Beneath a slowly clearing sky and sunshine, and on a 30° C warm track, the teams of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship gathered on the Weatherthech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey County, California for the fourth race of the 2023 season. For Porsche Penske Motorsport, the race would start from the pole and the second position in the grid. Meanwhile, in the GTD classes, the Porsche 911 GT3 Rs of the Customer Racing Teams would also start from excellent positions within their classes.
Laguna Seca began with a rolling start and directly behind the Safety Car were the Porsche 963 #7 with Matt Campbell steering it and behind him the #6 belonging to Porsche Penske Motorsport, driven by Mathieu Jaminet. Easily recognizable at the end of the GTP grid was the golden Porsche 963 #5 belonging to JDC-Miller MotorSports, driven by the young Dutchman Tijmen van der Helm. Meanwhile in the GTD Pro class, Klaus Bachler in the Porsche 911 GT3 R with the #9 belonging to Pfaff Motorsports was at the head of his class, and directly behind him on 19th spot was Alec Udell in the same vehicle type for Kelly Moss with Riley, getting ready for the race.
The moment the Safety Car drove aside into pit lane and the grid passed the starting line, Full Course Green was announced. Starting from third spot, the Acura immediately went in for the attack in the first curve and forced the Porsche 963 #6 onto a wide berth in the curve, while Matt Campbell in vehicle #7 missed the correct breaking point. A large break cloud arose and obscured the view, but as it settled, the Porsche Penske Motorsport Team had already lost their good starting places: the Porsche 963 #7 had fallen behind on seventh spot, #6 was on third.
A chance to regain the lost spots was not immediately possible: Mere two minutes after race start, the Safety Car had to return to the track. Due to cold tires, a vehicle had shot off track onto the runout area and a cloud of dust was sprinkling back down onto the track.
Ten minutes after the start, the track was opened once more and it was clear that Mathieu Jaminet wanted to regain his lost spot. Matt Campbell in the Porsche 963 #7 also buckled up and fought to catch up to the Acura ahead of him.
Roughly 20 minutes later, the team faced a major setback: An Aston Martin GTD vehicle came in contact with the rear of the Porsche 963 #6 and lost control, driving it into the tire stack between racetrack and pitlane. The Aston Martin with the number #94 whirled around and came to a stop on pitlane. Immediately, race control announced a Full Course Yellow and analyzed the situation. From the looks of it, Matt Campbell in the #6 had attempted to pass the GTD vehicles ahead of him, while the #94 was returning onto the ideal racing line to take on the next turn better, and ended up in Campbell's blind spot. This is where both vehicles came in contact.
During the Full Course Yellow phase, the pit was opened to all and the entire GTP class took the opportunity to refill their fuel and partially exchange their tires – and due to the different times taken by the pit crews, the entire class was rearranged. As a collective, the GTP class returned to the track. In this new setting, the Porsche 963 #6 was on seventh spot and #7 on ninth, while the Porsche 963 #5 belonging to JDC-Miller MotorSports took up the spot between them both.
Comeback with challenges.
The GTD pro class was up next for a stop in the pit and the class leader Klaus Bacheler made a mistake during the exit: it was his first stint in Laguna Seca and he had missed a feature of the track – Laguna Seca utilized a traffic light at the pit exit. As the black and red checkered Porsche 911 GT3 R belonging to Pfaff Motorsports rolled toward it, Klaus Bachler missed the red light and continued driving.
Shortly before the first hour was about to begin, the track was released once more and both, the Porsche 963 #7 and the Porsche 911 GT3 R #92 had to perform a drive-through penalty. The #7 for its involvement in the accident with the #94 and the #92 for running a red light in the pitlane exit.
Throughout the course of the race, Porsche experienced a few more setbacks: The #5 steered by Tijmen van der Helm slipped out of a curve and was passed – he dropped to eigth place, followed by #7 on nine. Mathieu Jaminet was also relegated to the rear of the class after the pit stop and was still tracking the Acura from his seventh spot. On the other hand, the Acura was hunting down one of the two BMW GTP vehicles and even managed to pass on the inside of a curve. Seeing as Mathieu Jaminet had managed to close in on the Acura, he managed to pass by the BMW with the Porsche 963 #6 as well, landing on sixth spot of the class.
Another Full Course Yellow occured an hour after the start. Once more the pit was opened up to the GTP class – and the most teams utilized this time to switch drivers. Again the pit stop changed the grid during the exit: Nick Tandy in the Porsche 963 #6 managed to drive on fourth spot, Felipe Nasr in the #7 was on sixth spot, and switched in for JDC-Miller MotorSports was former Porsche Junioer Mike Rockenfeller on ninth spot.
It took another 20 minutes for permission for the race to continue and the Porsche 963 factory cars switched their places. With that, Felipe Nasr was on fourth and Nick Tandy on fifth. But shortly after that, #7 lost control and slid into the barriers. Though Felipe Nasr could return to the race, the right rear cover was dangling so loosely that it folded upwards in some curves. On top of that, an exit onto pitlane was not possible in the first round after the race and Nasr was forced to take another round in Laguna Seca to finally reach the crew.
To reduce the amount of lost chances, the Porsche 963 #6 driven by Nick Tandy returned on fifth spot. But while the Porsche 963 #7 was in the pit, he lost it again. The accident of the #7 had a greater impact than expected: almost all exterior parts had to be switched out and Matt Campbell returned to the cockpit.
After the restart, I saw the chance to grab two positions at once. I gave it everything, the rear of my car got away from me - that was it. I had no chance of catching the car.
A triumphant return.
While the factory team was battling its way back up to the top, both Kelly Moss with Riley vehicles in the GTD class had raced onto first and second spot. This was the beginning of the comeback of the Porsche brand.
Nick Tandy was on his way to defend his spot against the two BMWs behind him, while also catching up to the Acura on fourth spot – and all four GTP vehicles utilized the crowded GTD class field to push their way onwards. The Acura with the #60 had an iron grip on its spot – until a GTD vehicle blocked its way on the start-finish straight. The #60 was forced to dodge onto the area beside the track and Nick Tandy capitalized by recapturing the fourth spot. Both BMWs also passed the Acura, but the manoeuver came at the price of time. Precious time for Nick Tandy, who pushed his timely advantage against both opponents.
At the same time, the Team Kelly Moss with Riley decided to call in both vehicles – one after the other – into the pitlane for a quick stop after about 44 laps. With that, they gained an advantage over their opponents for themselves and the following laps. Despite the fact that they lost their placements in turn.
Nick Tandy also entered the pit and got his vehicle refuelled and tires changed, closely followed by the Acura #60. The Porsche 963 #6 returned from the pit on fifth place, while Matt Campbell in the #7 continued to push his way back to the top.
As the final 40 race minutes began, another accident occured. Just a few seconds after that, Nick Tandy returned onto fourth place and the very moment his name slid up by a spot on the driver list, a Full Course Yellow was declared.
In the final minutes of the race, the race was restarted once more. The Porsche 963 #6 was on the fourth spot between both BMWs. In the GTD Pro class, the #9 belonging to Pfaff Motorsports had fought its way back onto the second spot of the class after the penalty.
In the last 30 minutes before the race was due to end, Nick Tandy pushed his Porsche 963 #6 to its limits: As the GTP vehicles were passing the GTD classes, he sped up and utilized the crowded field to pass the BMW with the number 25. With that, the Porsche 963 #6 had returned onto a spot on the podium.
A hard-fought battle was also fought in the GTD class: The #91 belonging to Kelly Moss with Riley managed to catch up to the #44 on first place and reacquired their previous position. The second Kelly Moss with Riley vehicle with the number 92 was on fourth spot.
Despite the few remaining minutes in the race, Nick Tandy was not satisfied with the third spot in the GTP class. Particularly because the Porsche 963 #7 was so far behind. Tandy pushed his way onwards, behind the #31 on second spot and steered the 963 onto the inner line of the turn in a full grid – and his strategy worked out. The Porsche 963 #6 was back on second spot in the final 15 minutes of the race. Only one question remained: Would the fuel last for another race to catch up to the GTP vehicle on first spot?
Full-throttle toward the finish line.
Despite not much time remaining, the battle for spots on the podium was hard-fought. The #92 belonging to Kelly Moss with Riley closed in on the #44, which had fallen behind on third spot. Due to the little amount of time left and the run of the race, the opposing vehicle could not deliver an ambitious defensive battle – the fuel tank was running low. For Kelly Moss with Riley an advantage: the number 92 scored the third spot.
Nick Tandy, too, attempted to catch up to the vehicle ahead of him. With each round, the distance between the leading Cadillac and the Porsche 963 #6 was shrinking. Five minutes before finish, Nick Tandy had reduced the time down to 3.6 seconds – a clear difference to the previous 6 seconds.
Yet, it was not enough – still, the Porsche 963 #6 with the team consisting of Mathieu Jaminet and Nick Tandy scored the second spot on the podium in Laguna Seca. In the GTD Pro class, Patrick Pilet drives onto the third podium spot for Pfaff Motorsports, while Kelly Moss with Riley manages a double podium on first and third spot of the GTD class.
For the pending 6-hour race in Watkins Glen, multiple teams with Porsche vehicles are now focusing on two things: learning from Laguna Seca and keeping up the fight.