HSCC Series in a 912 by Stuart Downward
In the March 2004 addition of Porsche Post I present a history that chronicles my novice season of racing in the Historic Sports Car Club (HSCC). In tandem with this article I though I'd set out a practical guide to racing a 912 based on my experiences. I'll divide this into the car, the series, getting started and setting targets:
The 912 provides an excellent basis for a race car. When racing the ratio between power and weight is important and so the modest 90hp engine (in standard form) is balanced to some extent the carís relative light weight. It's lighter than the contemporary '60s 911 and, depending on what published source you reference is generally accepted at around 900Kg in race trim. So to go faster you can choose to increase power/torque and/or loose weight to gain competitiveness. Loosing weight is the cheaper option (!) but you will need to be careful just how much you lose because different race series will stipulate minimum weights for the model/year combination. Where you lose weight is also important because again different race series may stipulate that certain components must be present and should not be replaced with lightweight alternatives. For example, fibreglass wings, door skins etc will loose the pounds, but you will be left with a car that may no longer qualify for your chosen series. This is particularly the case if you want to run the car to strict FIA Appendix K regulations. If in doubt ask the series or event organisers. Ballasting may be allowed to bring an underweight car up to minimum weight requirements and has the added advantage that it may provide the opportunity to change your cars weight distribution - in the case of 912s this is usually forwards to counter a natural rearward bias.
Increasing power and/or torque depends on what you hope to achieve. One could (theoretically!) write a book on 912 engine performance, but I'll defer to the experts on this one and suggest you call them. There are no cheap fixes. Just because a '60s 912 can be bought for half the price of a '60s 911 in similar condition does not mean that the engine (or any other part for that matter) costs half the price to fix. Discuss what needs doing, get the work done right first time and don't cut corners because otherwise your racing fun will end in a biscuit tin rattle and lots of oil. The sky is the limit, but be sensible: realistic does not equal ballistic- these fabulous Porsche engines can be pushed hard, but the more demands you make on performance then the more you are going to have to get used to taking the engine out and working on it to maintain that performance. It might be ultimately more rewarding to settle on a compromise of moderation and longevity. Remember, to get the points you have to finish.
Safety is the most critical issue to concern yourself with. Nobody is going to let you on the track with a bag of bones 912. The very basic requirements for the car include the roll cage, racing seat, harness, fire-extinguisher and battery cut-off switch. I could wax-lyrical about all of the different options you have if you are prepping yourself, but if you are thinking seriously about this then you'll be better talking to those who can do the job for you (contact me and I'll gladly help out with names and telephone numbers), but don't skimp and put aside about £1000 for these to be done well. For yourself you'll need helmet, race-suit, underwear, gloves and shoes. Again, seek out the professionals for help - I spent a good hour in Grand Prix Racewear in London trying on a range of different suits and helmets, went home, compared prices with Demon Tweeks and then went back a week later and negotiated a deal buying everything at once. But the rule is the same, don't skimp. I spent about £600 on this little lot. So, that's potentially £1600 before you even turn the ignition, but remember, buy well and it will last a good few seasons.
The choice of series requires some homework. It depends on what type of competition you want to do. If the racetrack beckons then you've several options, but don't discount sprints, hill-climbs, regularity rallying etc as worthy alternatives. If you're into classic cars per se as well as racing then pitting your 912 against more modern stuff might be out of character. If like me you also want to find a series that is good value for money then choose a series that limits modifications and preserves originality. I opted for the Historic Sports Car Club (HSCC) and their Historic Roadsports (HRS) series because:
All cars are pre 1970 and must be fully road legal (912Es could enter the HSCCs '70s Roadsports series)
Racing is in class - the 912 races in Class D, thatís for up to 2-litre steel bodied cars.
Additional points are awarded for driving to the circuits - I get to enjoy driving the car to the circuits too and avoid the cost of trailoring.
The circuits are national (Silverstone, Brands Hatch, Donington etc) and a race at Spa (in 2004 there's also a race at Mondello Park in Ireland).
The HSCC does a great Novice Incentive Scheme too that give a good discount for complete newcomers.
This puts me on the grid against TVRs, MGs, Lancias, Alfas and Porsche 911s. And remember, I'm also racing against cars in other classes (e.g. 356s), so my experience of 2003 was that you found your own race within the race, wherever you happen to be on the grid.
The HRS races were great fun, especially because the emphasis feels as much about the cars as the racing. The paddock was friendly and chatty and there was usually a BBQ and a beer waiting at the end of the race organised by the drivers committee. But don't take my word for it - do your homework, go to a meeting or two, walk the paddock and find out for yourself by talking to the drivers and eyeballing the cars. Again, if you're interested then get in touch. www.hscc.org.uk.
First things first, get in touch with the Motor Sports Association (MSA) at www.msauk.org. They are the regulators for just about all motorsport activities in the UK, from the weekend club racing to the British Grand Prix. They are responsible for ensuring safety regulations are followed to the letter and licence all events and competitors. The MSA will sell you a Go-Racing pack that will include all the initial information you will need about obtaining your National B licence.
You will need to take a test called the ARDS test (ARDS stands for Association of Racing Driver Schools) at an approved centre and the Go-Racing pack will list these (as does the MSA web site). The test is part theory, part track and both are concerned with safety rather than discovering the hidden world champion in you. For the theory test you must read the Blue Book (the motorsport bible supplied with the Go-Racing pack) sections and revise well (back to school!). I took my test at Brands Hatch and, for the record, thoroughly enjoyed myself even if it can be a tad frustrating to temper your enthusiasm to drive as fast around Druids as possible! I figured, be patient, just get the licence and the time will come. Sure enough in the summer I was racing around Druids.
My first race was at Donington. Having been to a few of the races as a spectator the previous year I had some idea of the procedures and importantly secured the help of the other Porsche drivers to point me in the right direction at the right time. Actually, the first couple of races seemed to happen so quickly that I have a much better recollection of the day than I do of the races. I set myself a target for the year: simply to finish. I simply could not afford to get bashed through over-driving beyond my capabilities. As it happened this probably worked to my advantage because there were a couple of times in the year when I yielded track position perhaps more willingly than if someone else were paying my garage bills. But it did mean that, a) I finished the day with a car that I could drive home and, b) I finished the year with the car completely intact.
The year has taught me a lot, not least that it's all very well wishing for another 25hp from the engine, but the real winner is in developing your own skill. I recon I've still got about 5 seconds per lap to go on some circuits and that's simply down to learning and improving. And that's one of the reasons why the 912 is ideal for this because it's very forgiving and responds brilliantly to the driver. The reality as a complete novice was that I wasn't hot on the tails of the 911s, but I know I could be, and that is what motivates me with the 912.