The rise and fall of the Porsche 961
After its Paris-Dakar 959 success, Porsche planned a Group B track car. The 961 proved itself at Le Mans, but failed to realise its true potential thereafter
With the Porsche 959 a proven winner in the desert, it was time to bring the flagship supercar to the track. The sports car marque had initially been hesitant to build Group B racing machines, as the rules stated that 200 road-legal cars were required for homologation. Instead, it used data from research projects to create the ultimate road car in the form of the 959. Eventually bosses bowed to internal pressure and let the 959 compete in the Paris-Dakar rally, and its success there finally led to the 961.
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Porsche has a proud history of endurance racing, and a Group B machine presented the perfect opportunity to explore what all-wheel drive could really offer. An extensive aerodynamic body was developed for the car, incorporating ducts, channels, a large diffuser and a huge rear wing for added downforce. The new bodywork also catered to a wider front and rear track. Its rear-mounted 2.8-litre flat-six engine was tuned to develop an incredible 640bhp, which would be tamed by the rear-bias all-wheel-drive system.
In 1986 the Porsche 961 made its debut at the Le Mans 24-hours test, and proved to be quick right out of the box. It set the tenth fastest time – proving not only quicker than its direct competition, but also challenging those in the top class. The car later qualified for the race in 26th position, but marched on through the gruelling event to finish seventh overall and leader of the prototype class.
The 961 clearly had a lot of potential, and Porsche intended to capitalise on this by selling the racer to privateer teams. It was entered into the American IMSA GTX experimental class in a bid to wow potential US customers. However, while a 961 could be a real asset to any team, its high price put off many potential customers.
The car entered Le Mans again in 1987, but it retired due to fire. The final nail in the coffin was the official announcement that the Group B class would be outlawed after a series of high-profile deaths caused by this extreme breed of cars.
Just one Porsche 961 was ever built, and while it did see racing success, its potential was never fully realised – leaving engineers, designers and fans alike dreaming of what could have been.
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