Just 13 days after the success in Portimão, Porsche Penske Motorsport has narrowly missed out on claiming another podium result. Michael Christensen from Denmark, American Dane Cameron and Frédéric Makowiecki from France finished the six-hour race at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium in fourth place at the wheel of the Porsche 963 hybrid prototype. Cool asphalt temperatures and tricky conditions as well as multiple incidents on the 7.004-kilometre racetrack defined round three of the FIA World Endurance Championship WEC. As the first team to run a private LMDh vehicle, Hertz Team Jota concluded the race in the Ardennes in sixth place. For the Porsche customer team, works driver António Félix da Costa from Portugal, William Stevens from the UK and Yifei Ye shared the cockpit. The Chinese racer is the selected driver from Porsche Motorsport Asia-Pacific. In the GTE-Am category, Proton Competition achieved the best result for a Porsche 911 RSR in fourth place with its crew Ryan Hardwick from the USA, Canadian Zacharie Robichon and Harry Tincknell (UK).
“We only lost the podium spot on the very last lap and finished fourth – so that’s very disappointing,” concludes Thomas Laudenbach after round three of the season. The Vice President of Porsche Motorsport adds: “The team did a good job. Our strategy was first class and we made the right tyre choice at the start. Still, we have to recognise that because of the current balance of power, things have been out of reach for us so far. We have to shake off today’s result and continue working hard on further improvements.”
For the No. 5 Porsche 963, round three started with a handicap: the electric clutch control made work difficult for the first-stint driver Michael Christensen. At the first pit stop, the problem was solved by rebooting the system. The Dane then took up the chase and also benefitted from safety car phases caused by accidents. When he handed the car over to Dane Cameron, he was back in third place. With a good 100 minutes left on the clock, Frédéric Makowiecki as the third driver continued in sixth place. When the Porsche safety car was deployed for the fourth time a few minutes later, this played into the hands of the works-trio: they moved back up to third place. Makowiecki defended this spot until the last lap but had to allow a Ferrari to overtake due to the deteriorating performance of the rear tyres.
The sister car driven by Kévin Estre (France), André Lotterer (Germany) and start driver Laurens Vanthoor had to retire early. Despite cool track temperatures, the Belgian made perfect use of the team’s bold tyre choice on the drying track: on slicks, he catapulted from sixth place to second within a few minutes. Shortly before the second pit stop, the No. 6 racer rolled to a stop at the start of the finish straight with an electrical problem on lap 54.
“That was a tough day in Spa,” concludes Jonathan Diuguid, Managing Director Porsche Penske Motorsport. “Our number 6 car retired due to a technical fault – now we have to fully investigate the cause. We did a good job with our number 5 vehicle and opted for an ideal strategy. However, we simply weren’t fast enough. We have to see where we can improve and make further progress. On the operational side, things ran perfectly.”
The Hertz Team Jota squad impressed with its strong performance. Works driver António Félix da Costa managed to overtake three rivals in the first lap and advance to fourth place. Bad luck with the safety car phases at a later stage cost the Porsche customer squad a few positions. Thanks to their steady performance, the Portuguese racer and his teammates Yifei Ye and William Stevens still achieved a remarkable result with sixth place: Hertz Team Jota had only taken over the first privately-run Porsche 963 on Friday of the previous week and was thrown in the deep end, so to speak, at Spa-Francorchamps with the 500 kW (680 PS) hybrid prototype.
Best Porsche 911 RSR finishes GTE-Am category in fourth place
In the GTE-Am category, the 911 RSR fielded by the Porsche customer teams Iron Dames and Proton Competition fought for podium positions over long stretches: the all-female crew Sarah Bovy (Belgium), Rahel Frey (Switzerland) and Michelle Gatting (Denmark) spent stints in the lead, especially early on in the six-hour race. Ultimately, the Iron Dames clinched fifth in their class behind the 911 driven by Ryan Hardwick (USA), Zacharie Robichon (CDN) and Harry Tincknell (UK).
Round four of the FIA World Endurance Championship WEC marks the highlight of the season: The 24 Hours of Le Mans will be contested on 10 and 11 June. This year, the traditional event celebrates its 100th anniversary.
Drivers’ comments after the race
Dane Cameron (Porsche 963 #5): “After a difficult qualifying, we fought our way back in the race and did a great job as a team all in all. We encountered minor problems during the six-hour race, but we overcame them well. The balance of our car was markedly better today and our pace was noticeably faster. A podium result was within reach but unfortunately, we missed out at the very last moment. Next up is Le Mans. We’ll do our absolute best to get even more performance out of our Porsche 963 there.”
Laurens Vanthoor (Porsche 963 #6): “As I drove through the last chicane, suddenly the entire electrical system failed. I ran through certain procedures to restart the system but unfortunately that didn’t work. We still have to analyse what exactly happened. It’s a real shame because our race was going really well up to that point. Our strategy played out perfectly, and the car felt great to drive. We made the right decision to opt for slicks, especially at the start.”
António Félix da Costa (Porsche 963 #38): “We took possession of the car just a few days before this race weekend and basically jumped in the deep end. The fact that we could complete the six-hour race under these circumstances without any technical setbacks deserves huge credit. The team did an incredible job. We didn’t even push the car to the limit – our priority was to turn as many laps as possible and collect as much data as we could. Now we’ll take a close look at everything, go testing and then head to Le Mans even stronger.”
Zacharie Robichon (Porsche 911 RSR #88): “It was an exciting race – as always at Spa. The weather in the Ardennes always plays a major role. At the start, Ryan drove clean stints. Because we were able to get our Porsche’s tyres up to temperature faster than some of our rivals, I even managed to take the lead in the GTE-Am class. But on the flip side, we struggled with deteriorating tyres at the end of our stints and lost time again as a result. We made the most out of it. Still, fourth place in motor racing is an extremely painful result.”
1. Conway/Kobayashi/Lopez (UK/J/ARG), Toyota #7, 148 laps
2. Buemi/Hartley/Hirakawa (CH/NZ/J), Toyota #8, 148 laps
3. Pier Guidi/Calado/Giovinazzi (I/UK/I), Ferrari #51, 148 laps
4. Cameron/Christensen/Makowieki (USA/DK/F), Porsche 963 #5, 148 laps
6. Félix da Costa/Stevens/Ye (P/UK/CHN), Porsche 963 #38, 147 laps
DNF Estre/Lotterer/Vanthoor (F/D/B), Porsche 963 #6
1. Perez Companc/Wadoux/Rovera (ARG/F/I), Ferrari #83, 140 laps
2. Keating/Varrone/Catsburg (USA/ARG/NL), Corvette #33, 140 laps
3. Al Harthy/Dinan/Eastwood (OMN/USA/IRL), Aston Martin #25, 140 laps
4. Hardwick/Robichon/Tincknell (USA/CDN/UK), Porsche 911 RSR #88, 139 laps
5. Bovy/Gatting/Frey (B/DK/CH), Porsche 911 RSR #85, 139 laps
10. Ried/Pedersen/Andlauer (D/DK/F), Porsche 911 RSR #77, 138 laps
11. Schiavoni/Cressoni/Picariello (I/I/B), Porsche 911 RSR #60, 137 laps
12. Wainwright/Pera/Barker (UK/I/UK), Porsche 911 RSR #86, 136 laps
Full results: http://fiawec.alkamelsystems.com.
Picture Gallery FIA WEC Total Energies Spa 6 Hours
Book your hotel in Le Mans
Edited Porsche Factory Press Release
Pictures courtesy Porsche AG and Tim Havermans