Seeing a Porsche 911 claim a new lap record at the Nurburgring or any racetrack is commonplace. Seeing a Porsche 911 on the slopes of the world’s highest volcano is not.
But that’s precisely where the German brand sent its iconic sports car, in a test of endurance and capability unlike any it has faced since it entered the Paris-Dakar Rally in the 1980s. Former Le Mans and Pikes Peak winner Romain Dumas was the man behind the wheel to guide the pair of specially-modified 911 up Ojos del Salado in Chile.
In what Porsche described as a “first test” the cars drove to 6007-metres (19,708-feet), the first time a Porsche 911 has ever climbed so high – at least without the help of a plane.
At first glance this may seem like an unlikely and unnecessary endeavour for Porsche, but this off-road showcase comes ahead of the expected launch of a high-riding, off-road-centric version of the famous sports car. The company has already made it clear it has been considering such a car for a long-time, revealing the 2012 Porsche 911 Safari concept as part of its ‘Porsche Unseen’ project in late 2020.
Showing off the ‘rugged’ potential of the 911 ahead of the launch of a production version of the 911 Safari seems a sensible marketing position, although there has been no official launch date for that new addition to the range.
Obviously these cars weren’t stock, with portal axles fitted for 350mm of ground clearance and Aramid fibre underbody protection for climbing over rocks, plus new lower ratio gears for better low speed response and huge off-road tyres. The cars also had roll cages, racing seats and harnesses for extra safety in the unpredictable conditions.
The cars were also painted in special liveries, with one finished in a similar look to the new 963 LMDh prototype racer and the other in a “911-theme” created by the brand’s in-house design studio.
The project was overseen by Michael Rösler, chief engineer for the 911, and he was understably excited with the achievement.
“It’s been magical to build a 911 like the world has never seen before – made possible by a small team of engineering enthusiasts,” Rösler said. “The 911 has already been proven on the track and, of course, on the road. With this project, we‘re shifting the focus to where there are no roads. Testing our theories means finding the harshest possible environments to see if they work – and on the highest volcano in the world, we succeeded.”
As for the man behind the wheel, as a former Pikes Peak Hill Climb winner, Dumas is no stranger to tackling great heights, but he admitted this was a unique challenge.
“This was a truly memorable and special moment in a place that’s both beautiful and brutal at the same time – I guess the only machines anywhere in the world higher than us today were aircraft!” Dumas said. “For the team and the car it was about learning – and right out of the box, the car was tough and nimble. We were hard on ourselves and really put it in the deep end for its first test, yet it felt at home.
“We have enormous respect for those who have gone higher. No one has seen so much ice and snow up towards the top of the volcano, but despite this we went over 6,000 meters up, to the point where the walls of ice and snow meant we could go no further. We’re really proud of what the car and the team are capable of first time out – hopefully we can count on many more adventures in the future.”