One afternoon soon after taking over as CEO of Porsche AG American Peter Schultz noticed a chart on the wall of the office of his Chief Engineer Dr Helmut Bott which outlined the developement schedules for Porsche’s three models the 924, 928 and 911, the first two extended far into the future while that for the 911 came to a stop in 1981.
Schultz took a marker pen and walked over to the chart and drew a line extending the 911’s development clear off the chart, much to the relief of Dr Bott who set about initiating the design of a new concept car which would become a flagship for the future development of the 911 called the Porsche Gruppe B.
The Gruppe B, which was first seen at the Frankfurt Motor Show in October 1983 was designed with new GT regulations for race and rally cars in mind and made use of emergent all wheel drive technology and a version of the Bi Turbo 750 hp 3.2 litre 195 cui flat 6 with 4 valves per cylinder in water cooled cylinder heads that had been developed for the 1978 Porsche 935/78 known as Mody Dick.
The Gruppe B was developed into a rally raid version called the 959 which won the Paris Dakar Rally at it’s second attempt with René Metge and Dominique Lemoyne in the cockpit in 1986. A US$ 225,000 road version of the 959 appeared in 1985 of which 300 examples were built up until 1987.
Porsche also developed a single road racing version of the Gruppe B, today’s featured car, known as the 961. It had been anticipated that several manufacturers would build Group B race cars but in the end only the Ferrari 288 GTO saw the light of day and then only as a street car.
The Porsche 961 made it’s competition debut at the 1986 Le Mans test weekend with twice Paris Dakar winner René Metge sharing the wheel with Claude Ballot-Léna, because there was only one 961 in existence instead of the mandated 20 required for Group B the 961 was entered in the even more relaxed IMSA GTX class. Metge set 10th fastest time in the official Le Mans Test Session but the car retired from the first of two sprints with transmission failure.
The 961 still running in the GTX class, then appeared at the 1986 Le Mans 24 hours, as seen in the top two photographs, for which it qualified 26th and came home a respectable 7th. The only Group B runner in this race was a venerable BMW M1 a design dating back to the 1970’s which crossed the finish line with it’s hazard lights on to a huge cheers from the crowd but 60 laps behind the 961 and unclassified due to running it’s last lap too slow.
In October 1986 Günter Steckkönig and Canadian Kees Nierop drove the 961, now entered as a GTP Prtotype in the Daytona 3 Hour endurance race for which they qualified 29th and came home 24th after experiencing multiple tyre failures on the banked section of the track.
For 1987 the 961 carried the Rothmans livery like it’s sister Group C 962C’s and was driven at the Le Mans Test day by Steckkönig and Claude Haldi who set 16th fastest time with the car now entered in the rationalised IMSA class.
A month later Haldi was teamed with Metge for the Le Mans 24 hour race and after the Porsche team ran out of 962C’s Nierop was added to the 961’s driving strength in place of Steckkönig too.
The #203 961 qualified 31st on the grid and was running as high as 11th when around 2/3rds distance Nierop crashed at Indianapolis corner after experiencing a gearbox problem. While trying to return to the pits the 961 caught fire and eventually came to a stop and retirement.
With no sign of any Group B competition on the race track Porsche abandoned the 961 with just one example built and never having actually entered the car in the class it was designed to compete in. The 961 was subsequently rebuilt for the Porsche Museum and demonstrations, it is seen in the last four photo’s at Goodwood Festival of Speed running on out of period pattern BBS wheels.
Thanks for joining me on this “Group B Race Car” edition of “Gettin’ a li’l psycho on tyres” I hope you will join me for a look at some Porsche Automobillia tomorrow. Don’t forget to come back now !