” adds Turner. “If you’re deemed to have caused an avoidable accident you are invited to contribute half the repair costs to the innocent parties. If you decline, you’re not welcome at the next meeting. Simple as that. One-make racing should be super-close, but we cannot and will not allow 2L Cup to become a crash-fest.”

The 2.0L Cup has adapted Peter Auto’s successful pre-66 911 technical rules to allow more cars in. Actually, it allows all short-wheelbase 911s (provided they are built to 2L Cup regs), but most people continue to build pre-66 cars because they are more eligible across historic racing as a whole. Turner cites Porsche’s ultra-successful modern Supercup series as an inspiration, especially its formative years in the early Nineties. The key difference from Supercup, obviously, is that the 2L Cup is contested by individual owners and preparers and not a manufacturer-backed initiative in which 100 identical cars are built in one batch at the start of a season. This demands a certain pragmatism around achieving parity between the cars, but Turner is confident the playing field will only become more level as time goes on.

“By no means have all the entrants built cars specifically for 2.0L Cup, so everyone has to be sensible at first,” he says. “I’m certain that the spread of lap times between drivers is far bigger than that between cars, but we will continue to tighten up on the odd technical transgression. We will mandate small valve heads in 2019 and we are considering enforcing sealed engines, but this has to be agreed to by Peter Auto and the competitors.”

ENOUGH OF THE BACKSTORY. What about the driving? Well, I adore these 2.0-litre, short-wheelbase 911s, for being the earliest of the breed makes them something special. Snake hipped, shod with narrow tyres and without so much as a ducktail to interrupt their pure, unadorned lines, they are modest yet achingly pretty. Precious too, with box-fresh, professionally built front-running cars costing circa £250,000. Cars with period history (such as Maxted-Page’s) will be considerably more, likewise Historika’s super-early 901. Less rare or storied cars with a few seasons’ racing under their Fuchs alloys can be had for a chunk less. Serious money certainly, but in the context of Peter Auto’s glittering grids these are amongst the more affordable cars. Especially if you consider the 90-minute race format means two drivers can get meaningful wheel time and share the costs. 

Paddock consensus says cars have between 180 and 200bhp, but even the fastest 2.0-litre 911 isn’t especially quick – the fastest qualifiers don’t trouble the three-minute barrier at Spa – but raw pace isn’t really the point, for like any one-make series it’s the closeness of the racing and the enjoyment had whilst doing so that counts. Besides, the real joy of these early 911s is that they take some pedalling.

I’ve driven countless 911s of all ages on the road, but only ever raced one – a 996 GT3 in a round of the Carrera Cup GB back in 2000 – but my experience of early short-wheelbase cars is limited to a couple of days of ice driving in Sweden. I’m pleased to find that much against the widow-making myths and legends associated with the old 911’s handling traits, these 2.0L Cup cars are modestly grippy but fabulously progressive on treaded Avons.

With so many of these beautifully delicate and understated 911s, it’s easy to get a bit blasé about individual cars, but even in this company Howard Donald’s car is a peach. A road car converted into race-spec by Maxted-Page, it’s not working at the limits of the regs, but we’re pleased to be solidly inside the top half of the field after qualifying. Given this is Howard’s first overseas race it’s very much a learning experience for him. And me, as there’s clearly a knack to driving these cars that relies on a fine balance of commitment and sensitivity. Tempting though it is to sling the car around, any lost momentum is harshly punished along Spa’s lengthy straights.

There’s something wonderful about a racing car running with full interior trim. With its cord carpets, wooden dash and road gauges, it’s strangely calming to be strapped into what is very obviously a road-legal car. It’s clear from the qualifying times that the leading pack will quickly break away, leaving the next 10 or so cars fighting amongst themselves for a top 10 finish. We should be amongst them.

Like the majority of historic race series, the 2.0L Cup is a rolling start as it saves wear-and-tear on the cars and reduces the chances of a start-line incident or first corner pile-up.

Howard doesn’t fancy getting caught-up in the nip-and-tuck of the opening laps, so elects to put me in for the start. Having formed-up obediently behind the pace car we all wait for the gantry lights to flick green, then gun it through the long-throw but surprisingly sweet gearbox towards La Source. Safely round the tight hairpin it’s a mad charge down the hill towards Eau Rouge. There’s a bit of bumping and boring at the front as the leaders jostle for position, with Mark Sumpter and Mike Jordan’s car receiving an unfortunate clout to the right-rear wheel that knocks the suspension out of alignment. Thankfully, the field gets up onto the Kemmel Straight without further incident.

After the first lap or so the midfield spreads out leaving me with 40 minutes or so to enjoy getting to know this car and – hopefully – make up a few places before the mandatory pit stop.

“There’s something hugely satisfying about these cars. They sound fabulous and communicate through the seat of your pants”

There’s something hugely satisfying about these 911s. They rev to 8000rpm and sound fabulous doing so, but it’s the way they communicate through the steering and seat of your Nomex pants that’s the real joy.

The balance is resolutely rear-engined, but you soon learn that only by playing with this balance can you get the 911 to go well. A small lift of the throttle is all you need to initiate a direction change, from which point you play the throttle and offer as little corrective lock as possible in order to let the car flow.

After a busy few laps in which I manage to get by a couple of cars in quick succession, things settle and I can focus on trying to catch the few cars that are ahead in the middle distance. Lap by lap they get closer until I can see from its white the green livery that it’s the Porsche Cars Great Britain entry. Anthony Reid is at the wheel and we have a fantastic battle for three or four laps, the wily Reid giving me a masterclass in positioning his car perfectly and backing me up in the areas I’m gaining ground - namely Pouhon and Blanchimont. There’s barely a Rizla paper between us at times, with both 911s sliding in unison, sharp exhaust notes howling in harmony. Magical stuff.

By the time I pit to hand over to Howard we’re up into eighth place and I’ve gone a few seconds quicker than I did in qualifying – still some way from the quickest guys, but much more respectable. However, a Biblical thunderstorm swept the circuit barely 20 minutes after Howard took over and the race was soon red-flagged. Welcome to Spa, H!

A great idea, brilliantly executed, the 2.0L Cup encapsulates everything there is to love about historics with some neat contemporary twists. If the first round is anything to go by it’s set to go from strength to strength.