Preview, IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, round 11, Braselton/USA
Porsche tackles the final round of the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship 2018 in Braselton, Georgia (11 to 13 October) with its cars sporting the historic factory livery from 1998. Painted with the distinctive blue and red-orange stripes, the two Porsche 911 RSR racers evoke memories of the 911 GT1, which scored overall victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1998. Twenty years ago, an identical model started from pole position in the famous Road Atlanta race. It was at the inaugural running of the event under the name “Petit Le Mans”. Facing Ferrari, BMW, Ford and Chevrolet, the Porsche GT Team now aims to build on those unforgettable successes with the two 510 hp race vehicles from Weissach.
For many drivers, the 4.088-kilometre racetrack in the US state of Georgia ranks high in the popularity stakes. The so-called “esses” (turns 2 through 5) in the first sector pose a huge challenge for drivers. Courage and utmost precision combined with a perfect car setup are essential in this fast passage. At the 20 races (each over ten hours or 1,000 kilometres) contested here so far, Porsche has scored a total of 23 class wins. In 2015, the works team from Weissach beat even the prototypes to clinch overall victory. “Petit Le Mans” is also the final race of the North American Endurance Cup (NAEC). In this competition, which encompasses the races at Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen and Road Atlanta, the Porsche GT Team currently ranks second overall.
The Porsche drivers
Each of the two Porsche 911 RSR vehicles will be driven by three pilots at the long-distance race at Road Atlanta. Sharing the cockpit of the No. 911 Porsche are Patrick Pilet (France), Nick Tandy (Great Britain) and Frenchman Frédéric Makowiecki. In March, these three won the Sebring 12-hour race. After securing second at Laguna Seca, Laurens Vanthoor (Belgium) and Earl Bamber (New Zealand) will be joined in the No. 912 cockpit by Porsche Young Professional Mathieu Jaminet (France). The customer sport team Wright Motorsports fields the No. 58 Porsche 911 GT3 R with works driver Patrick Long from the USA, Porsche Selected Driver Christina Nielsen (Denmark) and Robert Renauer from Austria. Sharing driving duties in the No. 73 Porsche 911 GT3 R sports car of Park Place Motorsports is the works driver Wolf Henzler (Germany) and the two Americans Spencer Pumpelly and Timothy Pappas.
The Porsche vehicles
For the second race season, the 911 RSR was optimised primarily in the setup. Depending on the size of the restrictor, the motor, which is positioned in front of the rear axle, puts out around 375 kW (510 hp). The particularly large rear diffuser combined with a top-mounted rear wing provides strong downforce and aerodynamic efficiency. The ca. 368kW (500 hp) 911 GT3 R was designed for worldwide GT3 series. The vehicle is campaigned by customer teams, for whom Porsche has provided an evo-kit in 2018.
The race takes off on Saturday, 13 October, at 11.10 hrs local time (17.10 hrs CEST) and can be viewed live outside the USA and Canada on www.imsa.com.
Dr Frank-Steffen Walliser (Vice President Motorsport and GT Cars): “For us, the 2018 season in North America has had its highs and lows. Our two Porsche 911 RSR racers always had the speed to compete amongst the frontrunners in the tough GTLM competition. In many cases luck just wasn’t on our side. At Road Atlanta we again have the chance to demonstrate our true potential and turn it into a great result. Our Sebring victory underlined that races over longer distances suit us best. On top of this, there’s additional motivation at Petit Le Mans. In addition to Daytona, Sebring and Watkins Glen, the season finale counts towards the North American Endurance Cup. We currently rank second in this classification. Let’s see if we can do more in the overall standings.”
Pascal Zurlinden (Director GT Factory Motorsport): “We experienced two real highlights with our victories at Sebring and Mid-Ohio. Now it’s time for the third one. Petit Le Mans marks the end of the season and it’s our last chance to once again emphasise the great potential of cars, team and drivers. We’re well prepared to tackle the tough competition in our class. The name of the game over the ten-hour distance is to be tactically clever and stay out of trouble, even if the conditions get difficult. We’re ready for the final race of the year.”
Sebastian Golz (Project Manager 911 GT3 R): “The circuit throws big challenges at us, for example the first corner and the fast “esses”. The car has to be set up with extremely low ground clearance to maximise the aerodynamics. At the same time, you have to find a compromise, because the underbody takes some big hits, especially in Turn 3. Over the ten-hour race, the components have to withstand extreme loads. But, as the previous races have shown, we’re well prepared. After securing second last year, we now want to fight for victory with our teams.”
Patrick Pilet (Porsche 911 RSR #911): “I hope the race at Road Atlanta will be a successful end of the season for us. I have fond memories of the event – particularly our win three years ago. Our vehicle has always been well setup and fast there, and that’ll certainly be the case this year. Plus, Frédéric’s in the car again. The winning trio from Sebring is back together. These are the best prerequisites for another success.”
Nick Tandy (Porsche 911 RSR #911): “This race has always been one of the toughest on the calendar. The racetrack puts huge stresses on the material, especially the tyres. For us drivers it’s often exhausting and even more so for the team. Many pit stops and countless strategic decisions have to be made during the ten-hours of racing. We’ve always had great races at Road Atlanta in the past and it shouldn’t be any different this time.”
Frédéric Makowiecki (Porsche 911 RSR #911): “Returning to the USA for the last race of the season is a highlight for me. I still feel good about our win at Sebring. Our team is well positioned and we’ll be able to fight amongst the frontrunners. Anything can happen at an endurance race in North America, and it often does – right up to the last race lap. We have to focus and knuckle down to the job at hand. I would very much like to stand on the podium again with my teammates – preferably on the top step.”
Laurens Vanthoor (Porsche 911 RSR #912): “The 2018 season seems to have flown by. Now we’re facing the big classic at Road Atlanta. We definitely want to conclude the season with a success. We’ll do everything we can to achieve this. Petit Le Mans is always exciting, exhausting and unpredictable. This makes it spectacular, not only for fans but also for the teams and all the drivers. I’m particularly looking toward to racing in the design of my favourite race car – the 911 GT1 from 1998.”
Earl Bamber (Porsche 911 RSR #912): “Porsche has celebrated many great successes on this racetrack. It shows that the team, driver and car can master this difficult race perfectly. We’re feeling totally motivated and, of course, we’re looking forward to this event. The competition at Road Atlanta is always something special. Everyone wants to end the season with a real bang – including me and my teammates of course. I’m eager to get going.”
Mathieu Jaminet (Porsche 911 RSR #912): “I’m very grateful to Porsche for this chance. It’ll be my first outing in the works team’s 911 RSR. During the tests I got to know the car and the procedures, but it’s still a big step for me. I know very little about the characteristics of the tyres, and I know the racetrack from testing there. With this in mind, I’m facing a huge challenge. I’ll do my very best to help my teammates and the entire squad. Hopefully we can achieve a great success together.”
Patrick Long (Porsche 911 GT3 R #58): “This is always one of the toughest races of the year. It runs over ten hours, nine of which you can call a sprint. The storied circuit is totally unforgiving of errors. It’s a relatively short track with a lot of cars. There’s always heavy traffic and often safety cars phases. Ten vehicles in our GTD category are capable of winning. But we’re well prepared and we want to conclude the season with a podium result. For that, we have to drive a flawless race.”
Christina Nielsen (Porsche 911 GT3 R #58): “Road Atlanta is one of my all-time favourite racetracks. I drove my first race in the USA here and I immediately fell in love with American motor racing. We’ve had a strong second half of the season and we’d like to continue this trend. Now we have to switch from sprint to endurance mode. A lot can happen in a ten-hour race, but we’re well prepared. We’re aiming for another win!”
Wolf Henzler (Porsche 911 GT3 R #73): “I’m very much looking forward to racing at Road Atlanta. We have a strong car, a great team and I have experienced teammates at my side. Still, we’ve never driven together in this constellation. Initially some things will need ironing out. I’ve contested Petit Le Mans often and I’ve experienced a lot there. On top of changing weather conditions, driving in the dark is something quite special. In the last two hours of racing you have to be ready. That’s our big goal.”