“The extreme demands we face on the racetrack very quickly highlight any weak points and encourage engineers to look for new and better solutions,” said Ferdinand “Ferry” Porsche, who with the development of the legendary 356 No. 1 Roadster laid the foundation for the Porsche brand in 1948. For the engineers at Weissach, this guiding principle is as applicable today as it was back then. The huge stresses of motor racing demand solutions that eventually flow into the development of road-going vehicles.
One component that emphasises the ongoing developments in motor racing more than most others is the steering wheel. Standard steering wheels from everyday Porsche sports cars were first fitted in the racing cars of the Stuttgart marque mid last century. Even the legendary Le Mans Porsche 917 featured not a single button or display function.
Even the legendary Le Mans Porsche 917 featured not a single button or display function
“It’s hard to believe, but developments in this regard only really took off in the year 2000. Since then, the massive progress in steering wheel development is clearly evident,” explains Pascal Zurlinden, Director Factory Motorsport. In just 20 years, a leather-covered wheel morphed into a multifunctional controller. Drivers of the latest Porsche 911 RSR have 30 functions on the steering wheel at their disposal, which, when activated in certain combinations, can mobilise other functions. At Weissach, two specialists work on finding new solutions for even more setting options as well as improved comfort.
Modern-day steering: Like a TV remote control in the living room
“In 1999 I contested the Carrera Cup as a Porsche Junior. Back then, the steering wheel had no buttons, no radio, no paddle shifters, no pit speed limiter. We had to drive along the pit lane with an eye on the speedometer,” says brand ambassador Timo Bernhard (Germany) of those earlier years. The long-standing works driver and 2016 World Sports Car Champion witnessed the rapid advancements in steering wheel technology firsthand.
In 2001, the Cup-Porsche received a radio button on the steering wheel, with the number of control functions in the Porsche 911 GT3 RSR fielded in the American Le Mans Series growing to six by 2004. At that time, the switches and buttons were installed in a modified, commercially available motor racing steering wheel. The layout at this stage played a minor role.
Over time, the design became increasingly important as progress in this area continued. The layout of all functions became the top priority so that the drivers could use them as intuitively as possible. “It’s like watching television at home,” says Pascal Zurlinden. “The TV remote controls are constantly being upgraded with new buttons, with apps, Amazon Prime, etc. Despite this, operating them quickly becomes second nature. If I get a different model from the same brand I immediately know how to use it. That’s what we do at Porsche, as well. Because the layout always follows the same pattern, the drivers have no problems switching from one vehicle model to another.”
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