The Monterey Peninsula has played host to a number of automotive events, and Laguna Seca Raceway has contributed a sizable share of enduring memories, including the last two Porsche Rennsport Reunions, IV and V.
At 2015's edition of Rennsport, my choice as the best visual to illustrate the legacy of the little company that could (and did) took place during the staging of a race group photo session between Turns 3 and 4, the bridge looming large in the background. The cars that had been chosen for the most part represented Porsche's success at Le Mans and included some of the actual overall and class winners—impressive by any standard.
The front row, the "mission statement," was comprised of the 919 that recently took victory number 17, a red and white 917K that symbolized Porsche's first overall from 1970, and a third spot, yet unoccupied, its arrival behind schedule. Just past the start/finish bridge, Rod Emory and a small group of friends and family were pushing, by hand, a dull, flat silver, aluminum 356 coupe in the direction of the assembled racers. The manual labor was required, as the petite tank was a non-runner, but its attendance was absolutely required, too: This was the class winner in 1951, for Porsche the first of many Le Mans triumphs.
The image of the small crew pushing the 356 SL to rendezvous with its younger brethren showed the spirit and lineage that is so prevalent in that family of veterans from La Sarthe. Instantly, Emory and crew and the solo 356 SL transported us back to a small garage in the French village of Teloche, where the car was being prepared for that initial baptism in les 24 heures. Fittingly, once the photo session was completed, Emory and crew pushed the car back to the permanent display in the paddock.
In the story of that Le Mans win from 1951 is a narrative thread to the West Coast that few, if any, other Porsches can match. Raced all over California by the legendary John von Neumann and helping to establish Porsche's reputation, the car is best remembered as an SL roadster after von Neumann had the roof and windshield posts removed, making it a far better car for the tracks and temporary circuits that were the home for 1950s sports car events.
Enter Chuck Forge, who purchased the car in 1957 and later became a regular fixture at the Monterey Historic Automobiles Races. Always personable, Forge and his bright red SL roadster were a welcome sight and kept the remarkable life of this car in motion. After Forge's passing a few years ago, there was considerable consternation over how the new owner would restore the car: Keep it as a California legend or return the SL to the original configuration that saw success at La Sarthe? Considering how the car looked in the front row of the group shot, the owner made the correct decision.
Rennsport Reunion has come a long way since the initial excursion landed at Lime Rock back in 2001. The two tours of duty at Daytona in 2004 and 2007 only added to the lure and excitement made possible by the factory's increasing involvement, including the addition of werks personnel and a few museum mounts. The choice of Laguna Seca for editions four and five has shown how Rennsport has matured and grown as an integral part of the brand to the point that it is hard to imagine a Porsche world without Rennsport Reunion.
Just as a village can eventually grow into a city with surrounding suburbs, Rennsport Reunion V took on the characteristics of such a landscape. Some attendees just spent the time in their favorite surroundings, while others tried to take in everything: club events, the heritage display tent, the pit garages, the hospitality stage, row after row of road cars covering the full production range, autograph sessions, interviews, the concours and, of course, on-track demonstrations and race groups.
The life of most competitive race cars is brief. How it performs and succeeds is what makes it a legend; how it is remembered makes it an icon. Consider the 917K: More than a legend, it is a true icon. However, those Gulf and Martini coupes were limited to international endurance events on the East Coast for two seasons. With the exception of the McQueen film, many had never seen an actual 917 coupe. Historic and vintage events changed all of that. Otis Chandler's Gulf blue and orange 917 blasting down the back straight at Riverside became a regular sight.
In the 1970s, Steve Earle opened up the Monterey Historics to the prototypes we'd only read about, and legions of new fans were seduced by their flowing body lines and rhapsodic choirs of 12-cylinder exhaust notes. While the world has indeed become smaller, instant communication and videos making it almost seem like you are there, those experiences will never match attending a live event like Reunion, where you can stand alongside such cars as they fire up for a race.
The main focus of the event was on the Porsche's 17th overall victory at Le Mans, achieved with Type 919 LMP1 prototype. Many of those in attendance have never been to Le Mans; most never will. However, everyone there was acutely aware of what Le Mans means to Porsche and what Porsche means to Le Mans. Now consider the 919, a car built to compete and win at Le Mans and the FIA World Endurance Championship; both tasks had recently been completed. This is a car that will never compete here (with the exception of the one round of the FIA WEC at the Circuit of the Americas) unless one finds its way into a private collection. Rennsport gave us the chance to see the LMP1 919 at full chat, navigating the corkscrew, cresting over start/finish, as an exhilarating latest chapter to a story that began with a 356 SL in 1951. If any event can be said to have a soul, it is Rennsport.