Thursday, February 9, 2012

Porsche 944 GTR 003 / Time with...Vic Ofner

With a previous post on the Porsche 944 GTR 003 generating so much interest, here is an interview with the Alan Johnson Motorsports team crew chief, Vic Ofner.

Looking back to 1986-1987, a little background. The Porsche 944 GTR was a made in the USA race car designed to do battle in SCCA club events, IMSA, and Trans-Am. It's probably one of the rarest of Porsche race cars made. Al Holbert, Porsches racing boss in the U.S. at the time, came up with the idea, and Dave Klym of FABCAR designed and built seven cars to represent Porsche's newest model, the 944 Turbo.

Read on to hear what Vic Ofner had this to say...

Vic Ofner with the Alan Johnson Motorsport 944 GTR 003 at a SCCA race held at Carlsbad Raceway, 1987.
 Image © Vic Ofner

AFTR: Where did you get your training before working on the team?
VO:   My dad was a regional manager for Volkswagen of America, so I have been around Porsches and VWs all my life. As a teen I was a big Porsche fan and practically memorized Karl Ludvigsen's book "Porsche, Excellence Was Expected." Through connections of my dad, I had the opportunity to go to the Porsche Factory in Zuffenhausen for the mechanic's training program. I had my training in Zuffenhausen from 1981 to 1984 and then had the privilege of staying on for a year and working in the racing department in Weissach building customer IMSA and Group C engines. My highlight was building the engine for the Richard Lloyd Canon team which took 2nd place at LeMans in 85. When my residency permit expired, I returned to the States and ended up at Alan Johnson Porsche+Audi in San Diego.

AFTR: What did you think when you first heard about the car?
VO: The first I heard about the 944 GTR program was that the car was very fast right off the trailer, so fast that when the competition got wind of it there was an uproar and the SCCA decided to add weight to the car to slow it down. It was originally to weigh 2300 lbs, but for the GT1 class it was raised to 2600 lbs!

AFTR: What was one of the biggest problems for the first season, 1986?
VO: The car had huge lead plates bolted to the floor in various places to add weight. This extra weight put more stress on the car for acceleration and braking. Acceleration could be taken care of by turning up the boost, but, we still had problems with the brakes. The GT1 races were short sprint races, but the brake rotors would be cracked after one race. We even tried water streaming, jets in the air ducting that sprayed water whenever the brake pedal was depressed. That worked well on the track, but not in the pits or on the grid with water dripping out! Larger ducting, better backing plates and single AP calipers finally did the trick.

AFTR: So the '86 season was really a development year?
VO: Yes, 1986 was a development year for the car. It had not been tested sufficiently to know the strengths and weaknesses, so we were learning as we went. The car was fast but the weaknesses causing DNFs set us back.

AFTR: Let's hear about the engine, what was it like?
VO: The engine was a converted stock block with an external multi stage oil pump for the dry sump system and had Bosch-Kugelfischer mechanical fuel injection, individual throttle bodies fed by a huge turbo via an intercooler and plenum chamber. Ignition was locked out at 28 degrees advance. This was definitely retro as the street cars had Bosch Motronic engine management. Power was in excess of 500 hp at 1.4 bar boost. More boost equalled more power, but the injection pump had to be adjusted for that or it would run lean and misfire. Using the stock toothed rubber drive belts for the camshaft and the balance shafts, the engine was good for constant 7000 rpm with an occasional 8000.

AFTR: How much torque did it have?
VO: Enough to snap a 928 driveshaft.

AFTR: What do you think the future of the car could have been?
VO: With a little more luck, support and development, I think this car could have been a real winner. The later Trans Am series cars had Bosch Motronic as did the one IMSA GTO car, but were not up to par with the factory Ford Mercur XR4Ti or Nissan 300 ZX Turbos. As we all know, to win costs big bucks and it is difficult for an independent team to go up against the big boys.

AFTR: What did you like most about the two years?
VO: What I liked about the two years with the team was the camaraderie and building friendships. I am also a big race fan and being there in the thick of things was an awesome experience that I would not trade for anything. Going through the learning curve we did was much easier because of the people on the team. It is unfortunate that it ended after two years, I think the third year would have been much more successful.

AFTR: Would you do it all over again?
VO: I definitely would do it all over again!
Vic with driver, Jim Warren at Road Atlanta in 1987 poised next to Paul Newman in car 33. Image © Vic Ofner

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  1. GREAT Story !!
    Did this car run at Road America or at Brainerd ? We were at both events, but I do not remember it being there. The Olivetti car was there the following year I believe, or was it 88 ? Must get out my photos and my race program from back then. THANKS !!!

  2. No we never ran the car up north, other than the west coast.

  3. I love old pictures of 944's. Carlsbad raceway is only about 20 miles away from where I live. I wish I could have seen racing there, but I was too young. Thanks for the fun read, and great pictures. for innovative new 944 parts