Porsche - 1: 24.451 min.

1: 24.451 min.

Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, August 24, 2001. “Undrivable” is the devastating appraisal race-car drivers give when a car fails to live up to their expectations. Such is the predicament faced by Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr before the eighth race of the American Le Mans Series (ALMS). The two Germans are among the favorites in the GTS class with their 996-generation 911 GT3 RS. Yet after the free practice sessions, Maassen and his teammate are both complaining about “terrible understeer.” In short: the car is undrivable. What can you do if the car simply doesn’t want to go into the corner?

Team boss Alex Job has two strong drivers in the works team duo, but he has another ace up his sleeve: Roland Kußmaul. The Porsche engineer with his treasure trove of experience has to think of something on the spot—and he does. Unaware and not optimistic about the odds of his success, Maassen readies himself for the qualifying session. “Five minutes before it got underway,” Maassen recalls, “Roland was standing next to the car, took a bite of an apple, and nonchalantly remarked, ‘By the way, Sascha, you don’t have an understeer problem anymore.’” Indeed, he feels like he’s in a completely different car. The difference “is like night and day.” So what did Kußmaul change? The springs? The dampers? The camber and track? The solution: a different differential. Particularly with rear-wheel-drive cars like the Porsche,the differential significantly impacts driving behavior. Thanks to a reducedlocking effect, car 23 steers considerably more willingly into the thirteen corners of the Ohio course.

But Maassen has to get used to the new setup first. He lays down three blazingly fast laps, but he’s still 0.2 seconds off the top time. “Where am I?” asks Maassen. “Second place,” team boss Job radioes back. “Give me two more laps,” demands Maassen, “I’ll crack it!” “Okay,” is the noncommittal response from the pit. But Maassen delivers. After a moderate lap to cool down the tires, with a time of 1:24.451 he’s 0.008 seconds faster than his toughest competitors from BMW. Job is ecstatic, and the BMW crew is listening in. “You were pretty sure of yourself,” the Bavarians respectfully heckle. Porsche isn’t winning the race, but Maassen/Luhr are still in a comfortable third-place position—until the rear left drive shaft breaks with four minutes to go. In the end, they’re given sixth place. Sascha Maassen has completed well over one hundred races with Porsche. “But I’ve never experienced such a drastic change in the driving behavior, before or after, as on that day in Ohio.”

By Franz Ponder
Photo by Richard Prince

8th Race of the American
Le Mans Series (ALMS)

Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
Ohio, USA
3.621-kilometer circuit length
Porsche 911 GT3 RS