Rendezvous in the Rain
Driving to a racetrack with Frank-Steffen Walliser is like releasing an animal back into the wild. That’s because he was responsible for GT racing at Porsche before becoming head of the 911 and 718 model lines in 2019.
The Stuttgart native did his internship, graduate studies, and doctorate with Porsche—he lives and breathes the brand and recognizes racetracks by their asphalt grain. Waiting in front of the Porsche Experience Center is “Moby Dick,” the 1978 turbo extremist in the 911 ranks.
Mr. Walliser, do you miss the command post at the racetrack?
My decision to go into motorsports was driven by a passion that sticks with you. Racing is very immediate and produces clear, indisputable results. But I’ve also taken on my new role with a great deal of focus. And my motorsport experience—the focused work toward very concrete objectives—is extremely helpful in monitoring the results in development.
What’s your connection to the Porsche 935/78, better known as Moby Dick?
It’s the brawniest version of the 935 and at its core still a 911—to my mind, an eternally fascinating race car. When we developed the new 935, presented in 2018 as a Clubsport car, we first set up a table and benches around Moby Dick and just soaked it up.
Its 3.2-liter six-cylinder was the first Porsche engine with a water-cooled, four-valve cylinder head, while the cylinders themselves were air-cooled. For conventional races, the charge-air-cooled boxer generated up to 621 kW (845 hp); for the marathon in Le Mans, it had to make do with a stately 750 horses. Weighing in at just 1,025 kilograms, the GT race car topped out at 366 kilometers per hour in its only Le Mans appearance in 1978.
Do you still remember your first turbo experience?
Very vividly, in fact: in 2000 I had the pleasure of driving a 996-generation 911 Turbo over the weekend. On our return to Stuttgart, we had a tight schedule but almost no traffic in the early morning hours. Covering about seven hundred kilometers in five and a half hours was a memorable experience and one that, for me, is inextricably tied to the awesome power behind the word turbo.
What does the word turbo mean to you—head, heart, or gut instinct?
As an engineer, I primarily see the thermodynamic component with its task of using the energy from the exhaust gas. But the result and experience are emotional, involving the heart and the gut. The 911 Turbo combines the experience of primeval forces, dominance, and technical prowess.
What has Porsche learned from cars like Moby Dick?
We’ve repeatedly developed groundbreaking technologies for motorsports that we’ve then managed to adapt for use in road cars. Of all the innovations, the turbocharger has been the most impressive example. Still considered exotic racing technology when it was introduced, it quickly established itself as the standard across a wide range. From racetrack to road—it’s true technology development at Porsche.
Its rear-engine design is the only concept in the world that offers optimal driving stability with so much thrust.
Having turbo and being a turbo—those are two different things at Porsche. Can you explain the nomenclature to us?
Today all new 911s, with the exception of the GT models, have turbochargers—as do almost all other Porsches. At Porsche, turbo stands for the pinnacle, synonymous with the top model. That’s why this suffix also graces the top model of the exhaust-free Taycan.
Mar 13, 2020 at 17:19