Behind the Scenes With Porsche's Disastrous 1987 IndyCar Program

Porsche thought it could dominate open-wheel racing in the late 1980s. Things didn't go as planned.

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Joe SlickYouTube

Porsche's IndyCar attempt was probably too ambitious. In the late 1980s, when the German marque entered, most teams bought their chassis from March or Lola and engines from Cosworth—proven hardware from experienced manufacturers. Porsche decided to do everything in-house, which turned out to be a poor choice.

This 1987 documentary on Porsche's IndyCar program shows what the company was up against. Even though it was the world's premiere sports-car constructor, with seven Le Mans victories in a row at that point, attempting to dominate CART with a factory-designed engine and chassis was a tall order. At that point, the last time a manufacturer's own wholly-designed car had won the Indy 500 was in 1940, when a Maserati took home victory—a feat that hasn't been replicated since.

Porsche produced this documentary in 1987, showing the development of the 2408 IndyCar in Weissach, its first test at Portland International Raceway, and its disastrous first race.

Even though Porsche was developing the car for the 1988 season, the automaker decided to enter the 2408 in the last two rounds of the 1987 season. Its first race was at Laguna Seca with Al Unser, Sr. driving. The four-time Indy 500 winner struggled in the 2408—its turbo V-8 was good, benefitting from Porsche's very successful F1 experience, but the chassis never worked quite right.

Unser struggled with the handling during the test PIR, and at Laguna, just barely managing to qualify. During the race, the engine conked out due to a failed water pump. Porsche went home after seven laps.

The documentary doesn't get into it, but the Porsche Indy program got worse. Unser quit after Laguna. Al Holbert, head of Porsche Motorsport North America at the time, tried to qualify for the next race in Miami but failed. The handling of the Porsche chassis was so tricky, the team abandoned it for a modified March for 1988. Things still got worse, but that's a story for another day. For now, enjoy this insightful clip, featuring lots of '80s synth music and appearances from tons of IndyCar and Porsche legends.

And Unser riding a Honda Motocompo.

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