Alwin Springer has been at the forefront of Porsche motorsports for the better part of three decades, first as one of the co-founders of engine builder Andial and later as the head of Porsche Motorsports North America. He is in large part responsible for Porsche's success in American racing during that time, and identifies a couple of significant cars in that era, the 962 prototype (LEFT) and the 996/997 GT cars.
The 962 was built specifically for International Motor Sports Association competition. The 956 from which it was derived was ineligible per the IMSA rules because the driver's feet were ahead of the front axle line. So Porsche extended the wheelbase and pedal box and added a steel roll cage to create the 962.
The 962 came with a turbocharged 2.8-liter Type 935 flat-6 engine, derived from the 934. The reason for the small displacement was the fuel regulations in Europe.
“In the early 1980s, we had in Europe the 100-liter fuel tank limitation, so all manufacturers went with engines based on fuel economy,” explains Springer. “In the U.S. we didn't have that. So Al Holbert got the first 962 and I was working closely with him through Andial. We looked at it and said, ‘Hmm…2.8-liter engine capacity…that's not good enough.' Our racetracks are not high speed, they are more around the corners, more torque. So we did our homework at Andial and came up with the 3.2-liter through different parts we got in Germany. I was able to break the code on the electronics so we could adapt the electronics to the 3.2. That was a major breakthrough. And we beat everybody. It was a very good combination of engine from us and Al's driving ability, management, team and engineering. It was a perfect marriage.”
The 962 went on to win the IMSA GT championship every year from 1985 through 1988 and continued winning into the early '90s. Porsche built more than 90 of them, with about 75 going to privateers. The 962 won the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1985-'87, '89 and 1991. It won the 12 Hours of Sebring four years straight from 1985-'88. The 962C – the “C” designated the Group C version – was victorious at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1986 and '87 – not to mention that the 962 spawned the Dauer 962 “road car” that won Le Mans in 1994.
Many of the American victories came at the hands of Holbert and his team. Holbert had been appointed director of Porsche Motorsport and held that position until his untimely death in a private airplane accident in 1988. Springer was named his replacement and Porsche Motorsport shared space with Andial until 1997 when Porsche Motorsport North America opened its facility in Santa Ana, Calif., with Springer as its president.
Springer retired in 2003, but not before the release of one of Porsche's most successful line of racing models, the 996 GT cars.
“We made major improvements over the air-cooled ones,” says Springer. “Everyone was concerned that Porsche was going from air cooled to water cooled, but since then we have dominated the GT scene with these cars.”
The 911 GT3 RSR (ALMS/LMS GT), GT3 R (FIA GT3) and GT3 Cup cars have become the standard bearer for GT racing worldwide, first with the 996 chassis then the current 997. Raced in everything from club events to World Challenge GT to American Le Mans Series in the U.S. and in GT series worldwide, plus the numerous Porsche-backed GT3 Cup series, there are hundreds of these factory-built racecars all over the planet. For a while, the GT3 RSR enjoyed dominance, but with renewed competition from Ferrari, BMW and Corvette, that is no longer the case.
“The competition in ALMS GT has really improved for the last two years and right now is the best GT2 competition worldwide. It is so close and it is so high quality from the drivers, the equipment and everything else,” he says.
Springer adds that he prefers solid competition over domination.
“Dominance gets boring. But I'm not a fan of balanced performance either. You have a set of rules, then let the engineers play.”
The current 997 racers have one more year of racing – albeit a revised version will be available in 2012 – before being replaced with cars based on the 991 chassis just introduced.