After eight hours of racing at the finale of the FIA World Endurance Championship WEC, the Porsche 963 was less than a second off claiming a podium spot. The Hertz Team Jota customer team crossed the finish line in fourth place at the Bahrain International Circuit. Porsche Penske Motorsport’s hybrid prototypes scored fifth and seventh. In the GTE Am class, the era of the Porsche 911 RSR in the FIA WEC ended with a win thanks to the Iron Dames team with the Belgian Sarah Bovy, Michelle Gatting from Denmark and Rahel Frey from Switzerland.
The eight-hour race got underway at 2 pm local time with air temperatures of almost 32 degrees Celsius and asphalt temperatures over 40 degrees. For the Porsche Penske Motorsport works squad, the order was thrown into disarray after the first corner: starting from P4 on the grid, Laurens Vanthoor had to run wide in his Porsche 963 to avoid a collision – which initially relegated the Belgian to ninth place. As the chase continued, a slight nudge with a GTE vehicle made it necessary to replace the front hood at the next pit stop. For the remainder of the race, the No. 6 Porsche systematically battled its way up the field and was back within reach of the podium. Ultimately, Vanthoor and his works driver teammates Kévin Estre from France and André Lotterer from Germany took the flag in fifth place.
The No. 5 sister car benefitted from the chaos in the sprint to the first corner and progressed to fourth place. However, the vehicle was unable to match the pace of its rivals, especially in the heat during the first half of the race. A problem with the speed limiter, which automatically regulates the speed on the track during a full course yellow, also earned the 514 kW (699 PS) Porsche two five-second penalties. Fréderic Makowiecki from France, the American Dane Cameron and Michael Christensen reached the finish in seventh place.
“We’ve experienced a season of mixed fortunes and still have a lot of work to do,” says Thomas Laudenbach, Vice President Porsche Motorsport. “But we’re seeing an upward trend and we were able to fight with the Ferraris today – that’s great news. I’m particularly impressed with the Hertz Team Jota squad’s strong performance – congratulations on fourth place. We definitely would’ve preferred a better result for the factory team. This was our first season with the Porsche 963, and we rebuilt a lot of things at the same time. That’s why we’re wrapping up the season feeling positive and looking ahead. Next year we will return significantly stronger. I’m also delighted for the Iron Dames team. The squad finally clinched its first class victory in the GTE Am, and thus brings the great era of the 911 RSR in the FIA WEC to a fitting end.”
“The last race of the 2023 season was not easy for all Porsche 963,” states Urs Kuratle, Director Factory Racing LMDh. “We at Porsche Penske Motorsport encountered a lot of minor incidents with both vehicles that we had to sort out during the race. And to be honest, it wasn’t our best race on the operational side, either. We had the speed because we were able to match the pace of the Ferraris and we also edged closer to the Toyotas. Congratulations to Hertz Team Jota!”
“We had a rough start into the race today and immediately lost important positions,” explains Jonathan Diuguid, Managing Director Porsche Penske Motorsport. “It took us a little while to fight our way back. We also sustained some damage on our number 6 Porsche 963. We had to change the nose which cost us some time and track positions. The number 5 sister car also had a rough day for various reasons. We picked up a few full-course-yellow speeding violations. Our drivers weren’t to blame for this. In general, we didn’t have the pace to fight the Toyotas today. That’s always our goal so we need to improve there. Still, as the season comes to an end we have a lot to be proud of and we have a lot to build on for the future. So we’re looking forward to the 2024 WEC season and of course the 24 Hours of Le Mans.”
The Porsche 963 fielded by Hertz Team Jota coped better with the midsummer conditions during the early part of the season finale: the LMDh hybrid prototype crewed by works driver António Félix da Costa from Portugal, William Stevens from the UK and Yifei Ye from China moved up to fourth place. Halfway through the eight-hour race, Félix da Costa even advanced to third place after overtaking a Ferrari. However, the Portuguese driver lost this position after a braking failure. He was also handed a drive-through penalty for hindering another competitor when he rejoined the track. Nevertheless, in a gripping sprint to the finish, the trio worked their way back up to fourth position.
Proton Competition wrapped up the eight-hour race in Bahrain in tenth place. The No. 99 Porsche 963 shared by Neel Jani from Switzerland, works driver Gianmaria Bruni from Italy and the UK driver Harry Tincknell also lost positions at the start.
Drivers’ comments on the race
André Lotterer (Porsche 963 #6): “Fifth place for us and seventh for our teammates is obviously not the result we wanted. We didn’t have the pace we needed to win today. Tyre wear on this asphalt took a toll on our car. We did our very best. Hopefully, we can continue to improve for next season because we want to fight for victory regularly.”
Frédéric Makowiecki (Porsche 963 #5): “We learned a lot this season and can be proud of where we are today. Of course, we have to continue to improve. The road to victory is certainly long. We’ll all keep working hard together over winter so that we can return in even better shape in 2024 and be in the fight for the championship.”
Yifei Ye (Porsche 963 #38): “It wasn’t an easy first time for me here in Bahrain. The tyre degradation on this track is huge. We got off to a good start from ninth place and profited from the confusion in the first corner. We could then fight with the two Ferraris. At one point we were even in third place – it’s a shame that we had to give up this podium place shortly before the finish because of a penalty. Still, fourth place is a great result.”
Gianmaria Bruni (Porsche 963 #99): “We had a tough day. Halfway through the race, we had a problem with the footrest in the cockpit, which hampered my braking. As a result, we lost time on the track and also during the pit stop to repair it. It’s annoying, but such things happen in motorsport – it’s all part of the learning process. We had some ups and downs in the six races with the Porsche 963 in the WEC and IMSA. We gained valuable experience that we can build on for the future.”
Rahel Frey (Porsche 911 RSR #85): “Simply fantastic – at last our first victory in the World Endurance Championship. We worked hard for this for five years. It finally all came together in the last race with the Porsche 911 RSR. For me, this is the reward we deserve for the tremendous effort we’ve put in. Today we’ll celebrate!”
1. Buemi/Hartley/Hirakawa (CH/NZ/J), Toyota #8, 249 laps
2. Conway/Kobayashi/Lopez (UK/J/ARG), Toyota #7, 249 laps
3. Fuoco/Molina/Nielsen (I/E/DK), Ferrari #50, 249 laps
4. Da Costa/Ye/Stevens (P/CHN/UK), Porsche 963 #38, 249 laps
5. Estre/Lotterer/Vanthoor (F/D/B), Porsche 963 #6, 248 laps
7. Cameron/Christensen/Makowiecki (USA/DK/F), Porsche 963 #5, 247 laps
10. Bruni/Tincknell/Jani (I/UK/CH), Porsche 963 #99, 247 laps
Full results: fiawec.alkamelsystems.com