Promising WEC start during the 1000 Miles of Sebring.
Opening on the roughly six-kilometer-long track was the WEC with its 1000 Miles of Sebring. For over eight hours, the vehicles of the Hypercar, LMP2 and LM GTE-Am classes had to deliver, and across the uneven surface of the former Hendricks Army Airfield in the state of Florida at that.
The Porsche Penske Motorsport Team achieved the starting spot six for vehicle #6 and seven for the Porsche 963 #7 in the qualifying. And the team with its base in Mannheim, Germany was aware of possibilities for improvement even before the official start. “The fact is we’re not squeezing the upper limit of our Porsche 963. We are convinced that the car is better than what we showed today,” said Urs Kuratle, Director Factory Motorsport LMDh, after the qualifying. Still: In typical Porsche fashion, the team was ready to give their all.
Particularly during the first third of the race, the race was set on Full Course Yellow – a frustrating start. After only eight minutes after start, the first accident occurred on the track and led to a roughly 15-minute-long Safety Car phase. For all vehicles on the track that meant no passing, no access to the box and reduced speed. The moment the Safety Car left the track, the Porsche Penske Motorsport Team utilized the dense grid for a renewed attack. In the #6, Kévin Estre pushed onwards onto the third spot, supported by the opposing teams’ decision to take early stops in the pit – only to lose his position once more against Cadillac.
While the #5 mostly held its starting position in the grid, #6 entered a continuous duel for the third spot. After the fifth Full Course Yellow phase, Estre went in for the attack after having increased the pressure on the Cadillac in third place for multiple rounds. The attack was a full success, however at the price of tire wear due to the almost 20-minute-long duel with the Cadillac – Estre was forced to enter the box for a tire change.
Even before the end of the first half of the race, Estre was switched out by André Lotterer. Though that meant losing two spots, the 963 #6 returned to third spot within the next hour and Lotterer defended it once more – this time against the Ferrari #50.
The further development of the race proved one thing: despite the team being aware of the fact that they could not get everything out of the Porsche 963, they showed their ambitions. For over seven hours, the audience witnessed how Porsche kept up with the Cadillac and Ferrari teams and regularly pushed them to their limits. In the end, the #6 lost contact to the third spot after a short electronic issue in the pit and fell behind onto sixth spot, right behind its sister car. This is where both Porsche 963 remained to the end of the race: fifth and sixth spot in the WEC Hypercar class for Porsche Penske Motorsport, and currently fourth place in the class ranking with 15 points for the team.
For the first race, it was an incredible performance of the drivers, engineers and mechanics. “The entire team and our drivers did their absolute best and fought to the very end,” Thomas Laudenbach, Vice President of Porsche Motorsport, praised and adds, “We did the best we could with what we currently have today. However, it became very obvious that we still have some catching up to do in many areas.”
One thing is certain to be on the agenda until the next race in Portugal on April 16: finding and utilizing potential for improvement to the very last detail.
Bitter end to an impressive IMSA race.
Bevor the WEC vehicles entered the grid, the teams of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship had to complete the qualifying for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring. For the Porsche Penske Motorsport Team, the 12-hour race would start from fourth spot for vehicle number six and seventh spot for vehicle number seven.
A day after the 1000 Miles of Sebring, the five vehicle classes of the 71st edition of the IMSA 12 Hours of Sebring began to line up on the grid. The pressure was high for Porsche Penske Motorsport: With 18 overall victories and 76 manufacturer class wins, Porsche already holds two records on the former airforce base. And naturally, the goal of the team was to expand on these records.
Compared to the WEC races on the previous day, the 12 Hours of Sebring started comparatively calm with few Full Course Yellow phases. Instead, the drama occurred directly in the race: In the first half, the rear of vehicle #6 with the British driver Nick Tandy came in contact with another Hypercar. Harmless at first glance and not the first time two vehicles come in contact on the Sebring International Raceway due to too cold tires, the uneven surface, or evasive maneuvers. Yet, for Tandy this had dramatic repercussions: smoke developed in his cockpit. The Brit was forced to reduce his speed and open his door to protect himself. With that, he lost a whole round to the leading vehicle. Since he could still move the Porsche 963 #6 without any help, he drove with an open door all the way into the pit.
Much to the relief of the team there, the car had only taken minor damage that could easily be repaired.
Still, the first half of the race remained thrilling: The sister car lost time due to issues with its suspension. But as it often is in motorsport, Porsche considered the loss of ranks more of a challenge than a problem. The drivers demanded as much performance from their vehicles as they could, while the team in the pit adapted the race strategy and focused on quick pit stops. Particularly during FCY phases both vehicles could catch up to the field, as during long yellow phases, the vehicle classes are grouped together. The very same yellow phases that had made the race of the previous day tough and hard-fought for, were a blessing for the Porsche Penske Motorsport Team during the 12-hour race.
In the next few hours, the team seemed to trust in persistence and both Porsche 963 were close on the heels of the top rankings. But seven hours after start, #6 experienced another setback: During a FCY phase, a following vehicle drove into the rear of the American driver Dane Cameron, and the team is forced to exchange the rear wing. Almost at the same time, #7 went in for the attack and took second place in the grid. Even though the opposing team on first place had a leading edge, the battle was on. And #7 persistently pushed its way forward.
As darkness fell and less than one hour of race time remained, the endurance of the team paid off: Mathieu Jaminet in vehicle number six and Felipe Nasr in number seven had successfully conquered first and third spot respectively. Between them: the Acura #10, which had drawn both Porsche vehicles into tough duels throughout the entire race.
In the last hour of the race, the Acura once more went in for a passing maneuver in a curve. Beside the 963 and the Acura, other vehicles of other classes were on the move. Everyone focused on gaining better spots to win points.
The Acura went for the inner curve, was blocked by Jaminet, and this resulted in both vehicles coming into contact. Jaminet managed to catch his 963 and hold his line, but the Acura skidded into the dust beside the track and shot uncontrolled across the apex of the curve – directly into the #6 of Mathieu Jaminet.
A mass crash followed. The involved vehicles mostly slid into run-out area, Jaminet’s Porsche 963 #6 skidded into the path of his team colleague Felipe Nasr in the #7. The latter shot across the hood of the other 963 and thankfully came to a stop. Both drivers were unharmed.
The disappointment in the team was great – the chance for the first great victory had been so close. Still, the Porsche 963 #6 entered the podium on third spot of the GTP class and proved the potential in the Porsche Penske Motorsport Team.