American LeMons or Chump Car racing offers an easy point of entry into a very expensive pastime. Effectively, a $500 (net cost, you can sell parts off the car to get back to the cost target, and safety equipment, including brakes and tires, etc., is not factored into the equation) car is entered into endurance racing for over a dozen hours against other modest cars in a heated battle. This is a tremendous use case for the transaxle car. Many of us entered this model line, as it was inexpensive, yet if the 944 offered a great performance potential well at a given price point, this is it. It’s a simple three-step plan for us who know the model well enough to campaign it: Get a beater, sell everything that’s bolted down, build and race it.
As most of these crap-can racecar candidates on Craigslist are nearing the end of their service life, many of them are simply exhausted. That’s the challenge… Endurance racing stretches the limits of reliability. While 944s are very robust when maintained correctly, there are some areas that can be dicey for any car in the model line. Enter Shawn, a west coast 944 fiend who has been in the game a long time. Shawn has around 3 transaxle cars in his street fleet at present count, a 951 which has been prepped for the track, an S2 cab, and a grey market 82 944 with some choice bits and trim on it. Shawn`s house is more or less then a 944 intensity zone, and he has a barn of parts capable of sustaining the campaign of a 944 in grassroots motorsports.
Porch racing is born with an '89 8V model, Shawn and friends start winning races and Car and Driver magazine calls these guys “The Team That Rehabilitated the Bad Reputation of LeMons Porsches”. High praise, and Shawn agreed to share some of his insights with this magazine on how to make a 944 track ready.
The 4 steps here; the baffle, hinged trap-door, pickup ring and pick-up reinforcement keeps everything flowing and allows for a reliable rod to keep things spinning without drama. Its cheap insurance and even then, Shawn changes rods every 3-4 races to keep things nice and tight. In addition, the turbo oil cooler as a module can be adapted to the NA car, which should go a long way to reduce oil temps in the heat of battle.
Naturally, the Achilles heel of the model is still the timing belts. Shawn cautions: “There are so many critical components that run off that, from the oil pump to the water pump”, beyond just the cam… use all the special tools and torque to spec. Despite having done the job hundreds of times, this can sometimes still go wrong, follow the procedure to be sure it`s bang on.
Thus, spending on suspension makes sense, where possible. Good used Konis, on 250lb springs with the best sway bars you can find cheap is the right ticket. Alignment after any suspension work on the car, and the faster you go, the more critical is becomes. Be sure to bring the torsion bars down a bit and a corner balance wont hurt. Brakes on the NA cars will do fine, with Hawk blue pads and OEM rotors (cryo-treating is a good investment here for long life). Of course, running high quality fluids isn’t a bad idea and accepting that consumption may be high. Tires are up to you at this point. “Your first race, [passing] tech and safety wont be easy, and you’ll spend the same money either way” so to make things easy, make passing inspection a focus and an ideology.
Work with as much organization as possible, its key to productivity and reliability. Do things in chunks or stages, such as lifting the car and setting up for the following day the night before the work begins. Setting easily achievable goals keeps things moving along allows you to divide and conquer based on tasks. It’s the mentality that having the car up in the air and ready for the actual labor sets the stage for the most efficient and precision work. The extra planning of a proper executive approach is laying the build out before the first ratchet click. As endurance racing is made easier by preparation, which takes time, spreading the work out over the team is a smart way to segregate duties and costs. “One guy can’t win the race for everybody, it is a team sport, and you’ll never be in the top 10 without commitment”.
Last, when you’re out there and giving it the proper race flogging, realize the strategy to go incrementally faster might end up laps behind. When you get to the practical details of endurance racing, conservation is key; its going to go a lot better if you drive at 8/10s, rather than all-out. Shift at 5500 rpm, Shawn doesn`t go WOT in most of the straights, which allows him to go further on a tank of fuel… speaking of fuel tanks, there are three. The early cars had a steel tank, turbo generation cars have a plastic one, and there is a late tank, with the most capacity, over 22 gallons in total. Less time in the pits allows for a 944 to use the factory formula, finishing the race using efficiency as the overall strategy. Said another way, Shawn’s approach is to not put you into the pits and keep the driver as comfortable as possible. “If you can keep a driver going through one full tank of fuel, it will be grueling, especially with the conga line full course yellow flags”. So be comfortable in there. Adult diapers are optional.