Motorsport

Porsche Penske Motorsport eager to take home the IMSA Championship title

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

Porsche Penske Motorsport has a chance to sweep the title pool in the top GTP class at the final round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The factory squad travels to the 10-hour race at Road Atlanta in the US state of Georgia with its two Porsche 963 as the leaders of the manufacturers’ standings. The two driver crews Jaminet/Tandy and Campbell/Nasr also have a chance of winning the drivers’ championship, with the Porsche Penske Motorsport team within striking distance of clinching the team trophy. At the so-called “Petit Le Mans”, the customer teams JDC-Miller MotorSports and Proton Competition each field a 515+ kW (700 PS) hybrid prototype from Weissach. A total of five Porsche 911 GT3 R cars from experienced partner teams will tackle the two GT classes.

 For the nail-biting finale on the spectacular Road Atlanta racetrack, the regular drivers will be joined in the works cockpits by a third driver. Mathieu Jaminet from France and Nick Tandy from the UK share the No. 6 car with Belgian factory driver Laurens Vanthoor. In the No. 7 sister car, Matt Campbell from Australia and Felipe Nasr from Brazil will receive support from the American Josef Newgarden. During summer, Newgarden won the highlight of the North American Indycar racing series, the Indianapolis 500 for Team Penske. The trio from Porsche Penske Motorsport prepared for the “Petit Le Mans” with comprehensive test drives.

“Everything is on the line at this season’s last race of the new GTP era. We’d hoped for a finale like this – a dream for the fans and competitors,” says Thomas Laudenbach, Vice President of Porsche Motorsport. “In the last few months, we have made noticeable progress, both in terms of the car and in the processes of our young team. Our recent results have made this obvious. Our last win in Indianapolis gave us another significant boost. We’re heading into ‘Petit Le Mans’ feeling highly motivated and have a very clear goal: We want to celebrate a title in the first year with the Porsche 963!”

“Our team’s performance has become better and more consistent over the past few months. So, we’ve truly earned the title chances we now have,” says Urs Kuratle, looking ahead to the season finale. The Director of Factory Motorsport LMDh adds: “The competition in the new GTP class has been well-balanced and exciting throughout the entire season. It was always tight at the top. Accordingly, it’s the little things that make the difference between victory and defeat. Our team and drivers prepared meticulously for the finale at Road Atlanta during test drives. We’re ready to fight for the title.”

“The 2023 IMSA season could not come down to a more thrilling finish than what’s on tap for Petit Le Mans, with multiple drivers, teams, and manufacturers fighting to be the first GTP champion in this new era of sports car racing,” comments Jonathan Diuguid, Managing Director Porsche Penske Motorsport. “We’re very proud to have both of our cars in the hunt for the title and we are preparing behind the scenes to do everything we can to compete and race for not only the win but also the GTP title. Obviously, the path is a little bit easier for the No. 6 team: if the crew wins, they take the title. But the No. 7 crew still has an outside chance as well. We’re all looking forward to this race and we hope to secure some championship titles for Porsche and the global Porsche Penske Motorsport team.”

The race
The ten-hour “Petit Le Mans” race has been a regular fixture on the North American sports car calendar since 1988. The extremely popular event will be contested for the 26th time on the 4.088-kilometre Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. The undulating track located about 80 kilometres northeast of Atlanta in the US state of Georgia features twelve turns – including the famous ‘esses’, an ultra-fast, snake-like passage. On the tradition-steeped circuit close to the town of Braselton, weather conditions often play a critical role: autumn can bring hot temperatures and sunshine as well as torrential rain.

Such unpredictable weather handed Porsche its greatest success to date at Road Atlanta. In 2015, Nick Tandy (United Kingdom), Patrick Pilet (France) and Richard Lietz (Austria) outpaced the more powerful prototypes in heavy rain to clinch a sensational overall victory in the Porsche 911 RSR. So far it is Porsche’s only outright win at the classic in Georgia. To date, the Stuttgart sports car manufacturer has notched up a total of 24 class wins at the “Petit Le Mans”. The long-distance race over ten hours is part of the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup, which also includes the events in Daytona, Sebring and Watkins Glen. For Porsche, the race is significant for another reason: Atlanta is the headquarters of Porsche Cars North America.

The works cars

For the ten-hour race, three drivers will share driving duties in each of the two Porsche 963 fielded by Porsche Penske Motorsport. At the wheel of the No. 6 entry, which recently won in Indianapolis, regular drivers Nick Tandy from Great Britain and Mathieu Jaminet from France take turns with the Belgian Laurens Vanthoor. In the No. 7 sister car, Road America winners Matt Campbell from Australia and Felipe Nasr from Brazil will be joined in the cockpit by Josef Newgarden. As the reigning Indy 500 champion, the American IndyCar driver from Team Penske will be competing in the Porsche 963 for the first time. In preparation, Newgarden completed several tests, including on Road Atlanta.

The current situation in the championship fight

Ahead of the final race of the 2023 IMSA season, Porsche leads the manufacturers’ standings by a narrow eight-point margin. In the driver and team championships, the two Porsche Penske Motorsport crews rank third and fifth. With a win in Braselton, Nick Tandy and Mathieu Jaminet could take home the title. The gap to the top is only five points. Team colleagues Felipe Nasr and Matt Campbell would need support: the pair sits 73 points behind the leaders. Victory at Road Atlanta is rewarded with 350 points, with 35 additional points for pole position.

The customer teams

In the top GTP class, the customer teams JDC-Miller MotorSports and Proton Competition tackle the race with one Porsche 963 each. Germany’s Mike Rockenfeller and Tijmen van der Helm from the Netherlands are joined in the cockpit of the US team’s No. 5 car by the British Formula 1 world champion Jenson Button. Proton Competition’s No. 59 vehicle will be driven by Porsche works driver Gianmaria Bruni from Italy, Englishman Harry Tincknell and Neel Jani from Switzerland.

Pfaff Motorsports’ Porsche 911 GT3 R contests the GTD Pro category. The Canadian customer team’s No. 9 entry is shared by the Austrian Klaus Bachler, Frenchman Patrick Pilet and the French works driver Kévin Estre. The regular duo clinched class victory in Sebring in March with works driver Laurens Vanthoor. In the GTD class, three customers will field a total of four ca. 415 kW (565 PS) GT3 vehicles from Weissach.

Porsche 911 GT3 R, Pfaff Motorsports (#9), Klaus Bachler (A), Patrick Pilet (F)
Porsche 911 GT3 R, Pfaff Motorsports (#9), Klaus Bachler (A), Patrick Pilet (F)

Drivers’ comments before the race

Laurens Vanthoor (Porsche 963 #6): “Given my extensive experience in the IMSA series and my great love for the American racetracks, I really hoped to be taking part here. The fact that I get to compete in the ‘Petit Le Mans’ in the Porsche 963 is a great pleasure for me. On the other hand, the situation as a third driver is always a bit strange. I’ll do my job as well as I can and try to hand over the car to my colleagues Mathieu and Nick in a favourable position. Then, they can drive to the title. That’s the big goal.”

Josef Newgarden (Porsche 963 #7): “I’ve been fortunate enough to get some testing in over the last few weeks behind the wheel of the Porsche 963 and it’s been a blast to drive. My teammates have worked very hard to get me up to speed and to ensure I’m comfortable as we prepare for Petit. I’m absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to drive in the top class at this legendary race and to help Porsche Penske Motorsport have a shot at the championship with both cars. My goal is to drive the car to be best of my abilities, make no mistakes, and hand the Porsche 963 over to my teammates in one piece and in a good position. If we can do that, we’ll be successful.”

Neel Jani (Porsche 963 #59): “It’s always wonderful to return to the stage of great success. I’ve already won the ‘Petit Le Mans’ twice and I’m competing there now for the first time since my victory in 2013. It’ll be another big challenge for us drivers and our team, Proton Competition. We’re still in the learning stage and continue to gain new and important insights with every single lap. As always in the IMSA Series races, the same principle applies at Road Atlanta due to the frequent yellow phases: You need to be well positioned in the final hours of the race and have a car that runs perfectly in the dark. I’m really looking forward to my return to this track.”

Klaus Bachler (Porsche 911 GT3 R #9): “Our chances of winning the title in the GTD Pro class are more of a theoretical exercise, but second place is still definitely within reach. Our Porsche 911 GT3 R was right on the money in the last few races. We’ve always been in a position to fight for class wins. I’m assuming that’ll also be the case at Road Atlanta. For me personally, the track is new territory. I’ve never been there in real life but I’ve gained a heap of knowledge from the simulator. The track is extremely fast; a real spectacle for the fans. The different speeds between the car classes and the ever-looming threat of rain and thunderstorms make it all the more exciting. It’s these factors that could ultimately determine who wins the title.”

Overview of cars and drivers

GTP class (Porsche 963):
JDC-Miller MotorSports #5: Mike Rockenfeller (D) / Tijmen van der Helm (NL) / Jenson Button (UK)
Porsche Penske Motorsport #6: Mathieu Jaminet (F) / Nick Tandy (UK) / Laurens Vanthoor (B)
Porsche Penske Motorsport #7: Matt Campbell (AUS) / Felipe Nasr (BR) / Josef Newgarden (USA)
Proton Competition #59: Gianmaria Bruni (I) / Harry Tincknell (UK) / Neel Jani (CH)

GTD-Pro class (Porsche 911 GT3 R):
Pfaff Motorsports #9: Klaus Bachler (A) / Patrick Pilet (F) / Kévin Estre (F)

GTD class (Porsche 911 GT3 R):
Wright Motorsports #16: Ryan Hardwick (USA) / Jan Heylen (B) / Zacharie Robichon (CDN)
Wright Motorsports #77: Alan Brynjolfsson (USA) / Trent Hindman (USA) / Maxwell Root (USA)
AO Racing #80: PJ Hyett (USA) / Sebastian Priaulx (UK) / Gunnar Jeannette (USA)
Kellymoss with Riley #92: David Brule (USA) / Alec Udell (USA) / Julien Andlauer (F)

The schedule (local time, CEST -6 hours)
Thursday, 12 October

9:50 am – 11:20 am: Free practice 1
2:35 pm – 4:20 pm: Free practice 2
7:30 pm – 9:00 pm: Free practice 3

Friday, 13 October
3:20 pm – 5:35 pm: Qualifying GTD-Pro/GTD
4:10 pm – 4:30 pm: Qualifying GTP

Saturday, 14 October
8:45 am – 9:05 am: Warmup
11:40 am – 9:40 pm: Race

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