Greg Zyla: Seven decades of Porsche road racing from legend Holbert to rookie Lewis
Q: Hello, Greg. I am a 70-year-old retired mechanic and I’ve been a lifelong Porsche fan and at one time owned a used Porsche 911. I’d like to know your thoughts on Porsche as a racing legend, as I’ve followed the Porsche road racers since Augie Pabst and Bob Holbert drove them in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
I know Porsche has been a big winner at Lemans and other major forms of racing, but I still like the racing today, especially in the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup events, which I attended a few weeks ago at Sebring. Thank you very much for your time. Henry L., enjoying retirement in Florida.
A: Henry, I'll get to GT3 Cup by Yokohama in a minute, but I haven’t heard the names Augie Pabst and Bob Holbert in quite awhile from a reader. Pabst, he of Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer fame, and Holbert, the famous Porsche dealer owner and factory team driver, are two legends indeed who helped push the Porsche brand forward in the formative years. Back then, Porsche won many big road races in underpowered cars thanks to its' lightweight, superb handling and reliability. Like we used to say with my friends when we went to the races in 1960: "The Corvettes will pass them on the main straightaway, but the Porsches will catch them in the corners and pass them."
Pabst won the 1964 Road America 500 with co-driver Bill Wuesthoff driving an RS-60, while Holbert (who I saw race many times in person in the early 1960s) was one of four drivers credited with bringing the Porsche brand to national prominence. The other three were Art Bunker, Charlie Wallace and Lake Underwood.
Today, the GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama you mention is one of the most popular all-Porsche racing series in the world, attracting lots of driving talent and team participation. These Porsche 911s are specially built for competition, and attract both factory and independent teams along with great series sponsors, like Yokohama Tire.
As for famous names in the series, good friends and business associates Cary Agajanian and Mike Curb (huge names in American motorsports and the Country Music industry, respectively,) are teaming with three time series champion owner Bob Faieta and his California-based “Competition Motorsports” to field an entry for IMSA/Porsche Scholarship award winner Michael Lewis, a 23-year-old Laguna Beach native.
After several go-kart championships, Michael cut his teeth in big-time Formula motorsports. In addition to racing in Europe and Asia in Formula BMW, Michael's resume includes earning eight top-10 finishes in 2013 in FIA European Formula 3, one victory and seven podium finishes in 2012 in Formula 3 Euroseries and three victories in 2011 in Formula 3 Italia. These are impressive credentials for a young driver on his way up the ladder, especially considering he knows the business side of racing, too.
On the business side of racing and as a personal disclaimer, I have known Michael since he was an infant. Specifically, his father, Steve Lewis, is a respected publisher and founder of Performance Racing Industry (PRI), including its huge racing trade show and popular monthly magazine, all now owned by SEMA. I have been associated with PRI since 1985, thus my "extra excitement" over what's going on in GT3 Cup by Yokohama. Additionally, Steve Lewis became famous as a car owner thanks to his championship USAC Midget team "Nine Racing," which fielded Bob East prepared midgets with noted engine builder Ed Pink and his general manager, Frank Honsowetz, providing horsepower. (Yes, the Ed Pink of drag racing fame and the same Honsowetz that built the winning IRL Infiniti Indy Car engines. Both are involved with the Porsche effort, too.)
In summary, Michael Lewis will drive the No. 98 Competition Motorsports/Curb Records/Eibach 911 GT3 Cup Platinum Cup car this season and is off to a great start. His debut at Sebring, Fl., March 13-14 found him posting two top 10 finishes, eighth and sixth, after coming from deep in a 38 car field. (See www.MJL racing.com for more)
In ending, the next three Porsche GT3 Cup races are at Monterey Park, Ca., May 3-4; Lime Rock, Ct., May 23-24; and Watkins Glen, NY, June 27-28. God willing, I'll be at the Glen and maybe Lime Rock, too.
Thanks for your letter, Henry, as it easily sparked my interest.
Greg Zyla writes weekly for GateHouse Media, More Content Now, and BestRide.com. He welcomes reader questions on collector cars, auto nostalgia and motorsports at 116 Main St., Towanda, PA 18848 or at email@example.com.