Porsche Penske Motorsport’s World Endurance Championship team is heading into the 2023 season finale and the offseason with a spring in its step, hoping to build on its strong showing at Fuji last time out.
In Japan, Porsche led more than half the race, its No. 6 963 fending off the Toyota attack until the fourth set of pit stops were completed. It marked the first time that an LMDh-spec prototype truly looked capable of taking a win on pace over Toyota and Ferrari’s LMH-spec challengers this season.
This is something that Porsche hopes will continue into this weekend’s eight-hour finale and next season. No. 6 driver Kevin Estre says the performance at Fuji was a real boost for everyone involved in the program.
“It was promising,” he told RACER. “Laurens (Vanthoor) made a great start and gave me the car in the lead with a gap. We knew Toyota was coming but I made no mistakes. I enjoyed leading but it was stressful because if I made any mistakes, they would pass and win it. It took a lot of strength mentally.
“For this week, I think this circuit is going to be OK for us. There is a lot of straight-line braking and we have been strong there for the last few races.”
Andre Lotterer echoed his teammate’s thoughts.
“It was very encouraging at Fuji — it’s always good to be on the podium knowing you could have done better,” he said. “Still, we need more performance but we are operating and executing very well.”
Porsche’s steps in improving the car’s impact on tire life will play a big role in allowing it to compete in Bahrain, on what is a notoriously abrasive circuit.
“This is a race about degradation, and mostly on the rear tires,” Estre said. “We are top three in that category, but Toyota is the best. This race will be won in that department, but if we have a good balance and execute well there’s no reason we can’t challenge them.
“We understand our car better — we control the ride better and understand the aero balance better. Since Monza, we have been better on tire life but obviously, if we are three-tenths off we will be nowhere.
“We have made a lot of steps on setup throughout the season and hopefully, the testing we do in the offseason is going to help us be on a level with Toyota and Ferrari.”
Porsche has also been handed a 7kg weight break for this weekend’s race as part of the first “Platform BoP” change of the season, meaning Cadillac’s V-Series.R will also benefit from the tweak.
Platform BoP changes differ from the standard BoP changes that have been made at various points throughout the season. A platform change means all cars running to the same ruleset will receive an identical adjustment, rather than an individual tweak.
This type of change has been introduced this season to coincide with the first wave of LMDh prototypes joining the championship. It is in place to create an even playing field for the LMDh and LMH cars and reduce the temptation to sandbag. While helpful, Lotterer doesn’t believe this adjustment will make an enormous difference in terms of outright performance.
“It will bring us a little closer, but it’s not much — maybe one-tenth with those kilos. It’s hard to predict,” he said. “This is the first time on track here for us with the car, so we have no historical data to pull from. We are just hoping to do better than Fuji.”
Porsche is focusing its development efforts on reliability to bolster its prospects in the endurance rounds. Motorsport Images
What may prove a significant difference, however, is Porsche’s raft of upgrades for the 2024 season. Porsche Penske Motorsport’s managing director Jonathan Diuguid told RACER the planned improvements are all reliability-focused and should improve its chances in the longer races.
“We adhere to a very clearly defined process,” he explained. “All of the updates we are requesting and discussing with the FIA, ACO and IMSA are for reliability. After running the car for a year we have exposed things we didn’t see in testing and our goal is to have reliable cars that can perform at the highest level at longer races like Le Mans. And Le Mans showed we weren’t prepared for that.
“We aren’t focusing on performance, we are focused on things like driver cooling and we have had driveline issues we are trying to address. We are also working on updates to components on the hybrid system that we are working on with our partners at Bosch. They are bringing quite a big update for the MGU that every LMDh car will get.
“It’s improving those areas that have taken us out of races or severely reduced our performance.”
Leaving reliability to one side, Year 1 of the 963’s life in the WEC its outright performance hasn’t been strong enough to allow it to gun for wins consistently. Despite this, Diuguid reiterated that Porsche hasn’t been pushing the rule-makers for permission to make performance upgrades, due to the BoP system and defined performance window that the category and its ruleset are governed by. The 963 has shown race-winning potential in IMSA’s GTP class, winning three races during its debut season.
“I think the ruleset is clearly defined with what the performance target for the LMDh cars has been,” he said. “The targets, whether that’s testing in the wind tunnel or the minimum weight, have been met, so our focus has been on what we can control. We are involved in discussions, like all manufacturers are, on the BoP process and those working groups have been fruitful.
“Hence our focus is reliability,” he continued. “The process is you bring a request, a justification as to why you need the request, either explaining your failure or showing the issues you’ve had. It’s an open dialogue and a process that every manufacturer goes through.
“It’s difficult but it’s up to the sanctioning bodies to determine what they feel is a performance upgrade and what isn’t. It’s not an argument, it’s a presentation of what we want to change. It’s up to them to come back and say, ‘If you want to bring this upgrade, you need to go to the wind tunnel.’ It’s been quite open.”
Over the winter, Porsche will continue to gather data and refine its package ahead of its sophomore campaign with the car. It has tests scheduled for multiple key circuits, including Qatar and Daytona.