Norbert Singer’s brisk and colorful account of his years as a Porsche engineer is not just for Porschephiles. Written with Michael Cotton, a journalist experienced in all things motorsport, the book is more than a fascinating glimpse into the career of endurance racing’s most successful engineer. It is most especially a tale of how teamwork and unwavering toil can conquer the most difficult obstacles — in Singer’s case it was the 24 Hours of Le Mans, perhaps the most complex technical challenge ever devised just for the hell of it.
Singer played a hand in every one of Porsche’s 16 overall victories at Le Mans, and a list of the models he nurtured and developed (among them the 935, 956 and 962) is enough to make a racing fan faint with lust. Throughout the book, though, he is clearly more comfortable lauding the efforts of the many brilliant engineers, car builders and drivers who worked alongside him at the shop and on the track than he is taking credit for so much of Porsche’s illustrious race history.
As Derek Bell points out in his warmly respectful foreword, Singer was “always a team member who kept out of the spotlight,” and to this day Singer shrugs off the suggestion that Porsche’s racing history might have been far different were he to have made a career of his first love, space science, which he studied at the University of Munich.
Even with its tone of modesty, however, 24:16 cannot hide the fact of Singer’s monumental contributions, made possible, says Singer, because Porsche’s way of doing things formed an ideal environment for the young, untested engineer he was when he joined Porsche in 1970. In his introduction, Singer succinctly describes that which suited him so well: “Our philosophy is painstaking preparation, attention to detail and, above all, teamwork.” Careful study of the rule books and a fair amount of good fortune are, of course, part of the winning equation, but those elements are available to every competitor, so Porsche’s winning ways must have had something to do with the guy in charge.
Nineteen chapters and four appendices take Singer’s story from his youth in Bavaria, to his university days in Munich, to his arrival on Porsche’s racing team, tasked with solving a 917 oil-cooling problem, to his final project, assisting, more than 30 years later, the hugely successful GT3 program. Chapter 20 is a collection of tributes and memories of Singer from such former colleagues as Jackie Ickx, Hans Stuck, Hurley Haywood, Allan McNish, Peter Falk and Alwin Springer, and rarely have accolades sounded more heartfelt and genuine.
At a well-illustrated 208 pages, the book is necessarily sparing in much of the detail that might delight the fanatic (Ludwigsen’s three volumes will do nicely for that purpose), but this absence of minutiae is more than offset by Springer’s frank, sometimes brutally honest, observations about life at Porsche. Still, for all of Singer’s accomplishments, I can’t help wondering what might have happened if his career’s trajectory had instead arced skyward, into space. Imagine how much faster we would have reached the moon.
24 : 16
LeMans 24 Hours : 16 Wins With Porsche
An autobiography with Michael Cotton
By Norbert Singer
Coterie Press, 2006, 210 pp.
(Currently out of Print)