Essay: On The Beast of Endurance Racing
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(2018) In the realm of accomplishments, being uninvited from a no-rules sanctioning body because of domination should be something to brag about. Actually it wasn’t a ‘There are no rules’ sanction, but it was close enough. With his recent retirement and subsequent slide over to auto racing, it could have been Tom Boonen who got me to think about The Beast.
Imagine an entity so dominating, so frustrating for the competition, that there was no weakness. Its history explains the recent auction price tag of $4.4 million US dollars. The Beast was so technologically sound that it was actually expelled from two sanctioning bodies. That is where our story begins.
After its dismissal from Le Mans, Porsche (+Audi) came knocking on the door of Roger Penske, a former American road racer turned team owner. Without a place to race, Porsche wanted to establish dominance in the Can-Am series, a racing federation with a fabled four rules and races held in the United States and Canada (hence the series name Can-Am). What came next was the implementation of what has been considered the most powerful racecar ever.
The numbers of what came to be known as the Porsche 917/30 are nearly unbelievable, even by 1973 standards. Under the bodywork sat a 5.4-litre V12 twin turbo power plant capable of producing up to nearly 1600 horsepower in qualifying. During qualifying, the turbos, located at the exhaust, could be boosted up to nearly 40 psi for the effort. The car could go from zero to 200 hundred miles per hour in under eleven seconds. It also could top out at a speed of 260 miles per hour, still faster than any Formula One car. These numbers are based on the race trim and not the qualifying capabilities. Entering a series with few rules should have produced worthy adversaries. Its own success not only led to the demise of the Porsche 917/30, but some have stated its domination led to the demise of Can-Am proper.
According to those who saw the car, everyone in attendance of Can-Am races went to see who finished second behind Mark Donohue. The Beast’s domination was put on display in 1973 when the easily recognizable deep blue car with dramatically contrasting yellow and red stripes went on to win every race except one. Due to this absurd victory predictability, Can-Am implemented a rule the next year imposing a maximum three miles per gallon consumption. Believe it or not, but this rule did The Beast in, and it never saw the same domination. At the same time in the United States a gas crisis hit, and Can-Am struggled to continue.
Recently Tom Boonen, the retired Belgian Spring Classic specialist has posted his time in Porsche (and other) racecars. With Paris-Roubaix on the morrow it’s expected to think of Tom Boonen’s domination across the last decade of cycling. With the new crop of pro cyclists posting their practice times across the demanding stones of Arenberg, one wouldn’t be taken to task for reminiscing to the excitement of seeing another monument and cheering for Boonen.
His domination over more than ten years, along with his friendly rivalry with fellow classics specialist Fabian Cancellara, left one wondering if they were watching a race to simply see who would finish second. Other teams targeted Boonen in the spring races as a giant, and they were looking to coral him somehow. One difference between the Porsche Beast and Boonen is that cycling never changed the rules specifically isolating him to make it more challenging for a victory. Though The Beast was capable of 1600 horsepower, it raced at 1100 horsepower. Those numbers could equate to watts over the cobbled sectors or Roubaix velodrome sprint wattage.
With fewer than twenty-four hours before the flag drops to start the 2018 edition of Paris-Roubaix, fans are now turning to the favorites and finding a deep list of potential winners. Tom Boonen holds a record that he never punctured at Roubaix. His reliability to finish near the pointy end sounds much like The Beast’s results in its heyday. The 2018 edition is the first Paris-Roubaix without Tom Boonen. When The Beast left Can-Am, others stepped in to take place of the power vacuum. It’s a tall order to fill the shoes of a pilot capable of 1600 something.
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