Porsche Speed Record Run At Talladega
We work and play with the big boys.
by Mike Mavrigian
Our three cars in the Talladega garage during testing week. As Forrest Gump often noted, you never know what you're gonna get. In August and September of 2005, Precision Engine editor Mike Mavrigian was contracted by Porsche Cars North America for technical involvement in a "speed record run" involving their high-dollar Carrera GT cars at the Talladega Superspeedway. The official event took place September 1, 2005 at the Talladega, Alabama track, located about 50 miles east of Birmingham. The Carrera GT is a $440,000 exotic street car featuring an all-carbon-fiber monocoque and body, equipped with an alloy-block 605 HP 5.7L V-10 engine. The motor features titanium connecting rods, a "lightweight alloy" crankshaft, titanium valves and springs, etc. The engine's light rotating and reciprocating mass allows it to quickly zip to 8,000 RPM in the blink of an eye (sounds like a Formula One motor). The stock Carrera GT used for the record at Talladega was produced at the Porsche factory in Leipzig, Germany and was upgraded with safety equipment only, including a six-point harness and Michelin Pilot race tires designed to handle the forces generated by the car when at speed on the severe 33-degree Talladega banking. The goal of the event was to set a number of specific speed records with the GT, which serves as a repeat of history for Porsche fans (30 years ago, Mark Donohue set a track record at Talladega with a 1,000-HP Porsche 917/30 race car at 221 MPH). In this 2005 event, David Donohue (Mark's son) was enlisted as the pro driver, with celebrity Jay Leno as the second driver. David clicked off a 196.301 MPH lap (a record for the production street car), while Jay handled the standing 1-mile and 5-mile runs. Donohue also set records for the measured mile at 198.971 MPH; and the measured kilometer at 195.755 MPH. Leno set three standing-start speed records in the same car, the fastest being 156.603 MPH. Flying records are recorded from a rolling start, while standing speed records are recorded from a complete stop. All of the record runs established during the September 1, 2005 event were recorded and verified by the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series sanctioning body. "It amazes me that we were able to go nearly as fast in a 2005 street car as David's father did in a 1,000 HP race car," said Leno, who is an avid automotive historian and collector. "This Carrera GT has air conditioning, a stereo, a navigation system and a cockpit full of leather and still goes almost 200 MPH around this course. It's outrageous." Leno, by the way, did an outstanding job as a driver. We were impressed with his focus and his consistency. He started off in practice running 1.16 minute laps, dropping his lap times with each successive lap, down to a 54-second lap time (only 3 seconds off of the pro driver's times). Jay also provided, as you'd expect, comedic relief during the event. He's a down-to-earth car guy and a true gentleman. Our involvement was relatively minor, helping to prepare the cars (setup, seat harnesses, radio systems, etc.) and to procure, deliver and set up all of the garage and pit equipment (platen chassis setup stand, race jacks, hand and pneumatic tools, compressed nitrogen, pit awnings, radio systems, refueling equipment, pyrometers, etc., etc.). The Porsche training instructors at Porsche's Atlanta training center performed the tedious job of chassis adjustment, which was critical. As part of his preparation duties, Mavrigian enlisted a handful of product sponsors to participate in this historic program. Chrysler loaned a new Dodge Ram quad cab truck equipped with the turbo diesel engine as the equipment-trailer tow vehicle. Trailex loaned us a new all-aluminum enclosed trailer (normally intended to haul precious race or collector cars, although we loaded it with tools and equipment). Sunoco graciously supplied the 100-octane GT fuel (a whopping 100 gallons), delivered direct to the track. Goodson Shop Supplies provided a range of materials including shop aprons, spill absorbent, shop towels, etc. Polaris loaned a kick-ass ATV, their Ranger model (in Porsche Guards Red color, no less. we fell in love with this thing...no matter how hard we tried, we could not get this thing stuck in the boonies behind our tech shop). Ringers also supplied a healthy package of their work gloves and radio belts. Our thanks to all of these participants.
This cockpit view shows the 2-way radio installation that we performed on all of the cars while at the training center. Since we were forbidden to drill any holes, we improvised by taking advantage of existing under-console-holes (and used plenty of nylon wire ties).
Chrysler was kind enough to loan us a Dodge Ram crew cab equipped with the turbo diesel as our tow vehicle. We cruised in comfort with torque to spare (the truck didn't even know the trailer was back there).
Leno and Donohue in Victory Lane following the record runs. Porsche has decided to auction the silver car and to donate all proceeds to the Katrina Hurricane Fund.