Mixed fortunes for Porsche teams at eventful 24 hour race

At the first race of the 2015 season, Porsche could not continue its success streak at the 24 Hours of Daytona. After claiming victory last year, the best Porsche 911 RSR driven by Nick Tandy (Great Britain), Patrick Pilet (France) and Marc Lieb (Germany) occupied fifth place in the GTLM class at the eventful 53rd running of the long distance classic in Florida. Porsche customer teams, however, stood in the spotlight in the GTD class: The Porsche 911 GT America fielded by Alex Job Racing finished second, with third place going to Patrick Dempsey (USA) and his teammates in the 911 GT America of Dempsey/Wright Motorsports.

The second factory-entered 911 RSR campaigned by Porsche North America with Jörg Bergmeister (Germany), Earl Bamber (New Zealand) and Frédéric Makowiecki (France) finished the race on seventh place. The 911 RSR run by the Falken Tire customer team, in which Wolf Henzler (Germany), Patrick Long (USA) and Bryan Sellers (USA) shared driving duties, took the flag in eighth place. All three 911 RSR had at times led the GT field.

The race on the Daytona International Speedway had only just got underway when Porsche experienced its first setback: In lap two, Frédéric Makowiecki steered the 911 RSR back into the pits to change the alternator. While the Frenchman lost six laps to the front-runners, Nick Tandy was putting in a spirited chase. Heading into the race from just eighth on the grid after a difficult qualifying, he fought his way through the pack in the early stages to snatch the lead. During the first hours of racing, his teammates kept reappearing at the top of the field in the traditionally highly competitive GTLM class with the #911 Porsche 911 RSR, treating fans in the packed infield of this storied race track to some stunning motorsport with spectacular overtaking moves and constant switches in positions.

The battle at the top continued into the night. Thanks to a perfect race strategy and with the help of numerous safety car phases, the 911 RSR that had fallen back shortly after the start battled through the order to run in the same lap as the leader, with both Porsche North America entries within striking distance of the podium in second and third shortly after midnight. But then came the setback that would dash all hopes of the most successful manufacturer in the history of Daytona with 22 overall and 76 class victories: While attempting to overtake a slower competitor in the GT Daytona class, Earl Bamber (number 912) drove on to the damp grass while entering the second corner after the finish straight, lost control of his car and slid into the car of Marc Lieb (number 911) who was just turning into the following right-hander. Both 911 RSR were badly damaged. Repairs to the #912 car cost 18 laps, with the #911 vehicle losing 82 laps. By Sunday morning, the 911 RSR with the starting number 912 had managed to climb the ranks to fourth place only to be hampered by a transmission problem which caused the team to withdraw the vehicle as a precaution.

After the collision threw the factory-911 contenders down the field, the Falken Tire customer team’s 911 RSR stepped into the breach. With works drivers Wolf Henzler and Patrick Long at the helm, the 2014 Petit Le Mans winning car also put in a strong performance, moving into the lead in the first race hour and eventually settling in amongst the front pack. On Sunday morning, Patrick Long took the wheel from Wolf Henzler and held on to second place for quite some time, only to have engine damage herald an early end to their race, as well.

Quotes after the race

Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser, Porsche Head of Motorsport: “This was a very difficult race with a disappointing result for us. There is nothing to gloss over. We performed well over much of the distance, but unfortunately we couldn’t turn this into a good result. We were also hampered by unexpected technical problems. We can’t blame the drivers for the accident, things like this happen. It’s just a shame that we dashed all our chances through this. The fact that two 911 GT America took podium results in the GTD class shows that the teams performed consistently and fought hard. Still, we leave this weekend with a bitter aftertaste.”

Patrick Pilet (911 RSR #911): “When we were in the lead I was beginning to think we might win. But you also need a great deal of luck in a 24-hour race. It wasn’t our day and it wasn’t the result we had expected. Still, the championship is not yet lost.”

Marc Lieb (911 RSR #911): “Of course it’s really disappointing how the race went for us. We were going well but then there was the unfortunate situation that should never happen, but it did. It cost both cars the race. But there’s no point complaining, we simply have to look ahead. It was definitely great fun to be back at the wheel of a GT car and to contest Daytona. The 911 RSR is simply a great race car.”

Nick Tandy (911 RSR #911): “The positive thing is that we were doing really well up until the incident. We didn’t imagine it would end like this, but we still finished in fifth and eighth and that earns us important points towards the championship. And we have to settle for this today.”

Frédéric Makowiecki (911 RSR #912): “I’m proud of the whole team. It’s incredible what the mechanics and engineers achieved during this race. We had a fast car and our strategy was good. It’s a pity we weren’t rewarded for this. Prior to the accident we had the speed to run at the top and that makes me confident for the rest of the season.”

Jörg Bergmeister (911 RSR #912): “The qualifying was much tougher compared to the pre-race tests and we experienced problems with the handling. But the car ran very well in the race. Despite the problems shortly after the start, we fought our way up and even after the accident we were back in fourth. That would have yielded some decent points. Still, last year in Daytona we didn’t do so well with the #912 car but then went on to win at Sebring. That has to be our aim this time.”

Earl Bamber (911 RSR #912): “Well that’s not how I expected my first Daytona race with the 911 RSR to go. The collision with Marc was a chain of unfortunate circumstances. I’m sorry that it caused such consequences. Up to that point we were going strong and as a team we deserved a better result. Now we have to take our chance at Sebring.”

In the GTD class two customer-run Porsche 911 GT America cars finished in the top three. Alex Job Racing finished in second with Americans Cooper MacNeil, Leh Keen, Andrew Davis and New Zealander Shane van Gisbergen, with third place going to Dempsey/Wright Motorsports with Americans Patrick Dempsey, Jan Heylen and Madison Snow as well as Austrian Philipp Eng, the reigning champion of the Porsche Carrera Cup Deutschland.

Race result
GTLM class

1. Magnussen/Garcia/Briscoe (DK/E/AUS), Chevrolet Corvette, 725 laps
2. Auberlen/Werner/Farfus/Spengler (USA/D/P/CDN), BMW Z4 GTE, 725
3. Gavin/Milner/Pagenaud(GB/USA/F), Chevrolet Corvette, 718
4. Edwards/Luhr/Rahal/Klingmann (USA/D/USA/D), BMW Z4 GTE, 701
5. Tandy/Pilet/Lieb (GB/F/D), Porsche 911 RSR, 640
6. Turner/Mücke/Lamy/Lauda/Dalla Lana (GB/D/P/A/CAN), Aston Martin, 632
7. Bergmeister/Bamber/Makowiecki (D/NZ/F), Porsche 911 RSR, 581
8. Henzler/Long/Sellers (D/USA/USA), Porsche 911 RSR, 530

GTD class

1. Keating/Farnbacher/Carter/Wittmer/Lawrence (USA/D/USA/CH/USA), Dodge Viper SRT, 704 laps
2. MacNeil/Keen/van Gisbergen/Davis (USA/USA/NZ/USA), Porsche 911 GT America, 704
3. Snow/Heylen/Dempsey/Eng (USA/USA/USA/A), Porsche 911 GT America, 702