The unfortunate Porsche Typ 940, made to win the Indy 500

News yes Porsche is set to return to Formula 1 2026 should come as no surprise to anyone who is even temporarily interested in motorsports. The German manufacturer is proud of its motorcycle exploits, having tasted success in every category in which it competed – from Formula 1 to Dakar, Le Mans, GT, and even the exhausting Dakar.

As a constructor, his successes in F1 are small – just one 1962 Grand Prix victory. But as an F1 engine supplier, Porsche TAG engines led McLaren to 25 Grand Prix victories in the four years between 1984 and ’87. including winning the 1984 and ’85 World Driver and Constructor Championships. Although, it wasn’t all just with champagne and laurel wreaths, let alone Zuffenhausen’s unfortunate return to F1 in 1990 and ’91. with Arrows, the better.

But one discipline the German brand has never won is a series of open wheels from the US, Indycars. Still, it was not without an attempt.

In 1978, Porsche reached an agreement with Interscope Racing to enter 1980. Indianapolis 500the top event in the American race calendar.

Interscope racinga team owned and operated by American media mogul Ted Field, was already part of the Porsche family after winning the Dayton 24 Hour in 1979 at Porsche 935 customers. Danny Ongais and Hurley Haywood were the drivers.

Field has already tried his hand at Indycari, placing a buyer at Cosworth’s Parnellis plant in the Indianapolis 500 for Ongais. In 1977, Ongais was named Rookie of the Year, and the following year he qualified second for the May Classic, then led the 145-lap race before his Parnelli’s Cosworth was released.

This caught the attention of Jo Hoppen, director of the competition for Porsche + Audi division of Volkswagen in Americahow the American branch of the company was clumsily known.

Hoppen approached Field with a plan to push the Porsche engine into the back of his Parnelli chassis and they would race. It seemed like a simple idea.

Convincing Porsche was no easy feat. Hoppen recalled flying to Germany to meet with Dr. Ferry Porsche, but the company’s patriarch was lukewarm on the idea. To sweeten its argument and emphasize the cost-effectiveness of the program, Hoppen suggested that Porsche use and modify the 3.0-liter twin-turbo flat six already developed and used for the German brand’s efforts at Le Mans.

With small modifications (and minimal costs), Hoppen argues, the engine could be adapted for Indycar racing. In addition, the marketing advantages of Porsche, which presented the car at the largest American one-day sporting event, cannot be underestimated.

Dr. Porsche was hesitant, a little reluctant, and the project was given the green light. Work has begun on the engine, the main changes being a reduction in capacity from 3.0 to 2.65 liters to comply with then-current Indycar regulations. And one of the KKK turbochargers had to be discarded, the rules only allowed one turbo.

It developed about 470 kW at 9000 rpm and 559 Nm at 6400 rpm. A four-speed manual transmission sent the drive to the rear wheels.

But Porsche’s timing couldn’t have been worse. Outdoor racing in the U.S. was in a state of civil war. On the one hand, the governing body of the sport, the United States Auto Club (USAC), has been embroiled in a bitter struggle with the newly formed Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART), a conglomerate of owners born out of concerns about the way the sport is run.

But politics went to the last place in testing in the fall of 1979. Interscope Porsche first came out on track with Ongais behind the wheel. It was not nice, several engines were destroyed thanks to the fact that the number one cylinder was left without oil.

Meanwhile, USAC formed regulations for the then new turbocharging technology. The Cosworth V8 engines received a boost of 1.6 bar, the four-cylinder Offenhauser turbo 2.0 bar while the Porsche six-cylinder squatted in the middle with 1.8 bar.

But that concession has angered some Indycar competitors, including AJ Foyt, who lobbied USAC for simplified rules governing turbo boosting. He wanted 2.0 bar of pressure for all four-cylinder engines (Foyt powered the four-cylinder Offy) and 1.6 bar for four-cylinder engines.

Porsche, meanwhile, continued to test the Interscope and showed serious speed. A qualifying simulation of the Indy 500 on the Ontario Motor Speedway (which was actually in California, not Canada, and is identical in distance and schedule to Indianapolis) showed that the Porsche Interscope averaged 307 km / h in four laps. Foyt was right to be concerned and threatened to leave USAC and join rival CART if the rules do not change.

This has led USAC into a dilemma. On the one hand, she signed the German brand Porsche, on the other hand, the favorite of American motorsport Foyt threatened to jump off the boat. It was a conflict of epic proportions and the future of open racing in America depended on it. And the USAC blinked first.

A month after the 1980 Indianapolis 500, the governing body ‘simplified’ the rules governing turbocharging and Porsche’s engine should now be up to 1.6 bar instead of the 1.8 previously prescribed.

Disgraced, investing time and money in its Indycar program and designing the engine specifically to run on 1.8 bar boost, Porsche has taken the only possible course of action. He turned off the program.

A month later, without a Porsche on the field, Johnny Rutherford in a Cosworth turbo V8, won the pole with an average speed of 309.406 km / h in four laps. AJ Foyt was the fastest of the Offenhauser runners, 12th in qualifying with an average of four laps of 298,533 km / h. Remember, during testing, Porsche finished the qualifying race in four laps at an average speed of 307 km / h, so it is not an exaggeration to suggest that Ongais would be a competitive force in the race, that a straight six went the distance.

Rutherford won the ‘500 that year, the last of his three career victories in the May classic, for those who like to know the details. Ongais, meanwhile, finished seventh in Interscope Racing and now Parnelli with Cosworth Drive.

How advanced was Porsche’s American program? In addition to releasing the Porsche Interscope with one of its legendary 900 Series codes – the Typ 940 – which was the foundation of every Porsche since the 1963 Typ 901, Stuttgart also printed a bunch of promotional material to trumpet its Indy 500 debut. stickers and some posters faded with the cost of developing the engine, even one built on existing technological foundations.

It did not go to waste. Posters and stickers can be purchased relatively cheaply on eBay today, while flat-6 has found a new home in another Porsche motorsport program. Tucked into the rear of the new Porsche 956 and then the 962, the German brand won six victories at Le Mans in a row between 1982 and 1987 in the French classic twice a day.

As for American oval races? Porsche returned in 1987 as a full-fledged constructor, performing Quaker State Porsche in two races. It was uncompetitive and by the following year the program had become an albatross of Porsche cars in North America rejecting Porsche’s custom chassis and offering Porsche’s March for Tea Fabio instead.

The season wasn’t terrible, and the most interesting part includes fourth place in Pennsylvania and a total of 10th place in the championship standings.

The combination returned in 1989 with Fabio winning two pole positions, one win and recording Porsche’s best ever oval finish when the Italian won second place at the Michigan International Speedway.

Fabi finished the year fourth in the championship, prompting Porsche to make large investments in the carbon fiber chassis for next season. CART immediately banned it, leaving the team to promote its older March chassis. Fabi was 14th in the championship at the end of the season, and Porsche once again interrupted its American open-wheel program. It hasn’t come back since.

Rob Margeit has been an automotive journalist for more than 20 years, covering both the motorsport and automotive industries. Rob joined CarAdvice in 2016 after a long career at the Australian Consolidated Press. Rob covers automotive news and car reviews, and also writes detailed articles on historically significant cars and car manufacturers. He also likes to discover obscure models and explore their genesis and history.

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