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May 11th, 2016

Porsche’s history with Formula 1 isn’t as well celebrated as its history with other forms of sports cars racing, but nevertheless, the iconic German car manufacturer did not return from F1 empty-handed since it got it fist and only F1 victory at 1962 French Gran Prix when legendary Dan Gurney took a Porsche 804 to victory, bringing home his first F1 win in the process. Dan Gurney is among one of the greatest racers the world has ever seen with achievements in engineering and motorsports to vast and varied that can leave any motorsports man awestruck and inspired.

The conditions when Dan Gurney brought in his first F1 victory and that of Porsches only at the French GP of 1962 were pretty interesting as well, for the giant Ferrari was skipping the race due to a strike back in Italy along others. The 1962 French GP was held at Rouen-Les-Essarts, a street circuit, and it was for the first time since 1957 F1 came there. The Rouen-Les-Essarts was a scary, difficult, bumpy race circuit with steep downhill sections that had quick sweepers ending into a slow hairpin, and even if Ferrari was not there to race, the Porsche’s 804 was easily outgunned by its British rivals.

Dan Gurney Porsche 804

The Porsche 804 that Dan Gurney took to victory was the purpose-built racers powered by an 180hp flat-eight air-cooled engine that had a staggering 10000rpm redline for those times. However, the 804 was outclassed by the more powerful V8’s of BRM. As far as design was considered, every car on the track was behind the genius Lotus 25, that was the first ever race car to use a monocoque chassis. However, it was going to be Porsche’s day at the 1962 French Gran Prix at that circuit which was a track rougher than it looked according to Dan Gurney. Dan Gurney reckoned that the French track was harsh on the suspension, gear-train, and steering. To add to the interesting bits to the race, Dan Gurney was feeling under the weather even before the race had begun, at a pre-race interview he is said to have replied, “I’ve got a doggone cold, and I feel like I’ve already raced”.

Still Dan Gurney was pretty optimistic that he and Porsche would do good during the race, as he said, “I think towards the end of the race, we may be in pretty good shape,”. And whatever Dan Had said came out to be true that day when during the race more than half of the field had to retire because of the tracks roughness and that landed Porsche a chance that Gurney took with both hands as he skillfully worked his way up through the grid and by the time 13 laps remained, he had taken the lead. Gurney was followed by the legendary racers of the era like Richie Ginther, Bruce McLaren, and John Surtees and Gurney lead them by a good margin meaning that Dan Gurney and Porsche’s win could not be put on luck only, the German company’s reliability and Gurney’s skilled also played a big part in that.

Dan Gurney

To celebrate the victory, Gurney took another non-championship victory for Porsche at a race in Stuttgart the next week itself; however the victory at the harsh conditions of Rouen in 1962 remains as the only win Porsche ever took in Formula 1. In spite of being the fifth placed manufacturer, a place above Ferrari in 1962 Formula 1 championship, Porsche pulled off from the world of F1 owing largely to its small size that was insufficient to dedicate resources to F1, the racing at that level was just too expensive back in those days, just like the case in present. As per Porsche’s U.S. Motorsports communications manager Dave Engleman, who in an email to Road & Track said, “The technology developed just for the F1 program wasn’t something that could be immediately translate into the production sports cars of the time,”.

Not being very perturbed by the Porsche team pulling out of F1, Dan Gurney went ahead to create his own legend in victories at NASCAR, Indycar, and at Le Mans as a driver. However, Dan Gurney is also a brilliant engineer who was the man behind that ‘Gurney Flap’ among the host of great innovations. As far as Formula 1 is concerned, Dan Gurley’s best times at the series came in 1967 where he won the Belgian Grand Prix in a car that he designed himself, the stunning Eagle-Westlake Mk1, and till date he remains the only American racer in the history to have won in an American car. The racing legend just celebrated his 85th birthday a few weeks back and coming to think of it, Dan Gurney’s Formula 1 victory of 1962 being just a blip in his highly illustrious career speaks of how big a legend and a talent Gurney is, and do remember he got Porsche its only Formula 1 victory when he had a doggone cold.

Images Courtesy: brdc.co.uk 

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