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Porsche 956/962

Photo: Pete Austin

In 1981, I set up my own team to do the Indy 500. I bought a McLaren M24 Cosworth and was reasonably successful that year finishing 3rd behind Unser and Andretti. During the race, Rick Mears had a pit-stop accident, suffering burns to his face. After the race, my wife and I had returned to our home in Stockdale, Arizona where there was a message waiting, urging me to contact Manfred Janke (Porsche PR Director). I had had opportunities to talk to Manfred during my racing in the World Sportscar series that included the Le Mans 24 Hours. Obviously, knowing something about me, and needing a replacement for Rick, he asked if I wanted to join Jochen Mass and Hurley Haywood and drive the Porsche 936 (the Jules car) at Le Mans.  That was my formal introduction to driving for Porsche.

We had a troublesome race right from the start; a broken spark plug forced Mass to pit, which placed us firmly last at the end of the first lap. We climbed up to 2nd place when the thrust bearing failed on the gearbox. Another pit stop dropped us in the standings, but we made it back up to 2nd again. During one of my stints, I pulled off the track having suffered a fuel injection failure. With some instruction from the pit and a good deal of luck I managed to pull off the inlet manifold assembly. By pure chance, the car started and I was able to get it back to the pit lane. Most of the team had given up by then, as I had been out of the race for about an hour and a half. On my return, Helmut Bott, head of racing at Porsche, said to me, “Mr. Schuppan, you have left a stone in the heart of many of our mechanics today; we would like you to drive for Porsche again.” What had appeared to be a disaster turned out to be the start of my long relationship and affection for Porsche.

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