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the fan man

Bill Oursler on a Possible Projection of the Future

  Speculation is a wonderful thing for it allows one’s imagination to run wild. Yet,
we use speculation to shape our lives every day as we seek definitive answers to
questions where such answers simply don’t exist. In the real world this is what
the trade of an intelligence agency, any intelligence agency, really is. Over the
years, Porsche has always been somewhat secretive about what it was planning
in the future for its motorsport activities, but never more so than now with its new
American Le Mans Series LMP2 class RS Spyder.

Facts are silly things
  A quick read of the press kit handed out in conjunction with its October Laguna
Seca ALMS debut shows very little solid fact in such areas of the car’s technical
specifications. What type of springing method it uses, the design of its transaxle,
or even the bore and stroke of its 3.4-liter V* powerplant. Moreover, while Porsche
has insisted from the start that the RS Spyder project is a North American effort.
Porsche racing executives at Laguna Seca kept referring back to the fact that it
was designed to last a 24-Hour race, of which of course none currently can be
found on any ALMS calendar.

  Indeed, so closed mouthed was the Porsche camp that it would not even confirm
the obvious: namely that Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr, the drivers who have
been a key part of the testing and development program, and who drove the
Porsche under the Penske Racing banner at Laguna to a dominant LMP2 victory,
would be back as a permanent part of the team for 2006. Of course, a recent
press release took care of the driver issue but still why the long delay ?

What in the wide world of sports is a goin' on ?
  Ever since the new Porsche effort was announced last spring people have
wondered what was Penske’s reason for signing on, and where is the effort
ultimately headed. Some, including this columnist have suggested (or
“speculated” if you will) that Penske could take the new 3.4-litert V-8 to
Indianapolis in 2007 when there will be a new engine formula in place. However,
there has been little talk about the RS Spyder itself other than the announced
intention of Zuffenhausen to sell cars on the American market, and possibly in

  What has been left out, or carefully guarded is the new Porsche’s potential for
winning overall. At Laguna it was clear that Maassen had the measure of the
Champion Racing Audi R8s, at one point running behind in such close proximity
that it could have easily upset the District Attorney in the Michael Jackson case.
Talk to the Porsche folks and they say, when they even admit under the table that
Maassen and Luhr might have been “holding something in reserve,” that
Laguna’s layout with its relatively short straights favored the RS Spyder, a
situation they claim would not be true at a high speed circuit such as Le Mans. Le
Mans, who has ever mentioned Le Mans? Certainly not Porsche, whose only
references to the fabled 24 Hours have been vague hints that perhaps a privateer
might take one of the new Porsches to the Sarthe in 2007 – if they are put on sale
to the factory’s customers that is.

  But, hold on a minute. What about winning overall, particularly since, even in its
current LMP2 form, the RS Spyder has shown tremendous potential to rub with
“the Big Boys.” It is that this point that things begin to get interesting, and
speculation comes into play. One part of the puzzle can be found in the seeming
ease with which the LMP2 chassis can be transformed by the addition of large
wheels and tires and minor aerodynamic changes into and LMP1 car, as is the
case with the latest Lola spyders.

Diesel and Dust
  Secondly, is the fact that the new Porsche V-8 appears capable of being
turbocharged, especially by a company like Porsche whose turbo experience
goes back to the Can-Am days of the early 1970’s. Thirdly, and most importantly
perhaps is the issue of Le Mans’ new infatuation  with diesels and hybrids
running in the LMP1 division next June. The 2006 event, which will most likely see
Audi’s new R10 diesel make its debut, will be something of a “transition” in that
neither the rules nor diesel entries such as the R10 will be fully perfected, that
goal needing actual on track experience to achieve. Therefore one can assume
that 2007 at Le Mans will present an entirely different picture, particularly since
hometown Peugeot is expected to arrive with its own diesel.

  Let's assume that the 2007 playing field will have a definite tilt towards the diesel
camp and its Peugeot entries. If Porsche does harbor aspirations of winning the
24 Hours outright with the RS Spyder, then the window of opportunity would
appear to be limited to this coming June. Beyond that, circumstances could make
such a try much more difficult, and much more expensive.

  From a hardware viewpoint, making the attempt in 2006 appears practical,
assuming of course that the winter testing Porsche does transforms it into a
reliable 24-Hour vehicle. So from this columnist’s word processor it comes down
to a matter of political will on Zuffenhausen’s part. And there any clarity totally
disappears. Given the apparent reluctance of Porsche’s top management to re-
engage in the top levels of motorsport, if I were a betting man, I would place my
wager elsewhere. Even so, speculation is a fun mental exercise to be savored
and enjoyed.

                                                                         Bill Oursler
                                                         November 2005

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