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07 Nov 2018

Centre Stage

Reliving former glories with a pair of Porsche’s rallying greats

In the lush green hills above Ulster, a distant hum arrives on the southerly wind, growing gradually to a rumble. It vanishes altogether for a moment before reappearing much closer, much louder, expanding to a roar, the visceral rattle and bark of induction and exhaust.
Fringed with spray from the morning’s rain, the distinctive outline of a 911 crests the brow, headlights and spot lamps pointing skywards. Through the mud-spattered windscreen, his face in calm repose, a familiar figure is punching through the gears, whisking the whole spectacle down the long straight road north.
Earlier that day, in a rain-soaked car park in Belfast’s old docklands, scores of Seventies and Eighties rally cars assembled for the Titanic Déja Vu Ulster, a retrospective road rally. But the main draw was that very car, an original Rothmans 911 SC/RS.
A rare and important part of Porsche’s sporting history, the SC/RS was the Genesis of a short-lived rallying programme. Only twenty cars were ever produced by Porsche, six of which would be handed over to Dave Richards at Prodrive to enter the Rothmans/Porsche partnership.

Built to Group 4 specification, the SC/RS was as focussed a homologation special as Porsche had ever made, shedding north of 250kg over the standard SC road car via an uncompromising ground-up rethink that included a lightened monocoque, aluminium panels and Kevlar-reinforced fibreglass front and rear bumpers. The beefed-up chassis was protected with aluminium skids plates, the suspension bespoke and the brakes derived from the Le Mans winning 917.
Beneath the 930 Turbo rear spoiler sat a naturally aspirated, dry sumped 3.0-litre flat-six with mechanical fuel injection, mated to a close ratio gearbox. Output was rated at 250bhp from the factory, good enough in a car so light to see off 60mph in around 5.0 seconds.
Inside was an aluminium roll cage, 935 Recaro race seats and racing harnesses, behind thinner, lightened glass. Radio, heater, power windows, door pockets, glovebox, clock – all gone.
The sheer scarcity of the SC/RS puts it on a par with the original 911R, its presence on a drizzly morning in northeast Belfast fairly remarkable. As is the sudden appearance of none other than Walter Röhrl, arriving with a typical lack of fanfare and chatting warmly to onlookers before folding his tall, slender frame into the Porsche’s Spartan cockpit.

Walter Röhrl is a heroic figure to countless motorsport fans the world over, but you’d struggle to find a place more devoted to him than Ulster. For it was here, in 1984, that he drove one of the most astonishing races of his career, deputising for fellow Audi works driver Hannu Mikkola to stress test the brand new short wheelbase Quattro Sport.
By now a two-time world champion, Röhrl stated on camera at the start of the Ulster Rally that he had no interest in winning, nor in what was going on behind him. Instead he was simply there to push the new car as hard as he humanly could.
Having only recced the route once the previous night, he went on to win 20 of the 27 special stages with a lead at the finish of 4 minutes 15 seconds over his nearest rival. It was a stunning display both of Audi’s engineering and Röhrl’s own abilities.
So Ulster is a special place for Röhrl, part of his legend, in an era when the technology of turbocharging and all-wheel drive was altering the rallying landscape for ever. Today, after decades of racing and development for Porsche, he seems only too happy to be at the helm of the markedly more analogue SC/RS.

At the lunch stop in the tiny coastal village of Cushendun, the crowds around Röhrl are two or three deep. It’s impossible to maintain a conversation for long as people push forwards to shake his hand, imparting their own memories of that magical drive in ‘84. “It’s a very nice day for me because, you know, I didn’t remember much flat out 34 years ago,” he says with a rueful smile. “But today I have time enough to enjoy the roads and the countryside. The roads are very small, very bumpy – I’ve been wondering how I did it so fast all those years ago and stayed in one piece.”
The rally carries on up the coast a short while later, lines of Opel Mantas, Escorts, Fiat 131 Miafioris, and among them a handful of other 911s. But no car quite has the magnetism of the Rothmans SC/RS, nor the draw of its driver. Two vital elements in the patchwork of Porsche’s racing history, as keenly championed today as they were in their pomp. And both still going strong.

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