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Porsche 956

Broadcast dates : 20th February 2005
24th February 2005

Amongst motorsport fans there’s a special sense of anticipation as a top-flight racing car is rolled out of the transporter. And one thing’s for sure, the Porsche 956 is a motorsport great. 

Knowledgeable enthusiasts may baulk at the orange and blue Gulf Motorsport livery on the 956. The colour scheme is from the earlier Porsche 917 era, also a Le Mans legend. But South African owner Franz Pretorius - not to be confused with crew chief Francois - feels it suits the car perfectly.

As any Porsche fan knows, the German factory believes in evolution rather than revolution.

Beneath all the turbo plumbing, the myriad cooling and ducting systems, beats the heart of a flat boxer six, the same engine layout as the 911 road car.
The main conceptual difference in the 956 is that the engine is mid-mounted… ahead, rather than behind the gearbox.

With a turbo for each bank of cylinders, power could be pumped up to over the seven-hundred-and-fifty horsepower mark for qualifying at Le Mans.

In South Africa, and only racing in historic meetings for fun, the team has the luxury of keeping mechanical stresses to a minimum.

Owner Franz Pretorius gave the Porsche a welcome outing at the recent Zwartkops Golden Age meeting, to the delight of thousands of race-goers.

Our own Sarel van der Merwe raced a 956 at Le Mans, as did fellow South African George Fouche. In fact, Sarel very nearly won it in both 1983 and 1988, while George finished fourth in 1985.

This is a three-hundred-and-eighty kilometres-per-hour sports car, but obviously a twenty year-old thoroughbred needs special T L C.

Twenty years old or not, the Porsche is a highly complex machine. For Franz Pretorius, it’s not a case of switch and go.

Porsche 956s were raced by the factory, but also sold to customers all over the world. This particular car was run by Trust Racing in the Japanese series for Australian Vern Schuppan.

It also competed at le Mans but crashed heavily, requiring a comprehensive re-build.

Nowadays the car has a relatively easy life, driven by Franz and occasionally by his son Ruan. It has no real competitors in South Africa, but historic racing is all about enjoying cars for their own sake. Reliving the glory years.

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