Little Leviathan - 1988 GKW 862SP Porsche

26w ago


In 1982, the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile decided to completely revise its class structures across the world of motorsport. In particular, the governing body aimed to adapt endurance racing to the societal and economic changes which had dominated the late 1970s and early 1980s.

This boiled down to three main concerns: fuel efficiency, running costs and the emergence of the turbocharger. The energy crises of 1973 and 1979 had made fuel consumption a hot button topic, and endurance racing had suffered dearly as a result.

Public opinion was turning against racing as there were more pressing matters to attend to. With the Western economies sliding into recession, budgets dried up as well for those still willing to compete, causing entry lists to become shorter and shorter.

The Renault-Gordini Type CHS V6 was one of the first turbo engines at Le Mans in 1975.

Ironically, complicated, immensely powerful turbocharged engines appeared around the same time, championed by Porsche and Renault. These engines represented the cutting edge of racing technology, and as a result were out of reach for all but the best-funded firms.

Though Renault quickly backed out again in favor of Formula One, the Porsche engine was widely distributed in the back of the 934 and 935, allowing it to maintain a level of dominance even as the factory team stepped back.

A private Porsche 935 K3 even managed to win Le Mans overall in 1979.

With the problems laid out, the FIA moved to solve all three in one fell swoop. By introducing a fuel limit, the series would present a favorable image, limit development budgets by discouraging the search for absolute power, and stifle the dominance of turbo engines, since they would no longer be able to run at maximum boost.

As such, a 100L fuel tank became mandated, and teams would be limited to five fuel stops per 1000 kilometer race. In effect, this gave them 600 liters of fuel to play with. Should the team make more stops than allowed, they would be disqualified. The reliance on efficiency also opened the door for different engine solutions, as large naturally aspirated concepts were once again competitive. In the new FIA class structure, this formula came to be known as Group C.

Start of the 1982 24 Hours of Le Mans, the first year of Group C.

Despite an initially shaky start, with some teams unprepared to run a closed top Group C car, the category swiftly became a resounding success. The carefully drawn up limitations sparked renewed interest from large car firms like Porsche, Ford, Lancia and Aston Martin in just its first year.

However, on element was still missing. Though several privateers like Kremer, Joest, WM and Grid found their way into the sport, the FIA realized a lower, cheaper tier would stimulate privateers to build and race sport prototypes. With this in mind, Group C Junior was introduced for the 1983 season.

C Junior cars were much smaller and cheaper to make.

Surprisingly, this "Formula Two"-type class did not place limits on engine capacity, aspiration or power. Instead, very similar rules to the original formula were introduced, with the only difference being more restrictive parameters.

C Junior cars were limited to 55L fuel tanks as opposed to 100L, giving very little leeway in terms of fuel consumption. Because of this, high boost or enormous naturally aspirated engines were rendered moot. However, the smaller cars were allowed to run lighter at 700 kg (1543 lbs), instead of C1's 800 kg (1763 lbs) limit.

The differences between the two classes were immediately apparent.

Like the main category that spawned it, C Junior found a large audience in record time. As the economies pulled themselves out of the deep hole created by the strife of the preceding decade, more and more racing enthusiasts were looking for a relatively cheap way to race on an international level. Group C Junior offered the perfect battleground.

For 1984, the category was renamed to C2, bringing it in line with the top level C1 class. With involvement from Alba, Ecosse, Spice, Shtemo, ADA, Harrier and even a strange Mazda factory outfit, the class really took off. BMW and especially Ford-Cosworth dominated the engine side of things, with some exceptions like the Mazda rotary and Carma turbo four cylinder.

The GKW was one of the first C2 cars to utilize Porsche's infamous Type 935 twin turbo flat six.

However, a third player was looking to enter the C2 game. Italian racer Gabriele Gottifredi had competed in sportscar racing since 1970, running De Tomaso, Volkswagen, Ford, Lola and predominantly Porsche cars. Gottifredi not only raced the cars, but was also involved in preparing and developing various versions of the 911.

Aside from being a competent driver, Gottifredi was an engineer by trade, and had designed a digital time-keeping system for use in racecars. The system was adopted by big budget teams such as Lancia, Joest and Richard Lloyd's GTi Engineering. While servicing these teams, Gottifredi gained access to a great deal of the cars, and after studying them, he started entertaining the idea of building a Group C racer of his own.

The legendary 956 became an inadvertent engine donor for the GKW.

Under the Gottifredi Kraft Werks banner, the Italian set to work designing a C2 car in 1985. Unsurprisingly, he decided to base his efforts around a Porsche flat six engine, initially announcing a naturally aspirated example borrowed from a contemporary 911 RSR.

As one of the first C2 teams to use a Porsche powerplant, Gottifredi sparked the interest of Jurgen Barth, a key figure in Porsche's motorsport division. Barth managed to pull some strings for the ambitious Italian, and was able to provide him with the disused engine and transmission out of a Porsche 956, a four time Le Mans winner at that point.

Advanced lightweight materials were used in the construction of the GKW.

First order of business was making the car as light as possible, a feat Gottifredi achieved by constructing the chassis out of aircraft-grade aluminium honeycomb, as well as using exotic materials like magnesium and titanium.

Further assistance from Barth came in the form of Porsche-sourced suspension assemblies and the windshield from a 956/962, making the car something of an unofficial Porsche.However, he was forced to use a steel tubular frame to support the ungainly flat six.

The 3.2L twin turbo Type 935/76 engine was capable of producing up to 750 horsepower, but would obviously have to be turned down to around 500 to meet the fuel limit. Through careful design work and material use, the car neatly adhered to the 700 kg limit. The Porsche influence was clearly seen from the outside, as the appropriately-named 862 appeared like a downsized 962.

The 862SP was presented unfinished at Monza.

The car was shown to the public at the 1988 1000 Kilometers of Monza, but was still unfinished. Several key components including the rear wing were still missing. Several months later however, the 862SP was done, and testing commenced.

Together with Swiss endurance veteran and longtime Porsche campaigner Claude Haldi, Gabriele Gottifredi set out on a series of tests all around the world. The car completed laps at nearby Monza, Le Mans and even Fuji Speedway during 1988, but no attempts were made to enter the car in a World Championship event.

The extensive testing program was starting to dent Gottifredi's budget, as he still hadn't found a major sponsor. As he struggled to find further funding, a bigger problem emerged. The success of Group C as a whole had reached record levels in the second half of the 1980's, as more and more manufacturers piled on.

With Jaguar, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, Peugeot, Nissan, Porsche, Mazda, Aston Martin and Cosworth all involved in the series in one way or another, the World Sportscar Championship boasted the biggest collection of famous names in the business.

As a result, the series essentially became too big for its own good. Over at the crazy circus of Formula One, a certain Bernard Charles Ecclestone had been following the rise of Group C with wary eyes. As sportscar racing gained traction, it was starting to eat into the share of his prized pinnacle of motorsport.

With some assistance from his old friend and FIA big wig Max Mosley, Ecclestone managed to maneuver himself into a position as chair at the committee responsible for determining the future of endurance racing. In that 1989 meeting, the decision was made to turn Group C into a spec series using one single engine format.

For some unknown reason, this new formula was identical to the one in use in Formula One, mandating 3.5L naturally aspirated reciprocating piston engines. Along with this change, the committee pushed for the abolishment of Group C2, citing supposed reliability issues. Adding insult to injury, all of this was meant to take effect during prior to the 1990 season.

Even though the plans weren't final just yet, the instability and uncertainty that followed the FIA's announcement of the new formula completely robbed Gabriele Gottifredi of the opportunity to find funding.

With Group C2 potentially being axed, potential sponsors were unwilling to link themselves to his team. Though the lobbying power of the large manufacturers present in the sport pushed the rule change to 1991, the damage had been done. With no one willing to fund his project, Gottifredi stored the 862SP in his garage, where it remained for over a decade.

Eventually, the car was put on sale, and bought by Italian racing enthusiast Massimo Guerra. It was subsequently restored to race-ready condition and finally allowed to turn a wheel in anger. After completing the process, Guerra entered it into Historic Group C Racing, where it still competes to this day.

Twenty years after it was built, the GKW 862SP is finally able to go head to head with the giants of its era. As the races are short and no fuel limit is used, all 750 horsepower propels the small car at speeds rivaling the top C1 machines. Finally, the car has found a way to its natural habitat.