Auto racing is one of the most popular sports in the world, with huge audiences enjoying the high levels of excitement, fast-paced action, competitiveness, and the ability to cheer on their favorite brands and drivers. In that arena, few automakers are as celebrated on the racing circuit as Porsche – the German automaker has been in the racing spotlight since 1951, when it won a class victory at the famed Le Mans 24 Hours race with its 356 SL.
Most carmakers use racing as a form of advertising. They participate in motorsports to improve brand recognition and perception, drive showroom traffic, and boost sales. Yet Porsche – as most experts will argue – doesn’t really need any of that. The brand is universally known and respected as dynamic and exciting, each of its sports- and luxury-oriented vehicles is a strong seller, and its retailers sell all vehicles they can get their hands on.
So, if Porsche doesn’t need to spend exorbitant amounts of money on racing – most experts estimate that automakers will have to spend between $50-150 million a year to remain competitive – why does it race?
“The reason Porsche races is very straightforward, most likely to the point of seeming too simple. Porsche uses motorsport to improve the breed,” discloses the automaker. “Every aspect of a Porsche is about driving.”
Porsche may be universally identified by its iconic rear-engine 911 sports car (and, to a much lesser extent, Boxster/Cayman models), but the company has been manufacturing crossovers (Cayenne and Macan) since 2003, sedans (Panamera) since 2009, and all-electric vehicles (Taycan) since 2019 – regardless of body style, each promise engaging driving qualities that are honed and refined on the racetrack. “The visceral experience, the consistency from a 911 to a Panamera to a Taycan or Macan, all comes from motorsport. That thread which runs from the first 356 to the current Taycan GTS, is why Porsche races,” adds Porsche.
While automakers exhaustively test their vehicles in both frigid Arctic and sweltering desert climates, nothing compares to the unexpected dynamics of a competitive racing circuit where vehicles are forced to operate at their extreme limits for hours on end.
“Nothing pushes a product more than motorsport. No amount of road testing or even track testing can equate to 24 Hours at Le Mans or 12 Hours of Sebring or even 100-minutes at Long Beach,” explains Porsche. “All of this puts stresses on components, generates massive amounts of intrinsic knowledge about efficiency, ride, aerodynamics, electronics, etc.… in ways that even the most diligent test and development program cannot. All of this is fed back to Stuttgart and Weissach [Porsche’s development centers in Germany] to help engineers create our product line, even those that, on the surface, seem to have nothing to do with a race car.”
Porsche’s commitment to racing – and its determination to use motorsports to better the product – is reinforced at a corporate level. Other automakers receive their annual budgets largely from their marketing departments. Porsche, in contrast, funds its racing programs from its research and development budgets. The organization, from the top down, understands that racing improves its product.
But will the automaker – credited with 20 wins at the Le Mans (more than double that of Ferrari) – ever arrive at a point where it has learned everything? Where spending hundreds of millions on racing no longer makes sense? Has Porsche ever contemplated not pursuing the checkered flag?
“No, we have never considered pulling out of racing,” explained Porsche. “The first Porsche ever built was entered in a hill climb the following weekend. It is in the DNA of the company. We are always involved in racing and don’t start and cancel programs when marketing campaigns and strategies and even CEOs change.”
The experience Porsche gains in racing goes far beyond the mechanical attributes of its vehicles – racing improves engineering prowess, manufacturing processes, and production on the road car side of the company. Mimicking its racing teams, other departments within Porsche are trained on how to make decisions quickly, how to solve problems, and more. The various teams are, for all practical purposes, engaging in their own form of competition that helps to expedite production and rapidly solve issues.
“It is intrinsic in how we develop a product – even those [vehicles] that never race – that we compete in motorsport. To remove racing would change the entire way a Porsche is developed,” avowed the automaker.