Porsche Penske Motorsport heads into the first round of the FIA World Endurance Championship well-prepared. During the two-day test drives at Lusail International Circuit in Qatar, the two factory Porsche 963 covered a total of 449 laps. Next Saturday, the same venue will host the season-opening race of the 2024 season. The three identical, 505 kW (687 PS) hybrid prototypes of Hertz Team Jota and Proton Competition were equally convincing during the FIA WEC’s so-called Prologue. In the new LMGT3 class, Manthey gained some first experience with their two Porsche 911 GT3 R on the Formula 1 track near the Qatari capital Doha.

Porsche 963, Porsche Penske Motorsport (#5), Matt Campbell (AUS), Michael Christensen (DK), Frédéric Makowiecki (F)

The FIA WEC prologue, originally planned for Saturday and Sunday, was postponed and shortened due to delays in the transport of equipment. The management of the World Endurance Championship scheduled four sessions on Monday and Tuesday at short notice. While the customer team Hertz Team Jota decided to take part in the first training session on Monday afternoon, the Porsche 963 from Porsche Penske Motorsport and Proton Competition as well as the Porsche 911 GT3 R from Manthey EMA and Manthey PureRxcing only went out on the track from the second session.

The results after the two-day prologue were extremely positive: A Porsche 963 topped the time list in each of the four sessions. In total, the seven racing cars from Weissach covered 8,820 kilometres and set a strong pace even over long distances. The fastest lap time of the entire test was set by works driver Frédéric Makowiecki (France) at the wheel of the No. 5 Porsche 963 in 1:40.404 minutes on Tuesday afternoon. The No. 12 car fielded by Hertz Team Jota was only around a tenth of a second slower.

Porsche 963, Proton Competition (#99), Harry Tincknell (UK), Neel Jani (CH), Julien Andlauer (F)

“The results of our factory team looked significantly better on the second day as on Monday. However, you can’t read too much into the timesheets,” explains Urs Kuratle, Director of Factory Motorsport LMDh. “We did our homework and worked meticulously through the extensive to-do plan. We were only concerned with minimal issues – no drama at all. It was a successful test that once again boosted our confidence as we head into the new season. We are definitely better sorted than we were at the start of our debut year in 2023.”

“The prologue went very smoothly for us on both days,” states Jonathan Diuguid. The Managing Director Porsche Penske Motorsport added: “It was incomparable to what we experienced at the prologue in Sebring last year – a significant leap forward in all respects. We started the year well in the FIA WEC and are now looking forward to the start of the first race weekend.”

Porsche 911 GT3 R, Manthey EMA (#91), Yasser Shahin (AUS), Morris Schuring (NL), Richard Lietz (A)

Hertz Team Jota was the first to shine in the prologue. The British customer team completed several long runs in the first two training sessions and took the lead in the overall ranking with the Porsche 963. The team of ex-Formula 1 world champion Jenson Button from Great Britain turned a total of 491 laps on both days and was systematically preparing for the first FIA WEC race of the season in Qatar. The 505 kW (687 PS) hybrid car from Proton Competition picked up speed as the prologue progressed. The two Porsche 911 GT3 R campaigned by Manthey EMA and Manthey PureRxcing impressed with consistent lap times and covered 2,779 kilometres. The two up to 415 kW (565 PS) 911 entries will tackle the new LMGT3 class.

The “Qatar 1812 km” season opener will kick off next Saturday at 11:00 a.m. local time (9:00 a.m. CET). The race over a planned 1,812 kilometres will run over a maximum of ten hours. Due to the length of the first race of the season, the normal World Championship points will be multiplied by a factor of 1.5.

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Drivers’ comments after the prologue of the FIA WEC in Doha

Michael Christensen (Porsche 963 #5): “We tested numerous settings and gained many insights. We’ve made noticeable progress in terms of setup and vehicle balance. The car already felt good, but we’ll continue to work on a few things in the free practice sessions.”

André Lotterer (Porsche 963 #6): “We had a lot of track time and gained plenty of impressions and data. The focus was on understanding the vehicle behaviour and the tyres – all in the interest of the best possible race preparation. The results of the prologue were positive. Now, we have to optimise everything even further for the season opener.”

Norman Nato (Porsche 963 #12): “The prologue went really well for us. We had no issues with the car. Our last test was several weeks ago, so our work schedule coming into the season opener was intense. It was just nice to drive the Porsche 963 again to get to know everything better. We tried out several potential settings for the systems. Of course, it was also about finding a setup for a steady pace over long distances. The first race of the season spans ten hours. It’s not all about the fastest lap time, but about drivability and consistency. We’re feeling well prepared.”

Porsche 963, Hertz Team Jota (#12), Will Stevens (UK), Callum Ilott (UK), Norman Nato (F); Hertz Team Jota (#38). Jenson Button (UK), Phil Hanson (UK), Oliver Rasmussen (DK)

Oliver Rasmussen (Porsche 963 #38): “I was extremely excited to see how the prologue would go. For me personally, the step from the LMP2 class to the Porsche 963 is a big one. But everything went perfectly. Both cars drove a lot of clean laps. It was important that we put in plenty of kilometres on the track in Qatar. Compared to an LMP2 car, the hypercar is much better in slow and medium-fast corners. This is what racing a car should feel like! I’m already looking forward to hopping back into the cockpit. I still have a lot to learn, but I’m getting there. I’m expecting an entertaining race on Saturday. I can’t wait.”

Neel Jani (Porsche 963 #99): “We weren’t able to make the most of the test time because we were in the pits more than the others. That wasn’t ideal. Especially if we want to compete with the works teams that have already tested on this track. Everything is new for us. We’re trying to learn the most we can in the shortest time possible. We have no other option. The prologue was a very important event for us, as it gave us the chance to prepare quite well for the race weekend. I’m expecting an exciting race that will be spearheaded by strategy.”

Porsche 963, Porsche Penske Motorsport (#6), Kevin Estre (F), Andre Lotterer (D), Laurens Vanthoor (B)

Yasser Shahin (Porsche 911 GT3 R #91): “It was an excellent two days of testing for us in Qatar. Looking at the timesheets, you might get the impression that we lacked pace. But that’s not as important as one might think. The important thing is that the handling of the 911 GT3 R is very predictable. That’s paramount for the race. The team gels very well, the chemistry is definitely there. I feel comfortable and enjoy this environment.”

Joel Sturm (Porsche 911 GT3 R #92): “We’ve pinpointed a few small things that we need to work on. We’ll have sorted that out before the race. It looks like our competitors are a little faster. However, we’ll make a few adjustments to the setup so we can maintain a good pace over the distance. I expect the competition to be exciting and very close. We’ve been dealt good cards.”

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Edited Porsche Factory Press Release
Pictures & Video courtesy Tim Havermans and Porsche AG