The words “mission accomplished” appear to ring true as Renee Brinkerhoff and her Valkyrie Racing team conquered their final global challenge: driving a specially prepared 1956 Porsche 356 for 356 miles across the treacherous ice of Antarctica.
Thus concludes the Porsche 356 Worldwide Rally tour of endurance driving on every continent on the planet, the Antarctica run completing the 5-year trek that has taken Brinkerhoff and her team through some of the most grueling driving challenges ever devised.
The 7-continent tour is an unprecedented accomplishment, especially for a female driver in a 65-year-old sports car. The Antarctic drive is a first for any vintage vehicle, albeit one prepped to survive the rugged terrain in frozen conditions.
Brinkerhoff, 65, and a four-member team that included her daughter, Christina, arrived on Union Glacier at the bottom of the world several weeks ago after two intense years of preparation for their final endurance-driving feat of piloting the Porsche for 356 miles, much of it on Antarctica’s treacherous “blue ice.”
Despite replacing the normal road wheels with tractor tread at the rear and skis in front, as well as adding a sturdy subframe and a “crevasse bar,” the Porsche struggled to complete the long drive.
“The glacial ice cover of Antarctica is made up of ‘blue ice,’ which while beautiful to see holds a non-forgiving surface that is solid yet slippery as glass, and hard as rock, forming a treacherous pathway,” according to a Valkyrie Racing news account of the drive.
“It’s actually the blue ice’s texture which is most difficult and was brutal on the car – miles upon miles of blue ice covered in concave ‘cups’ coupled with raised sharp edges of varying depths and sizes, added with sastrugi – surface waves of ice and snow formed in wind-swept areas. It all made for difficult traverses which at times were very slow.”
At temperatures hovering around zero degrees Fahrenheit, the Porsche encountered unforeseen difficulties that confronted the sturdy 4-cylinder engine and suspension parts, and it was barely running when it finally crossed the finish line. Because of the engine issues, a plan to race for a speed record in Antarctica was scrapped.
“From the start, the cold temps were causing problems for the car – the throttle began sticking and one of the cables was removed to help correct the problem, the air filters were packing with ice and the carbs were completely freezing due to the sub-freezing air that was feeding the engine,” the team reports. “At times, only two cylinders were capable of running, forcing the car to cover miles upon miles in second gear.
“Additionally, the bolt which attached to the ski’s hub was a massive stress point and sheared off three times. Having only two spare bolts for each side, upon completion of the 356 miles, three of the four bolts were used.”
The bitter cold also caused problems on board the Porsche for Brinkerhoff and navigator Jason de Carteret, a world record holder in polar expeditions.
“With no interior heater for the car and the very cold temps, keeping warm enough to drive was challenging,” the account says. “At times, it actually precipitated snow within the car itself.”
At a time when most people are contemplating slowing down or retiring, Brinkerhoff started her driving exploits at the age of 57 with a run at the notoriously fast and difficult 2,000-mile La Carrera Panamericana in Mexico, in which she won her class first time out. She completed two more La Carreras in subsequent years.
She and her Valkyrie Racing team embarked on her Porsche 356 Worldwide Rally in 2017 with the goal of racing in major events on six continents, capping the tour with the solo polar drive on the seventh continent.
As an extreme endurance driver, Brinkerhoff has driven the little Porsche more than 20,000 miles through muddy swamps, deserts, mountains and forests in rally races around the world, completing them all despite daunting challenges for the classic 356, driver and crew.
These include La Carrera Panamericana, plus:
• The Caminos del Inca in Peru, in which the Porsche was the only non-modern race car to compete in the event’s history.
• The Targa Tasmania in Australia, in which the 356 won the coveted Targa Plate.
• The East Africa Safari Rally, considered the world’s toughest off-road event and the first time a Porsche 356 had competed.
• The historic Peking to Paris rally, a 9,000-mile, 36-day journey that crossed two continents, Asia and Europe, and in which the Valkyrie team had the only Porsche 356.
As well as marking the completion of the seven-continent goal, Brinkerhoff and her team are celebrating their ongoing efforts to raise $1 million in contributions to aid the victims of human trafficking worldwide.
With a US-based 501(c)3 foundation called Valkyrie Gives, Renee and Christina Brinkerhoff “grant 100 percent of every dollar contributed to vetted NGOs doing frontline work around the globe for victims of child trafficking, in areas of Mongolia, Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Thailand, India, Kenya and others. All are approved projects that will positively impact the lives of children at risk,” according to the new release.
“Since the Foundation’s inception in 2017, and specifically through the Antarctic program, Valkyrie Gives has raised more than $556,000, and though they speak of a $1mm mission, their goal is to far exceed those numbers.”
Brinkerhoff encourages donations at www.valkyrieracing.com/donate, as well as taking part in a sweepstakes to win a restored Porsche 356 coupe, stylized to resemble the Brinkerhoff’s race car, before the polar run alterations.
“Thanks to the many that have contributed and are continuing to support these important efforts, we are more than halfway to our goal,” Brinkerhoff said. “However, when we reach our target, we don’t plan to stop there – we have many more challenges ahead and ask all those with compassionate hearts to continue to help us, help those, that can’t help themselves. We are all responsible for these children.”
And with that, Brinkerhoff suggests that the Antarctic trek might not be the last run for her team and the little Porsche 356, which has seen so much more excitement than ever imagined for the little German runabout.