What am I, with my sleeping bag, depending on the kindness of strangers, doing here?
What a namedropper could do with the ammo at the welcoming gala. Everybody who is anybody in the Porsche world is there. Great conversation, a live band, plenty of food and drink. I am Cinderella at the ball, and the GT2 is no pumpkin.
I’m suddenly very, very tired. It has less to do with conditioning than with the adrenaline tap being turned off.
After the party, it’s time for check-in to a sumptuously appointed room with a view of Cannery Row. I’m tired, but it has less to do with the long day than with the pressure of driving someone else’s race car. I crawl in between sheets with an off-the-chart thread count and fall asleep to the lullaby of gentle waves and barking sea lions.
I pass on breakfast at the hotel and decide to take a roundabout route to the track. Seventeen Mile Drive, then down Highway 1 to Carmel Valley Road and finally over Laureles Grade to the track. I first stop at a quiet place for coffee, on the patio, watching joggers and walkers pass on a wooded trail. A couple arrives on bicycles, decked out in serious riding gear. The man looks at the GT2 with naked lust; his female companion dismisses it as something only a man would want. I finish my coffee, swagger hardly at all to the car and take my time letting the motor warm up before departing.
The track is in full swing Friday morning with practice groups lining pit row, crowds and Porsches everywhere. The activity level is hyper-frenetic and the energy palpable. Cars from private collections mingle with classics from the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart. An announcer’s voice spikes the din as cars rumble up and down lanes shared by sauntering fans and hustling drivers and crews.
Laguna Seca is the ideal setting for intimate interaction with these wheeled treasures, usually hidden in private collections or viewed from behind ropes in museums. Virtually the entire history of Porsche racing, from the early spyders to the all-conquering 917s to the late RS Spyders, was on hand, complemented by almost 50 famous Porsche pilots and engineers: Derek Bell, Vic Elford, Vern Schuppan, Hurley Haywood, Al Holbert, Alex Job, Gerard Larrousse, Norbert Singer, Walter Naeher, Valentin Schäffer… the stellar list went on and on.
Finally, enough energy to walk around and look at things, pretend to myself to be writing a story about Monterey, eat an ice cream cone, eat a hot dog.
The red carpet-like viewing is not confined to engines and chassis: Derek Bell meanders through the throng, virtually unnoticed; grand marshal Norbert Singer snaps photos; Jürgen Barth strolls through the pits and stops at fellow ec scribe Kerry Morse’s 1993 3.8 RSR, Barth’s ride to a class win at Le Mans.
Porsche’s pavilion has a German beer garden, and the new 911 is displayed alongside such legendary icons as the 935 “Baby.” The pavilion is nirvana, too, for autograph seekers. The superstars of the Porsche world sit at tables with pens in hand, and the line snakes out of the biergarten, hundreds deep.
Cross the bridge between turns three and four to find “trash and trinkets” comprised of just about anything and everything with a Porsche logo on it or in it. Autograph sessions take place here, too, for the mere price of a book. Jürgen Barth and Randy Leffingwell are seen scrawling away.
The celebration reaches its peak on Saturday afternoon with an assemblage of race, road and rally cars chosen by Porsche for several exhibition laps, filmed from a helicopter. The spectacle covers virtually the entire competition history of the company from 1950 to the present and includes Zwart’s GT2. Even though the laps are to be run slowly, the GT2 will be surrounded by other rare and expensive machinery, and I don’t feel entirely comfortable driving on a circuit that I know only from watching others. I settle for shotgun. With no shortage of volunteers, I ask Oliver Hilger, the main man for Porsche Motorsport press, to pilot the GT2. Our paths have crossed before, the circumstances in sharp contrast, at the finish line of the Trans-Siberian Rally in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Long story.
As I approach 4 on the second race lap, there are flagmen on both sides waving blue flags, indicating that someone is trying to pass me. I have taken the Driver’s Meeting Oath to obey all flags scrupulously lest I not be invited back. Dutifully I move over and let a guy in a Speedster by. Certainly this is not the first mistake that I have made on this day, but just as certainly it proves to be the worst.
The first turns are reminiscent of an LA freeway at rush hour. Hilger snaps away with his iPhone and I am, too late, desperate to be driving! The congestion opens up at the famous Corkscrew, and then being co-pilot suits me fine. With its blind entry, sharp left, steep drop and fast exit, the Corkscrew will have to wait until after I go to driving school and find another ride at Monterey. I’ve discovered it’s all too easy to become a Car Slut.
Too soon Rennsport IV is over and it’s time to head back to LaLa Land, but first a stop off at Grandma’s Kitchen for a late, raucous breakfast with Randy Leffingwell, Pete Stout and Kerry Morse. No need to hide the swagger. They know all about what it means to drive a Porsche race car, especially if it’s on the open road, in honor of an earlier drive in an Alfa.
Post-partum racing—what a friend calls the feeling that you get after the last race of the year. I had it then, I have it now. I have no advice, no cure, no finish for this except to say that—take this as a warning—I no longer see blue flags.
Observations of the fourth edition of the Rennsport Reunion.
The overwhelming success of the 50th Birthday Bash for Porsche at the 1998 Monterey Historic Automobile Races proved to be the genesis for the original Rennsport Reunion. Merely stating that the peninsula practically had a Porsche nameplate attached to it would be the supreme understatement. The late Bob Carlson, in his duties as the man in charge of Porsche press affairs for the U.S., tossed up his own mix a few weeks later at Watkins Glen. Clearly, there was a need for a recognized event with support from the mother ship for a reason to party every few years. Why wait 10 years? Why indeed. After an official launch at Lime Rock, the event headed south to Daytona where there was room and a purpose. Florida has always been a popular destination for European and U.K. residents if only for the reasonably short flying time. Carlson always intended to see the show travel to the west coast, distance aside, and the bloodlines for Porsche have always been strong but with a different attitude.
The third edition took place at Daytona again for one simple reason, funding. The late Bob Snodgrass, of the Brumos organization, was a major factor in the success of this Daytona showing, picking up the slack in what marketing had not fully come to realize.
All of that changed when the circus came to Laguna Seca. Regardless of the cost, this was a bargain. A ready-made platform to launch the latest 911 to an appreciative, and at times rabid, gathering. The stage was set, the cast chosen and on with the show. How would the fourth edition compare when mirrored against the previous three or the big birthday of 1998?
Looking back at the event, a few things stood out. While it may have been officially known to accounting as Rennsport Reunion IV, it would be more appropriate to tag it as Rennsport West Coast I. It is simply a different attitude and in many ways, the west coast vibe is a lot more fun. As in 1998, there was a large family presence in the crowd while Daytona had the more hard-core racers. Club racing was a major feature of the second and third editions, and the paddock area of Laguna Seca just isn’t large enough to accommodate everyone who wanted to be on the track. The most obvious factor was the full inclusion of Porsche marketing and they took full advantage of the surroundings. A competition history of the 911 variants was constructed in the pit garages with everything leading up to a public debut of the newest evolution of the 911.
The embrace of social media meant the moving images of the fourth edition of Rennsport would always be accessible, thus refreshing the memory, something that wasn’t available for the previous runnings. The majority of the professional drivers and factory personnel I spoke with enjoyed themselves immensely and the adulation was evident by the long lines of those seeking a signature during the staged autograph sessions. In perusing the list of Porsche’s invited guests in attendance, there were some that were overlooked, or more to the point, not able to attend for various reasons. There was no question as to the importance of the contributions of those individuals. Fans and enthusiasts of the marque know the names. In the end game it comes down to this; would Bob Carlson have approved? I like to think he would have.