Racing is an egoist’s pursuit, full of hissy fits and prima donnas in cashmere. Just look at Ferrari, and Sergio Marchionne’s latest rant about the state of the sport accompanied by whining threats of quitting to form a rival racing series.
It’s never been any different. In a sport with fates decided by thousands of a second, it’s no wonder racers will try anything to gain a competitive advantage and this is often where the egos clash.
In 1980 just before Porsche posted its first ever annual loss, the company had a crucial challenge ahead in order to get a stronger foothold in the US market and increase sales in the future. Porsche decided to take on the biggest race on the planet, the Indy 500, in the heart of America.
Finding success almost everywhere else, Porsche also decided to keep things simple and stick to technology the Germans knew best. That is to say, flat-six air-cooled turbocharged engines, and that’s exactly what Porsche went racing with.
Instead of being a stressed member of the chassis though like all the other fast cars at Indy, the Porsche engine needed its own rear subframe and the unusual wide design meant other concessions had to be made too. So Porsche didn’t have much of a chassis, but boy did they know those flat-sixes… With over 1.8 bar boost pressure the engine could reportedly produce over 800 horsepower which was enough to shatter the track record at California’s Ontario speedway in testing. This in turn was enough for rival AJ Foyt to get worried about the Porsche’s performance at the flat-out Indianapolis raceway, so he successfully lobbied to have Porsche’s boost turned down to about 1.6 bar.
Despite members of the team still having faith in their flat-six overpowering their rivals even at lower boost pressure, Porsche’s ego was hurt enough and they had a hissy fit and returned to Germany to design the next-generation 956 endurance racing machine. All the hype went to nothing, and Porsche’s pre-Indy promotional material was forgotten. Indy in 1980 didn’t fulfill the Weissach wish, and it had to go down as one that got away for Porsche.