Porsche Indy Car Program: Unfulfilled Dream

Harry Kennison is a fan with a camera and a gift for telling good stories. This another in a series of wonderful Harry Kennison Postcards that are archived on our site. We hope you enjoy them.


While living in Denver, I began making an annual spring pilgrimage to Long Beach for the Long Beach Grand Prix in the late 70's and early 80's. I was originally drawn by the lure of Formula 1 cars screaming through the concrete canyons in the hands of such greats as Niki Lauda, Nelson Piquet, Jody Scheckter, Mario Andretti, Nigel Mansell and Gilles Villeneuve.

 The 1,200 mile dash from Denver via Las Vegas to Long Beach often times was as memorable as the race itself. I can remember taking the wheel of my friend's new silver BMW 530i after a gas stop in Utah and being pulled over a few miles later by a county sheriff driving the other way for going 30 over in a 55 mph zone. Whoops! Then, with my friend back behind the wheel and clipping along at 120 mph crossing the state line into Colorado, the fan belt snapped. We limped into to Grand Junction and found an independent garage that was able to come up with a reasonable substitute until we could get back to Denver.

The F-1 U S Grand Prix-West, as it was called, was soon supplanted by the American CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams) series which combined road courses and oval tracks, including the Indy 500. It was chock full of American drivers- with names you could pronounce like Unser, Mears, Andretti, Rahal, Sullivan and Foyt. They had a much larger draw in America than the somewhat snooty and aloof Formula One set and it cost about a third as much to stage the race.

In 1988 I made the return trip to check out the CART version of the Long Beach Grand Prix. While I found the Queen Mary still gracing the background of the circuit, the seedy, carnival midway and strip clubs that bordered the F-1 track had been replaced by a sparkling new convention center complete with parkways, fountains and a Hyatt Hotel-not that I stayed there- but it did prove to be a great place for photos if one had a super photo pass for the race.

Most of the entries ran Ilmore Chevy and Cosworth-Ford turbocharged V-8s, save for one exception, a 2.6 liter turbocharged V-8 Porsche-powered Mach fielded by Porsche Cars of North America. Porsche had entered the last two races of the CART series in late 1987 with a woefully-uncompetitive chassis and engine of their own design. The engine had proven promising, but the Porsche chassis was replaced for the 1988 season with a March, who had been successfully building customer Indy cars for several years. Even so, the team had a long way to go to become competitive. Fabi could do no better than 24th at Long Beach in 1988, a race that was dominated by Al Unser Jr., began a string of four straight wins at the street circuit.

My wife and I had moved to Phoenix, where, once again in the Spring of 1989 I was able to see the Porsche-March at Phoenix International Raceway. Teo Fabi, a former F-1 driver and Indy 500 pole-sitter, was still the driver, but he and the team continued to face a steep learning curve in the American CART series and Indianapolis in particular. In 1989 it looked like Porsche was beginning to reap the rewards of their Indy car program when they won the Mid-Ohio Cart race but could do no better than 30th at the Brickyard.

With additional sponsorship from Foster's Beer in 1990, a second car for John Andretti and nearly three years of experience under their belts, I watched Teo Fabi put the Porsche on the pole for the inaugural Denver Grand Prix, only to see his brakes burn up within the first 15 laps and Al Unser Jr. breeze by to take an easy win.

At the end of the 1990 season, with only one pole position, one win at Mid-Ohio and no better than 18th at Indianapolis to show in 44 races over nearly 3 ½ seasons, Porsche pulled the plug on their Indy Car program.

I'd like to think that winning the Indy 500 is still an unachieved goal for Porsche. After a 20-year hiatus, it would be nice to see Porsche return to Indy Car racing with a vengeance to support the launch of the Panamera in the U. S. market. And, perhaps, pigs will fly.