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Andreas Preuninger

August Achleitner: the final interview

April first. April Fools’ Day. A hugely significant day for Porsche, and specifically the 911, as August Achleitner will close his office door at Porsche for the last time, handing the keys over to Frank-Steffen Walliser.

Achleitner’s business cards might say ‘Vice President Product Line 911 and 718’, but he’s long been referred to simply as ‘Mr 911’. He opened the door to that office 18 years ago on 1 April 2001, Dr Dürheimer giving him the job of looking after Porsche’s most famous model.

His leaving is arguably as seismic a change as many of the key points in the 911’s development, Achleitner overseeing the water-cooled era of Porsche, starting with the 996 and signing off with the recently launched 992. You don’t walk straight into a job where you’re responsible for the model that defines a brand. No, when Achleitner removes his nameplate from the door he’ll have been at Porsche for 35 years.

 

It was perhaps inevitable that Achleitner would work for Porsche. He is the son of a vehicle engineer, born in Cologne, Germany, to Austrian parents, while his father was working for Ford before moving to BMW.

The young Achleitner studied engineering in Munich while his father worked at BMW, Achleitner adding economics to his curriculum in a bid to ensure his eventual career path didn’t follow the normal route. “I saw which kind of jobs my former colleagues of my engineering studies had at BMW, and I thought to myself, I don’t agree with that. It’s too small to be responsible for the left door handle. That’s not my target.”

The engineer wouldn’t, of course, start at the top of Porsche, but his ambition and talent undoubtedly dictated his successful career path. He admits always wanting to work for the company, saying: “I was always a Porsche fan, from my childhood. When I joined I was only in engineering because of my additional studies in chassis; I did five years in chassis development.”

A neighbour having a bright-red 356 when he was growing up might have influenced him, too. His first role was with Porsche Engineering, the company’s offshoot that quietly undertakes work for other manufacturers. “At the beginning I had many projects for customers, because Porsche was always doing customer development at that time, more so than today,” says Achleitner.

He admits during this period to being kept busy by BMW, doing some work for Audi and others and also travelling to Detroit to work with Pontiac. Porsche’s own projects started taking over Achleitner’s time, his first work on the 911 relating the brakes. “The only part which I designed and drew by myself that made it to production was the new brake disc off the 964 Turbo,” chuckles Achleitner, admitting that every time he sees one he thinks, ‘I did that’.

A visible contribution there, albeit through the wheel spokes, but it would be what was behind the 964 replacement’s brake discs that would help define Achleitner’s career path. Achleitner was one of the engineers responsible for the Lightweight Stable Agile (LSA), or ‘Weissach’ axle introduced with the 993.

It had been developed in part for the shelved 989 four-door Porsche, the multi-link rear axle being transformational in helping add some predictability to the 911’s dynamic behaviour. That basic rear-axle concept remains to this day, Achleitner saying it’s under the 992, adding: “It’s always a little bit improved, but it’s the same concept. No big changes.”

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911 icon: Andreas Preuninger

We’re in Finland, and the choice for dinner is reindeer or salmon. Andreas Preuninger is quick to opt for salmon. He’s had his fill of reindeer, having worked previously for Porsche’s Driving School before he reached his current position as head of GT cars. “I was a sporting instructor at the sport driving school when I came to Porsche because I had the time then on the weekends. I wasn’t married so I could go and instruct. The first time I was over in Finland it was for three weeks, and generally minus 36 degrees. There were waves of people coming in, coming out, every other day there were new people. The program repeated, the dishes were always the same – a choice between salmon and reindeer. Maybe I was a little bit overfed on reindeer.”

‘The next head of GT cars might be the man who’s just spent the day pulling my car repeatedly out of the snow banks then?’ I quip. Preuninger laughs, saying: “Absolutely. I did it – I really would like to do it again – it gave me a lot of contacts, I met interesting people, I made friendships that built up. It’s always absolutely vital for me to talk to customers, to know their opinion, to get their feedback. To be able to get the next product spot on.”

He hasn’t got the time for instructing, but he’s never so busy not to speak to enthusiasts, chatting to Porsche Experience customers later in the evening. The GT department has never been busier. Working alongside motorsport boss Frank Walliser, Preuninger admits the dynamic between him and Walliser is one that clicks, admitting: “We appreciate each other. He’s completely different than I am. He’s an analytic guy, he always wants to have mathematical data that he can analyse and I’m more like the person that does things out of his stomach.” He adds: “I don’t say that’s negative. It’s very, very important, especially if you can combine the two.”

That pairing has been hugely successful, the results speaking for themselves. Porsche struggles to keep up with the demand for the cars from its GT division, while the shelves continue to creak under the weight of all those winners’ trophies.

We’ve spent the day in Finland talking about Preuninger’s latest project, the GT3 RS. The conversation this evening isn’t about that. We’ve met many times now and, as ever, Preuninger is always at his most illuminating when he’s off topic, letting the conversation stray away from business and towards his life outside work.

After hearing some traditional Finnish music while we eat we’re not talking tailpipes, but bagpipes, the instrument of choice in my home country. Big Country come up, Preuninger quickly turning the conversation to AC/DC, in particular the Bon Scott era. “I’ve always liked AC/DC, since I was 12 years old, I grew up with this band.” Even so, it’s Status Quo that he admits to being the biggest fan of, counting himself as lucky that his position in Porsche meant that he got to meet one of his heroes, Rick Parfitt. They were great friends, Rick loving his cars, Andreas his band’s music. “I’m a freak for rock music,” he says, that passion for music having been passed from father to son.

Preuninger the father is revealed as we talk music and life, Andreas clearly a hugely dedicated family man. His inner engineer is apparent too, as he admits: “I collect guitars and build guitars and amplifiers, I have a whole room full of amplifiers and guitars. I jam along with my son, who is ten years old. He’s been playing since he was four.”

To read the full, candid interview with Andreas Preuninger, pick up your copy of Total 911 issue 164 in shops now or click here to get it delivered to your door. 

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Walter on ice! Drifting the new 991.2 GT3 RS

You wouldn’t believe how much empirical stuff is still involved despite all the computers. You have to try stuff out,” says GT boss Andreas Preuninger about the new 911 GT3 RS. He’s talking specifically about those NACA ducts that are borrowed from the GT2 RS, saying that the gains they brought were far more significant than they imagined.

“The first and most brutal element for track use is they cool the brake better. Secondly, by getting so much good air from the top to the bottom through the body, we can make the air shovels, which are attached to the lower arm, a lot smaller so they’re not slammed in the wind, offering resistance. In normal form they cost us a little bit of downforce, so if you make them shorter so you’re better on the downforce side you don’t lose. They also affect the coefficient drag. This air that we suck into the brakes makes for a cleaner airflow over the car. It’s three positive points,” explains Preuninger, adding: “we astounded ourselves.”

We’re at Porsche’s Experience Centre in Finland, about 110 miles north of the Arctic Circle, and Preuninger and I are walking around the new GT3 RS. It’s cold, minus 28, the GT3 RS looking a little bit incongruous in its winter setting. We’ll see it officially again at the Geneva Motor Show in March, but at this early preview there’s a chance to pour over the details – and have a ride. Walter will be driving, that’s Röhrl, on a track cut from a frozen lake. But that’s later on, for now Preuninger’s keen to talk about his team’s latest creation, despite the biting chill.

“Our main development target under our second-generation GT3 RS was to make it more precise,” says Preuninger, pointing to the developments in aerodynamics and suspension rather than increases in power. The engine is essentially identical to that in the GT3 – it revs to the same stratospheric 9,000rpm – but thanks to the RS’s differing inlet tract via the Turbo-derived body’s intakes fore of the rear wheels, as well as a differing, RS-specific exhaust system – which, unlike the car pictured will have larger 98mm tail pipes – it now develops 520hp.

That’s 20hp up over the GT3, torque too increasing by around 10Nm, the gains mostly felt above 4,500rpm. That’s conservative, too; Porsche could homologate the car at 527 to 530hp, but in typical fashion, and in a bid to ensure it produces all its performance regardless of the environment it’s in, that 520hp figure is the one it’ll quote, as is a 3.2 second 0-62mph time. “There’s still meat in that engine as it is,” admits Preuninger in response to questions about whether they considered a larger capacity, and, tantalisingly, he lets slip they’ve explored it running at greater than 9,000rpm, though changing that “makes no sense”.

The electronic control of the engine has been finessed in that goal for more precision and quicker responses. Even so, Preuninger admits that engine will only account for around one second of the gains the RS will inevitably make around the Nürburgring. And a time? We’ve discussed the spurious nature of quoted lap times numerous times before, but Preuninger concedes: “It’s definitely something you can measure your progress in, but I wouldn’t sacrifice feel of the car and sensation when you operate it for a lap time. It has to come together. When you have both then it’s a winner.” As yet it’s not been set, but the GT boss anticipates it to come in at around seven minutes and five seconds, which is an appreciable improvement over the Gen1 car.

Key to a faster time will be the chassis improvements. It’s not surprising to hear that the GT3 RS borrows from the GT2 RS in this respect. Underneath it’s essentially the same, with ball-jointed mounts throughout the suspension, the only chassis fixture to feature a bush being a single link for the rear-wheel steering system. “It wasn’t necessary to change that one,” admits Preuninger.

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GT3: A Porsche 911 History

Forget the switch to water-cooling, for Porsche enthusiasts, 1998 was really all about the release of the first Porsche 911 GT3. It marked the beginning of a new Neunelfer model range that has, in just 18 years, worked its way into Zuffenhausen legend.

Based on the Porsche 996 Carrera’s narrow body shell, the original 996 GT3 debuted in Cup car form at the tail end of 1998 before the road going version was launched at the 1999 Geneva Motor Show.

Unlike the standard 996 Carrera, it was bestowed with a dry sump, race-bred engine, the architecture of which could be traced back deep into the air-cooled era. Designed by legendary Porsche engineer, Hans Mezger, the 3.6-litre engine developed 365hp at a heady 7,200rpm.

Tracking shot of a Dark Blue Porsche 996 GT3

Named after the FIA racing class it was designed for, the first 911 GT3 was still very much a road car (despite its motorsport-inspired moniker and drivetrain). As it turned out, this would be the key to the car’s success with 1,858 996.1 GT3s leaving the bespoke production line at Porsche’s Motorsport Department.

In 2003, the GT3 got its first update, bringing with it the 996 Gen2’s sharper front lights, new alloy wheels and a revised aerodynamic package that included a more modern rear wing design. The 3.6-litre ‘Mezger’ engine was also fettled, providing an improved 386hp at 7,400rpm.

While the 996.2 GT3 was no longer made in Weissach, the move to the Zuffenhausen factory allowed Porsche to increase production, with 2,313 Mark II cars being built between 2003 and 2005.

Blue Gen 1 Porsche 997 GT3

Demand was even higher for the first 997 GT3, launched in 2006. Still based on the narrow Carrera body shell, Andreas Preuninger’s department made the 997.1 the first GT3 to weigh less than its Carrera 2 counterpart, while further development of the 3.6-litre flat six yielded an even higher rev limit.

Now producing 412hp, the 997.1 GT3 was also the first to come equipped Porsche Active Stability Management (PASM), allowing less experienced drivers to experience the race-bred road car’s talents with the benefit of an electronic catch net.

In 2009, the GT3 got its biggest revision yet as part of the 997 platform’s Gen2 facelift. Along with refreshed styling, the flat six engine was expanded to 3,797cc and the compression ratio increased to 12.2:1, increasing power to 435hp at 7,900rpm.

Riviera Blue Gen 2 Porsche 997 GT3 driving

Centre-lock wheels (a regular feature on the GT3 Cup cars since their debut in the 1999 race season) were also fitted to the road-going GT3 for the first time too, although 2010 model year cars needed to be recalled to fix a rear hub problem.

The Porsche 991 GT3 – launched at Geneva in 2013 – had even more tricks up its sleeves though. For the first time, the body shell was that of the wider Carrera 4, while the longer wheelbase of the 991 platform led Preuninger’s team to utilise a rear-wheel steering system jointly developed for the GT3 and 911 Turbo.

The drivetrain saw the greatest overhaul however. Gone was the now-legendary Mezger engine, replaced by high-revving version of the Carrera’s 9A1 engine while the manual gearbox was replaced with a PDK shifter (the performance of which was improved considerably to match the GT3’s race car credentials).

991-1-gt3

The move to the dual-clutch gearbox shocked many 911 enthusiasts and, with the 991.2 GT3 in the pipeline, it is expected that Porsche will bring the six-speed manual transmission back to the GT3 line-up as an option).

Due for launch early next year (possibly at Geneva), the Gen2 991 GT3 is also due to get the 4.0-litre powerplant from the current 911 GT3 RS. Complete with a lower 8,800rpm rev limit, the Rennsport’s engine is widely regarded as a more reliable unit that the 991.1 GT3’s engine (which suffered a few hugely publicised failures).

For more historical online features, check out our full selection of ‘Porsche 911 history’ articles now.

Photo by CarPix AB

Photo by CarPix AB

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Porsche 991 GT3 ultimate guide

We’ve previously subjected the first model to sport the GT3 badge, the awesome 996, to our Buyer’s Guide microscope. This time, we fast-forward more than ten years to the very latest.

Make no mistake, Total 911 is a huge fan of the latest GT3, and having pitted it against a 997 GT3 RS back in issue 131, we were left staggered by its combination of technology, cosseting luxury, and exquisite handling.

Not only is it the most breathtaking, it’s possibly the most everyday-friendly 911 ever to sport the GT3 badge, ever the embodiment of a proper Porsche according to Butzi himself.

991 GT3 wing

One of the reasons we rated it so highly was down to what lies beneath that purposeful rear wing, a 3.8-litre motor producing 475hp at a spine-tingling 8,250rpm.

Almost 100bhp more than the original GT3, it’s a thrilling confection of cutting edge, lightweight construction with titanium conrods and forged pistons that allow it to rev to an intoxicating 9,000rpm. With VarioCam variable valve timing for both inlet and exhaust camshafts and an advanced dry sump lubrication system, it’s also the first GT3 to feature direct fuel injection.

But as regular readers will know, it hasn’t been without issue, with a spate of high profile engine fires threatening to put a dent in Porsche’s reputation for peerless engineering.

991 GT3 engine

We’ve previously covered the problem in some detail, but essentially a failed connecting rod bolt could lead to terminal engine failure, with the resulting oil leakage leading to the much-publicised infernos.

After issuing a ‘stop driving’ notice to owners – some of whom were understandably dismayed after parting with more than £100,000 ($133,000) for their car – Porsche set about changing the engines in the 785 model year 2013-2014 cars affected.

However, despite a dozen examples being fitted with a second new motor due to a valvetrain issue, and the recall of 35 model year 2015 cars to have the spark plugs and coil packs replaced (a short circuit could have caused damaging engine misfires), it seems that Porsche’s quick action has left used values unharmed.

To read our ultimate Porsche 991 GT3 buyer’s guide in full, pick up Total 911 issue 143 in store today. Alternatively, download your copy straight to a digital device now and save 30 per cent.

Porsche 991 GT3 side

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