Although the event was entitled “Icons of Porsche”, one of the freebie handouts offered at Rennsport 7 (no more Roman numerals) was a slick little publication entitled “Just Add Color, 75 Years of Dreaming with Porsche”. It was, as intimated, a Porsche coloring booklet, and it wasn’t the only such opportunity at hand. Indeed, bright colors virtually exploded at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca from September 28th to October 1st, 2023. This latest—and by far the largest and most successful—iteration of bringing Porsche’s incredible racing history and personalities to an adoring public might have merited a warning that spectators should bring protective eyewear as well as their imaginations.
Just before and after entering the event, it was apparent that there would be an emphasis on art and color, highlighted by brilliantly-hued, impressionistic Porsche banners created by Haitian muralist Lyne Lucien. The next clue was a stunning Carrera in Rubystone parked adjacent to an invitation-only Porsche VIP presentation. Inside the paddock, attendees were treated to many imaginatively-wrapped or painted race cars. One new Carrera was adorned in multiple hues, paying tribute to key individuals who won fame with Porsche but who have passed away. Several commercial displays housed new Porsches in custom, paint-to-sample colors, and one enterprising company called “Backdrop” now offers house paint in several classic Porsche shades.
For those who are new to the brand, a brief history: What was to become Rennsport Reunion was conceived by factory racing legend Brian Redman at Porsche’s 50th-anniversary gathering at Watkins Glen in 1999. Redman and the late Porsche Cars North America (PCNA) PR Director Bob Carlsen planned what they expected to be a modest weekend at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut in 2001 to celebrate all things Porsche. The response was overwhelming, with more than 15,000 paying spectators. That prompted PCNA to promise more such events in the future—but at a larger venue.
With factory support, planning immediately commenced for a reprise three years later at Daytona International Speedway in Florida, where Porsche had scored some of its most memorable victories. Again, Porsche enthusiasts from around the world assembled to ogle the many historic racing cars that filled the paddock and watch the German cars again challenge Daytona’s steep banking. Rennsport Reunion returned to the Florida sunshine in 2007 for its third iteration, again drawing large crowds and hundreds of racing cars.
In 2011, what was now an established event moved west for Rennsport Reunion IV, taking over at what is now WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in California—the state that is home to Porsche’s largest customer base. Enthusiasts flocked to the challenging 2.3-mile road circuit that boasts one of the world’s iconic corners, the fabled downhill Corkscrew. There, Rennsport has remained, with encores in 2015, attracting 60,000 spectators (Rennsport V) and in 2018 with 80,000 on hand (Rennsport VI). The onset of COVID-19 delayed many motorsports activities, but Rennsport 7, now expanded to four days, was laid on for 2023.
Former factory driver Patrick Long and retired Porsche Motorsport North America director Alwin Springer were named co-Grand Marshalls for this latest edition, an integral part of Porsche’s 75th anniversary celebration. It was reportedly the largest-ever automotive event at the recently upgraded facility. Ticket sales topped 91,000 and were cut off a few days before the gates opened because there simply wasn’t enough parking available for everyone who wanted to get in. Saturday alone drew an estimated 25,000 spectators despite light rain and chilly winds. Otherwise, the weather was perfect, with sunshine and warm temperatures. The track issued nearly 300 media credentials to writers, photographers, and videographers from all over the globe.
Coming off the bridge, the first things encountered were an ex-Vasek Polak-Porsche Audi-sponsored RSR on its period transporter and then what looked like the late Kansas City racer Art Bunker’s stretched—and we mean stretched—custom-built VW race transporter with a 550A Spyder strapped aboard. It turns out that the V-Dub was a replica commissioned by über-Porschephile Jerry Seinfeld, but the Spyder, chassis 0136, was the real deal.
A few steps away was Rennsport’s traditional gateway display, this time presenting another great cross-section of Porsche racing history: Guatemalan ex-pat Jaroslav Juhan’s hardtop–equipped 550 from the 1953 Carrera Panamericana, a 917/30 Can-Am Spyder wearing Mark Donohue’s Sunoco livery, and a modern-day Penske-liveried Porsche 963 LMDh.
Unlike many other such events, Rennsport Reunions allow the faithful to get up close and personal with more than 300 Porsche production and racing cars, including some lent by the Porsche Museum in Zuffenhausen and many more drawn from private collections. Owners, drivers, and crew members often cheerfully obliged anyone with a comment or question.
Further into the paddock, a long line of people queued up in front of the Porsche Select goodie store. Porsche brought in truckloads of souvenir merchandise, and if you wanted a poster, a Porsche-branded coat or vest, Rennsport sneakers or T-shirts, or any and all manner of other RS7 keepsakes for yourself or a few dozen of your closest friends who stayed home, you had to either get in line by 8:00 a.m. or stand for—in some cases—hours. If you waited until late in the day, the odds were good that the store would run out of what you wanted. Within a week, some of the swag quickly landed on eBay, with asking prices ranging from reasonable to outrageous.
A large TAG Heuer “Heritage Experience” tent sheltered the 1951 LeMans class-winning #46 356/2 Gmund coupe belonging to Cameron Healy, several other 550 and 718 Spyders, a 907LH, a 908, a 936, and a 917-10. Close by, we found the first lightweight 911R, which set speed and distance records at Monza, plus a 356B Abarth coupe and Don Meluzio’s Signal Red 901 prototype “Barbarossa” from 1963, chassis 13027. Its sibling, 13026, recently restored by Alois Ruf (see Excellence #303), and a recent class-winner at Pebble Beach and Villa d’Este, was displayed in the Porsche
Club of America’s Porscheplatz. On a platform was a be-winged 718 GT4 RS, one of a special pair built by Porsche’s Sonderwunsch (Special Request, bring lots of money) department in partnership with TAG Heuer and Porsche Latin America to commemorate the historic Carrera Panamericana.
Several other newly-unveiled Porsche models debuted, including the stunning all-electric Mission X concept car, the 992-generation 911 S/T, the two-tone “357 Vision Speedster” based on a 718 Cayman GT4 chassis but powered by a pair of e-Performance electric motors that can produce more than 1,000 horsepower under duress. We also cannot ignore the thrilling and very, very, very expensive (a cool million bucks!) 992 GT3R Rennsport coupe that took some rapid demonstration laps during the weekend.
Along with this priceless track machinery was an astonishing number of Porsche notables, including current and retired factory engineers and world-class drivers, “Icons” from A to Z, who have helped make the name Porsche synonymous with both sports and racing championships the world over. They were kept busy in a series of daily autograph sessions, where fans brought posters, books, flags, and just about anything else that could be signed with a Sharpie.
Back to the cars: Another that drew a lot of eyeballs was a one-off collaboration between Porsche, toymaker Mattel, and Mobil 1. Called the “Dirtmeister”, it was a highly-modded 944 coupe-turned-sportwagen crafted by Kundensport and included a roll cage, jacked-up off-road suspension, and fat tires. Mattel has duplicated the car in 1/64-scale Hot Wheels form, and if you ask politely, it will make one for you.
Wandering the rows of gorgeous racers, a 1967 906E fuel-injected short-tail (906-158), gaudy in black and yellow tape stripes, was another colorful eye-catcher. Originally built to run at Daytona and then Sebring with the late Ed Hugus, it soon landed in South America, where it became known as “El Tigre”. It’s now part of the Ingram Collection.
Porsche-built diesel-powered tractors made their second appearance at Laguna Seca and again proved a hit with spectators, especially when they returned to the track for their own brief race, which was won—eventually—by Greg Garneau. Jeff Zwart’s orange Allgaier/Porsche Systems tractor, with its aerodynamic body shell and “Minion”-like single headlamp, looked like a spaceship among the dozen red plow-horses. Parked next to the track was another Porsche tractor, described by owner Nick Groth of Virginia-based Porsche shop Lüfteknic as a “field find”.
For the track junkies, both driving and observing, Rennsport offered lots of action with eight-plus race groups, each providing distinctly different flavors of Porsche competition. Crowds lined the fences and bleachers to soak up the action. PCNA supplied a small fleet of Panamera sedans to taxi spectators and media to the top of the hill that dominates the track, easing what is usually a tiring hike to stand and watch over the iconic Corkscrew.
PCA Club racers—mainly of the 911-based variety—filled the grid for the Scholar-Friedman Cup in Group 1; the Gmünd Cup was up for grabs in Group 2, loaded with 356-based racers and specials; the hotly-contested in Group 3 Eifel Trophy race was loaded with hot early 911s and 914s; the in Group 4 Weissach Cup pitted a wonderful range of mostly 911 variants, both normally-aspirated and turbocharged; the Werks Trophy was up for grabs among early Porsche prototypes in Group 5; and Group 6 featured modern GTs. Group C prototypes like the 956 and 962—no fewer than 23 examples were on the entry list, remindful of the good old IMSA wars—and their more modern siblings like the RS Spyder provided a thrilling show in the Group 7 Stuttgart Cup race. The Carrera Cup group had its own contest.
Making its next-to-final stop this season, the Deluxe-sponsored North American Porsche Carrera Cup Series drew some 40 entries for a pair of hotly-contested races, with Tom Sargent taking the overall win in Race 1 and Will Martin capturing Race 2. This year’s Porsche e-Sports Championship crowned Randall Hayward champion.
PCA Club Racers had an area of their own, and there was shelter for a colorful group of iconic 959s and modified 356s and 911s. Other fascinating Outlaws were scattered throughout the paddock. One that merits mention was Coloradan Fred Vietch’s lovely Stone Gray bent-window 1953 356 coupe with lots of custom touches, including roof-mounted windshield wipers cleverly adapted from a VW Thing. The little gem had previously won the Outlaw class at Amelia Island.
Crossing the bridge to Vendor Row allowed browsing among more than a hundred different booths hawking everything Porsche-related, from upgraded suspensions and exhaust systems to custom artwork, apparel, posters, and
books. I was startled to find one booth offering neat folding electric bicycles from…Blaupunkt! Could I order a stereo for mine? Several attractive and interesting Porsches were part of the vendor exercise, such as the late Ken Block’s “Hoonipigasus” 911-based Pikes Peak hillclimb special.
A further stroll took us out into the Corral area, where seemingly hundreds of Porsches of all types and a broad range of colors had settled in. One interesting example was a blue 1972 911 with lots of carbon fiber and aero aids owned by Mike Whittle. Perhaps the most striking was an eye-searing Magenta 1974 911 belonging to Texan Justin Roeser. According to its owner, this G-series coupe was originally a press test car for Porsche’s Swedish importer and was equipped with numerous rare options, including a headliner-mounted Panasonic stereo.
There were some comments that this event had perhaps become over-commercialized, but Porsche is clearly making an appeal to a younger audience. As in 2018, Rennsport included a large stage for presentations—some over-amplified and screechy—and a Saturday night rock concert. Flanking the stage was a giant humanoid creature called an “Autobot” that stars in a new movie, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts. Named “Mirage”, it somehow emerges from a 911 disguised as a 3.8 RS…but not to worry, no real RS 3.8s were harmed in making the film (they used high-mileage 964 Carreras). Your kids will certainly drag you out to see “Mirage” help save the world.
Outside the new Media Center were parked the ever-popular Pixar Cars movie characters, Sally Porsche and Lightning McQueen, along with a lengthy coloring board that invited visitors—adults and children alike—to borrow marking pens and fill in the outline of their own favorite Porsche.
So, what to make of Rennsport 7? I’ve attended all but the first, and each time, it’s taken a while to return to the real world and get my feet back on the ground. This one was almost beyond description. After each of the others, we all asked, “What can Porsche do to top this?” My reply would be, “Keep all those great new colors coming!”
No Ivory Towers at Rennsport
by Greg Hudock
When people ask me to describe Rennsport Reunion, my answer is always the same: It’s like Disneyland for Porsche enthusiasts. This extravaganza boasts hundreds of outstanding machines, an uplifting atmosphere, and tons of things to explore and do. Yet, what truly distinguishes Rennsport is the absence of any proverbial ivory towers.
Picture this: exploring the paddock and immersed in a world of Porsches, one may spot none other than Wolfgang Porsche himself, casually mingling with the crowd and appraising the machines adorning the tarmac. Such unscripted encounters with luminaries continued throughout the event, seamlessly blending Porsche royalty with fervent devotees from all walks of life.
Undoubtedly, Rennsport Reunion 7 sets a high-water mark, cementing its status as arguably the best edition thus far. However, room for improvement exists even in the zenith of near perfection. The snaking lines outside Porsche’s flagship merchandise store proved to be an unintended endurance test. For the next iteration, perhaps a tech-savvy solution akin to pre-ordering through the Rennsport app and collecting purchases from designated kiosks or Amazon locker-inspired setups could alleviate this bottleneck.
Furthermore, the sold-out status was a testament to RR7’s allure. Yet, one cannot overlook the potential downside of even more attendees—the risk of overcrowding. Laguna Seca is an outstanding venue. However, as Rennsport continues its meteoric rise, questions emerge about when a larger location might become necessary. A biennial rotation between iconic circuits like Daytona and Laguna Seca might be an appealing proposition, but diluting the magic of this extraordinary gathering remains a concern.
Nevertheless, Porsche Cars North America deserves commendation for orchestrating this symphony of horsepower and passion. With confidence, I believe Rennsport will remain the pinnacle among the world’s enthusiast events, regardless of its future evolution.