The Petit Le Mans race, that last appointment of the IMSA (International Motor Sports Association) Endurance Championship has taken place last weekend at the Atlanta Road Circuit in the United States. The two Porsche 911 RSR ‘Coca-Cola’ with their unique livery, stand out among the participants of the GTLM category.
Both companies, Porsche Cars North America (the US branch of the German manufacturer), and the soft drink empire have their headquarters in Atlanta, the capital of the state of Georgia. The team from Stuttgart has, therefore, decided to pay tribute to the competition, which is 50 years old this season, by merging the spirit of both companies in their racing car.
For this reason, both the 911RSR #911 and #912 have been decorated with the spectacular and iconic image of the famous drink red and white logo. The tire rims have also been painted white. At the wheel of both vehicles will be Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet which currently command the standings 12 points ahead of their twin Porsche shared by Earl Bamber and Lauren’s Vanthoor.
There is, however, another less obvious tribute behind the Porsche 911 RSR ‘Coca-Cola’. This one has to do with the successes of the German cars in the US. Loyal to its tradition of honouring their own sporting achievements, Porsche has wanted to rememorate their successes with their iconic models during the ’80s as well as those of their extraordinary driver.
The cars in question are the 935 and 932, painted with the same shiny colours of Coca-Cola and belonging to the Bob Akin Motor Racing team and the driver is their owner, Bob Akin.
New Yorker Akin was the one that first joined both companies (Porsche and Coca-Cola) in the circuits. Today, after more than three decades of that fruitful alliance, his memory is brought back to the track with Porsche 911 RSR ‘Coca-Cola’.
Akin, Porsche and Coca-Cola: A winning formula
Akin inherited his father passion for car racing and followed on his footsteps from the time when he was 21 years of age in 1957. After a break in his racing career, in which he devoted himself to other family businesses, he returned to action almost by chance in 1973.
It was thanks to Sam Posey, a friend who invited him to participate in a classic cars event at Lime Rock, one of his favourite racetracks. From that moment on he decided to re-joined the world of competition.
In 1978 he acquired a Porsche 911 RSR and used it to take part in a race in Daytona, as preparation for the 12 Hours of Sebring of 1978 for which his team planned to register.
Subsequently, that model was replaced by a 935, with which he would star in some of his first and most memorable performances. With the new blue Budweiser-decorated missile, he won the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1979, his first victory of what was to be a very successful career in endurance racing.
A few months later, he won the Trans-Am class and was third overall at the 6 Hours of Watkins Glenn in 1979. His unstoppable rise did not go unnoticed by Coca-Cola, which became its main sponsor.
The black and white livery first saw the light on the 935 model at the 24 Hours of Daytona (Rolex 24) 1980, where Akin shared a seat with Derek Bell, John O’Steen, Craig Siebert and Dale Whittington.
An engine problem prevented him from shining on that occasion, but he made up for the disappointment in subsequent commitments, finishing second in the Rolex 24 of 1981 and 1982. He also won the GTP class in the 12 Hours of Sebring of 1983, where he was also second overall.
Despite the successful career of the red and white car, some technical requirements of the championship forced him to an early ‘retirement’ in 1984. Porsche then brought out the 962 which Akin raced on for the first time in May of that same season at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. He was amazed by the power of his new machine.
His admiration for the car was soon endorsed by the results. Accompanied by Huns-Joachim Stuck and Paul Miller, Bob finished in the fifth position at the 24 Hours of Daytona 1985. And that was just the beginning.
In the following year, Akin, and Joe Gartner achieved one of the most memorable feats of the speciality. They won the 12 Hours of Sebring 1986, with an eight-lap advantage! thanks to an average speed of 115.85 mph (186.44 km/h).
In order to understand the size of the achievement, it is worth mentioning that it remained unbeaten for 23 years until 2009 when it succumbed to an Audi. In one of its last performances, the iconic 935 driven by Akin crossed the finish line at the Daytona 1987 in the sixth position, with Stuck and James Weaver as witnesses. The 935 took part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in four occasions and was fourth in 1984.
After an extraordinary career, Akin retired in 1991 as an icon of motorsports. He, however, continued to compete in classic car events. He died in 2002 on the very same asphalt where he is being paid tribute this weekend, while he was driving a Nissan GTP ZX Turbo, an IMSA classic.
Akin, a gentleman of speed
Besides Bob Akin’s obvious talent, his passion for the competition and his lack of fear were the other two pillars on which he built his successes. Dave Spano, one of his mechanics in his golden years and whose eyes still shine when he remembers the figure of Bob Akin, described his friend in the following words: “He was a professional through and through. He liked perfection and was very committed to all aspects of his activity”.
With a heavy heart, Dave continued talking about Bob: “He was a great person, and was very close to all the mechanics and the rest of the team members.” Listening to Dave, who was a first-hand witness of Bob’s career, is easy to understand how his nickname came about.
He was known as the ‘gentleman racer’ for his affable character and good manners both on and off the track. Akin became one of the legends of the sport not only in New York but across the USA.
Images of Porsche 911 RSR ‘Coca-Cola’: Porsche Media.