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Australia’s first international Porsche star

Vern Schuppan has done it all, from Formula 1 to IndyCar and Le Mans, the proud South Australian is enshrined in Porsche folklore.

Following on from Matt Campbell’s success in the Daytona 24 Hours for Porsche, it continues a successful history for Australians driving the marque.

Previously a driver for Mirage in sports cars, Schuppan caught the attention of long-time Porsche Head of Sports and Public Relations Manfred Jantke.

The two had crossed paths, but an injury to an Indy star provided Schuppan’s opportunity to joining the legendary German manufacturer’s attack on the French endurance classic.

“In 1981 I ran my own McLaren at Indy and I finished third in that,” Schuppan explained.

“Porsche had actually asked Rick Mears to drive at Le Mans after Indy, but he sustained some facial burns in a pit stop refuelling fire.

“When we returned, there were messages there from Manfred Jantke to call him.

“When I did, he just said ‘we’ve been trying to reach you, we’d like for you to drive with us at Le Mans’ and that’s really how my relationship started with Porsche.

“Originally, at the time it was going to be myself and Jochen Mass, but when they couldn’t get hold of me, they contacted Hurley Heywood, but they still asked me to drive.”

It was an auspicious start as Schuppan’s mechanical knowledge saved the team’s 936 from retirement.

“Back in those days, we had a radio, but I couldn’t respond,” said Schuppan.

“The crew would give me instructions, but I couldn’t tell them anything.

“They sent one of the guys out to try and give me instructions from the other side of the armco barrier.

“We had this unfortunate bad luck with our car. Just getting the tail off and then having to put it on wasn’t easy doing it single-handedly. I eventually decided to pull part of the fuel injection apart.

“The way it was connected through to the turbo. Maybe it was restricted and if I can get the thing running, I can trickle it back’.

“To my surprise the engine started!

“This took about an hour out on the track, so they’d written the car off as stranded and they wouldn’t see it again until after the race.

“They jumped around like hell when I came down the pit lane!”

Teaming up with American Hurley Haywood and Jochen Mass to finish 12th, but his impressive mechanical performance ensured Schuppan’s return for 1982.

“That night at the big dinner afterwards with all the Porsche team members, Professor Bott (engineer Professor Hemuth Bott) said to me, ‘Mr Schuppan, you know the mechanics have called you the fastest mechanic in the world and we would like to drive for you next year’,” he recalled.

“So that I suppose was my formal introduction to Porsche after that first race and I had incredible relationship with them from that point on until they finished at Le Mans with the 962.”

Schuppan went onto win the 1983 24 Hours of Le Mans and enjoyed a near decade long career with Porsche during the 1980s, winning titles in Japan.