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Meet Porsche’s Best ‘Secret’ Racing Driver

One of the best drivers at Porsche needed to wait for his chance to go racing…

Photo: Porsche

Lars Kern’s job with Porsche can be most accurately described as the best of both worlds.

First, the 32-year-old from Germany is one of the manufacturer’s chief production car test drivers. He’s perhaps best known as the man who steered a 911 GT2 RS MR to a fastest-ever streetcar lap around the Nürburgring Nordschleife in 2018.

He also holds outright production car records at other landmark tracks including Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, and could probably be touted as one of the world’s best road car pedallers today.

But there’s also a second, less storied side to Kern’s role with Porsche that has only really taken off in the last three years.

As a boy growing up in Stuttgart, Kern was naturally drawn to motorsport and dabbled in competition for a few years before reality took hold and he was forced to put his racing dreams on ice.

He instead focused on a development role with Porsche, the company at which his father worked for four decades.

It set him on the competitive sidelines for six years, although he still got to sample a fair few racing cars during that time.

Kern’s period of behind-the-scenes work and patience ended in 2017 when he received a handful of racing chances in a mix of GT3, GT4 and Cup-class Porsche machinery.

Those opportunities expanded over the next two years as Kern’s name became more common on GT3 entry lists around the world.

He’s now competed in some of the world’s biggest sports car events and has stood on some notable podiums including the 24 Hours of Dubai and Kyalami 9 Hour.

Returning to professional racing has been quite an undertaking for Kern, who isn’t contracted as a Porsche factory driver despite his important company role.

As he notes, his re-admission into motorsport in his early 30s has required him to achieve a balance between two ostensibly similar but far-from-identical roles.

Photo: Jake Galstad/IMSA

“It is a balance,” he tells Sportscar365. “There are only 365 days a year so, somehow, I have to balance how much I do for street cars and how much I do for race cars.

“Racing was always my dream but then, at some point, it seemed like I could not go any further. About six or seven years ago I just stopped and decided to focus only on street cars.

“But somehow, I got the chance to race again, so it’s a bit like two parts in my career.”

Kern reckons his newfound racing role can complement his work developing Porsche’s high-performance production cars.

“[This was the case] especially at the start. I did a lot on the GT4 Clubsport at the beginning; this was my first project on race cars at Porsche,” he recalls.

“Our GT4 Clubsport and street cars are quite close together in terms of performance, so it was helpful for jumping out of the race car and into the street car.

“I would tell the [road car] guys, ‘hey, I feel the race car does this and this, and maybe we can move a little further in this direction’.”

The crossover is emphasized by the fact that high-performance GT road cars as a whole are constantly improving in all areas.

“The Porsche GT2 RS MR, in which I did the Nordschleife record is, performance-wise, pretty close to a race car already,” explains Kern.

“The horizon gets smaller as you drive quicker cars, so you know what’s possible, how the downforce feels. Now the street cars get downforce and high-grip tires, so it’s all closer.

“The race cars more or less stay where they are, but the streetcars are [constantly improving]. I think the street car lap record for the Nürburgring would have been about P20 for the 24-hour race.

“It’s all working together pretty well. I’m always struggling to jump from the street car into the race car because you have to drive the race version differently to the street car.

“But the more experience you have and the more cars you drive, the wider your horizons get and the more experience you gain. That’s pretty important, I think.”

Photo: Porsche

The teams that Kern works with have the benefit of a driver possessing immense knowledge of Porsche machinery and car setup.

What’s more, Kern is Silver-rated by the FIA, making him somewhat of a hidden gem in terms of Pro-Am driver lineup selection because his talent behind the wheel is effectively masked by his relative inexperience as a professional racer.

One team that has noticed this unique trait is Pfaff Motorsports, which has recruited him for the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup races.

This takes Kern to events such the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen and Motul Petit Le Mans – a dream selection for someone who had to wait for his chance to race on the world stage.

“A lot of people said that,” he says when it’s suggested that he knew he was good enough to race professionally from the start. “I had good sponsors, but I never really made the step.

“But when I look at what’s going on in Carrera Cup and Supercup today, I don’t know if I would have survived through that. It looks really tough.

“In the end, I’m super happy with how it turned out for me. I had no idea that I could do the Nürburgring 24 or Daytona in a Pro car eventually.”

Kern is relishing his double automotive life at Porsche and is in a position that any petrolhead would deem enviable.

While he’s contracted to the company, he’s refreshingly candid because he doesn’t need to attend all the intensive media training that the factory drivers are put through.

Plus, he has the benefit of being an understated character at race weekends despite his immense talent behind the wheel.

Photo: Porsche/GruppeC

Back on the street car side, Kern continues to be alert for when Porsche might call him up for another lap record attempt.

While nothing has been confirmed for 2020, he reckons that he’ll be tasked with another Nordschleife brief before long.

After all, it’s just a part of the job.

“We are planning to do something at Bathurst, but I’ve never been there so I said that there’s no point in me doing it,” he explains.

“We’re going to put one of the local guys in. Track knowledge with a street car is always so much more important because you have to carry so much speed.

“For sure, on the Nürburgring, we’re going to do more of that in the future. We do it with every car and sometimes we publish it, sometimes not.

“But I am pretty sure that the 992 generation [of Porsches] will produce pretty fast cars at the end of the day.”

So with all this road car and racing work going on, what exactly is Kern’s official job title these days?

“There isn’t one! We are always discussing what it is,” he enthuses. (his Instagram bio labels him simply as a “Porsche guy”)

“But I don’t care; I am around. Anyone at Porsche can call me if they have something that needs to be driven.”

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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