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Test of strength in Spa.

Rehearsal with obstacles.

During the third race of the World Endurance Championship in Spa-Francorchamps, the Porsche Penske Motorsport Team experienced several obstacles. Still, for a long time the team had good chances at scoring a spot on the podium.

The 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps were as mercurial as the weather of the Ardennes: The Porsche 963 vehicles with the numbers #5 and #6 started after a qualifying with mixed results from the starting grid on spots ten and six. The customer racing team Hertz JOTA would begin the race between the two factory vehicles on seventh spot and for the first time with their own 963. Meanwhile, in the GTE Am class, the customer racing teams Iron Dames and Proton Competition would race from 13th row, Dempsey-Proton Racing and GR Racing from 17th row, and the Iron Lynx from 18th row. Even the weather was unwilling to offer up ideal starting conditions – the dense grey clouds above the track suggested rain in the upcoming hours. A difficult decision for all participating teams: slicks or wets?


The Porsche Penske Motorsport Team opted for slicks – tires that were meant for a dry track. The further developments of the race would prove the decision correct.


As tire warmers are not permitted in the 2023 season of the WEC, all teams started cautiously into the race. Still, the Iron Lynx lost control of their vehicle within the first 15 minutes and landed in the gravel bed, where they got stuck. The first Safety Car phase was announced.


After 30 minutes of race time, the Porsche 911 Turbo S safety cars released the track again and that kicked off the action in all vehicle classes: The Porsche 963 #6 steered by Laurens Vanthoor went in for the attack and battled its way past multiple vehicles along with the sister car belonging to Hertz JOTA, all the way onto the second spot of the Hypercar class. Michael Christensen in the Porsche 963 #5 also wanted to move up the grid and worked his way onto seventh spot. There, he entered a short duel with the Toyota #8 and after successfully besting it, he continued in pursuit of the Glickenhaus with the number 708.


At the same time, Sarah Bovy of the Iron Dames went on the hunt for a spot on the podium, and managed to reach the fourth spot of the GTE Am vehicles – ahead of her the #33 belonging to Corvette Racing with whom she had already competed against for six hours in Portugal. Notable at this point is that all teams that had opted to start with slicks were on the way up on the grid. Though it was drizzling lightly, it was not enough to keep the track wet and it showed in the placements.

This is my first ‘6 Hours of Spa’ in the WEC. I’ve often watched this race as a spectator and I went there as a fan. I said to myself at that time, it would be very cool to contest this race myself.

Sarah BovyDriver, Iron Dames

As the first hour of the race was on the close, one of the LMP2 vehicles lost their tire and first initiated a yellow flag, followed by a Full Course Yellow. At this point, the Porsche 963 #6 was playing catch-up on the Toyota #7 on first place, while Christensen in the #5 was close enough to touch the Glickenhaus. Though nothing can happen during a Full Course Yellow phase, it was clear what would happen to the #708 the moment the yellow phase would come to an end. The end of the FCY phase was announced by race control by countdown from ten onwards. The focus was clearly on the situation between the Porsche 963 and the Glickenhaus. Both vehicles passed through some curves with reduced speed, the #5 practically touching the rear of the #708.


The countdown reached zero: Immediately, Christensen swerved onto the right-hand side of the Glickenhaus and passed in a curve, claiming the fourth position in the grid. Of course, the Glickenhaus wanted its spot back, but Christensen placed a GTE Am vehicle between himself and his pursuer, while the Toyota #8 was closing in on both of the other Hypercar vehicles. Roughly around the hour mark, Christensen was involved in a duel with the Toyota, and though he managed to defend himself multiple times against the other vehicle, at some point, the #8 managed to pass.


The standings after about an hour were as follows: The Porsche 963 #5 and #6 on spots five and two each, and Hertz Team JOTA on 11th spot of the Hypercar class. In the GTE Am class, the Iron Dames were on first spot, GR Racing on seventh with Proton Competition behind them. Closing the grid on places 11 and 12 were Dempsey-Proton Racing and Iron Lynx.


The hour mark was also a signal for the first pit stops: The Iron Dames decided to exit quite early, closely followed by their pursuers ORT by TF – the better position became a race of who had the better pit team. The Porsche factory vehicles also entered the pit early – though that dropped the Porsche #6 back onto fourth spot, but Laurens Vanthoor quickly recovered third place, while #5 continued to hold the fifth spot.


After the refuelling, ORT by TF in an Aston Martin Vantage AMR went in for the attack: For multiple round, the Aston Martin kept the pressure on Sarah Bovy in the pink Porsche 911 RSR high, trying to distract her in curves of attempting passing maneuvers. Sarah Bovy kept calm, but on the start-finish straight, she was caught up to and pushed slightly off track.


The end of the second hour again saw the entire grid slow down once more: One of the Cadillacs lost control in the Eau Rouge, and all vehicles were forced to continue under Safety Car conditions. In the meantime, Porsche #6 was back in second place, #5 on fourth, and Hertz Team JOTA on eigth. It was also around the hour mark when the race was cleared once more and multiple teams opted to enter the pit for a driver change.

All or nothing.

The Porsche 963 #5 entered the pit first, and the drivers switched from Laurens Vanthoor to Dane Cameron. As he exited the box, he directly entered a duel against the Ferrari #51 to keep his spot behind the top three. Meanwhile, in the Porsche pit for the #6, preparations for their driver change were in full swing: Kévin Estre stood at the ready in his racing gear.


But the pit crew had lost all contact to Michael Christensen – no radio, no insight into vehicle data. The viewers also only noticed that something was amiss when the cameras panned to the starting grid: The Porsche #6 was standing on the middle of the track, undamaged, yet unmoving. The disappointment in the team is palpable. The Porsche 963 #6 had done so well so far in Spa.


Another Full Course Yellow phase was announced and the Porsche 963 #6 was removed from the race due to electrical issues. The specific issue of the malfunction would now create tension in the Porsche Penske Motorsport Team before the season highlight in Le Mans. Meanwhile in Spa, it was up to the Porsche #5 to complete the race successfully.


After 30 minutes, the track was released, and once more everything was happening all at once in the vehicle classes: Proton Competition had reached the second spot before the FCY phase was announced and now conquered the first spot shortly after the track was cleared. The Iron Dames, though having lost a few spots for a while, were on the way back to the top – they only had to pass the very Aston Martin that had cost them their placement before.


The GTE Am class showed more thrilling dynamics in the making: The Iron Lynx were at the very back of their vehicle class and the top three were on their way to lapping them. Proton Competition in first spot did just that and managed to increase the distance to their pursuers. The Iron Dames also profited from the lap: Even though Iron Lynx and Iron Dames were participate against each other in the WEC, they belong to the same organization and that was clear as day in Spa. The Iron Lynx Porsche blocked ORT by TF in the curves of the track in the Ardennes, helping the Iron Dames catch up to ORT by TF.


During the previous yellow phase, the Ferrari #50 in front of the Porsche 963 of Dane Cameron had reached its limit and was forced to enter the pit immediately after the track was released. This boosted the Porsche 963 #5 onto third place and Hertz Team JOTA was right behind it. They still had to switch drivers though, and Porsche promoted driver Yifei Ye switched into the driver's seat of the customer vehicle.


Up to about half time of the race, the GTE Am class remained exciting: Proton Competition had been passed by Ferrari, putting them in the position of trying to pursue them, but still coming under pressure by ORT by TF behind them. On the fourth spot behind them were the Iron Dames, waiting for a chance to pass the GTE vehicle #25 of ORT by TF. This temporary competition also domineered the fourth hour of the race.


But as the fourth hour was closing, another Safety Car phase was announced – this time because the Vanwall Vandervell 680 had lost control and crashed against the track boundaries.

Thrilling to the end.

The last two hours of the race remained thrilling. In the meantime, the Porsche 963 #5 driven by Frédéric Makowiecki was on third spot of the grid and Hertz Team JOTA on six. In the GTE Am class, Proton Competition was on fourth spot, Iron Dames on fifth, Dempsey-Proton on ninth, Iron Lynx on eleventh and GR on twelfth behind them. Throughout the race, the leading Hypercar vehicles had lapped all the other vehicles, but the top three of the Hypercar class had managed to catch up again.


The fifth hour of the race was also filled with a safety car phase. This time, a vehicle skidded off the track. For all the cars that had caught up to the leading Toyotas, this was a blessing in disguise. Now, the chance to reach one of the top spots was achievable once more. The grid was condensed due to the safety car and when the track was released, Makowiecki was just 12 seconds behind fourth spot with the advantage of not needing a pit stop in the next minutes.


In the GTE Am class, the battle for third spot remained intense. Proton Competition was passed by ORT by TF with the Iron Dames closing in behind them. However, the pink Porsche let the Iron Lynx one lap behind pass to have them slow down Proton Competition. Throughout the following minutes, this strategy proved to be a helpful crutch, as 30 minutes before the race was due to end, the Iron Dames were back on fourth spot.


Despite having a good lead as third placed vehicle of the Hypercar class, Makowiecki was faced with a tough battle toward the last rounds of the race. One lap after the other, the Ferrari #51 on fourth place closed in on the Porsche 963 #5. But Makowiecki couldn't risk pushing his vehicle further to maintain the advantage: the performance of his rear tires was dwindling and the risk of maintaining the distance to the Ferrari was too great.

In the end, the Porsche 963 #5 crossed the finish line on fourth spot after the Ferrar #51 passed in the last round. In the GTE Am class, Proton Competition reached fourth spot, the Iron Dames fifth.

A tough final rehearsal before Le Mans. But eliminating any possible issues now before reaching the season highlight also may offer some chances. This way, they are already known for the 24-hour race and may be solved. Only Le Mans will show how that will really look like.



We did a good job with our number 5 vehicle and opted for an ideal strategy. However, we simply weren’t fast enough.

Jonathan DiuguidManaging Director Porsche Penske Motorsport

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