Porsche Penske Motorsports' Laguna Seca Win Has Roger Penske Calling His Shot at Le Mans

world endurance championship wec 6 hours of spa
Roger Penske Already Calling His Shot at Le MansQian Jun/MB Media - Getty Images
  • This past weekend, a Roger Penske-led Porsche team won an IMSA race at Laguna Seca and a finished second in a World Endurance Championship race at Spa in Belgium.

  • At Spa, the Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 captured the 100th pole for a Penkse sports car entry.

  • At Laguna Seca, a Porsche Penske entry nailed down the 100th sports car win in Roger Penske's career.

When Roger Penske had just turned a spry 85 years old, I asked him if he continued to maintain his rigorous flying schedule on board his private aircraft? Always a hands-on leader, his answer was typically succinct. “I have more than 70,000 employees.”


None of those employees keep the billionaire in the air more often than his race teams.

Now 87, this past weekend the legendary frequent flyer watched a Porsche Penske Motorsport 963 start the WEC race from the pole at Spa in Belgium, the 1o0th pole by a Penske sports car entry. A day later, he was in California to watch a Penske Porsche 963 win the IMSA WeatherTech Championship race at Laguna Seca, his team’s 100th sports car victory.

6 porsche penske motorsports, porsche 963, gtp mathieu jaminet, nick tandy, 31 whelen cadillac racing, cadillac v seriesr, gtp pipo derani, jack aitken
Porsche Penske rolls to the 100th sports car win for a Roger Penske-led operation.IMSA Photo

“Now we’re setting our sights on Le Mans,” he declared.

That’s as close the buttoned-up businessman ever comes to predicting a victory. If he is calling a shot, who can blame him?

At Laguna, Penske watched Nick Tandy take the lead from the Cadillac V-Series.R of Jack Aitken with 12 minutes remaining in a fraught race around the chiseled outcroppings of Monterey in front of one of the largest crowds at the track in the past 10 years. That “pardon me” pass in traffic brought Tandy and teammate Mathieu Jaminet their first GTP hybrid victory of the IMSA season and the second Porsche Penske victory in four races. Felipe Nasr and Dane Cameron, winners at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, finished third in the No. 7 Penske entry, maintaining their 50-point championship lead over Action Express drivers Aitken and Pipo Derani.

Headed into Le Mans on June 15-16, the WEC team of Penske has helped propel Porsche to a hefty 23-point lead in the manufacturer’s championship over Toyota after a season-opening victory. In the driver’s championship, The Penske drivers of the No. 06 Porsche—Kevin Estre, Laurens Vanthoor and Andre Lotterer—have a 22-point lead over Porsche customer drivers Will Stevens and Callum Ilott of Team JOTA and a 46-point margin on the closest Toyota challengers in third place—Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Nyck de Vries.

world endurance championship wec 6 hours of spa
The No. 6 Porsche Penske Motorsport entry of drivers Laurens Vanthoor, Andre Lotterer and Kevin Estre lead the WEC Drivers’ Championship standings.Eurasia Sport Images - Getty Images

“The success of Porsche Penske Motorsport this season is a reflection of the hard work and commitment by our team members and our partners to build this program,” said Penske, whose NASCAR team is defending Ryan Blaney’s 2023 Cup championship and whose IndyCar team heads back to the Indy 500 to defend Josef Newgarden’s victory last year. “We’ve got a deep bench,” he added.

Once again, Porsche Penske Motorsport has entered three 963s at Le Mans in pursuit of the manufacturer’s first victory since 2017 and a long sought first overall victory by Penske. Three of the regulars from IMSA—Tandy, Jaminet and Nasr—will drive the No. 04 entry, joining the two regular WEC entries, where Matt Campbell, Federic Makowecki and Michael Christensen drive the No. 05 Porsche.

Coming into the second season of the current hybrid prototypes, it was an open question if the LMDh prototypes used in IMSA and their common platforms would be able to compete with the purpose-built Hypercars of Ferrari, Toyota and Peugeot in the WEC and at Le Mans. Would the Balance of Performance as determined by Le Mans organizers enable the LMDh cars to compete head-to-head for victories?

The success of the Porsche Penske Motorsport entries and customer teams like JOTA, which beat Ferrari’s factory 499Ps in the six-hour race at Spa with the aid of a timely red flag, confirm that the BOP has held up for the LMDh entries of Porsche. They share the same hybrid system with Acura, BMW, Cadillac and Lamborghini, all of which will have entries at Le Mans except Acura.

But it’s always difficult to predict how the officials at the Automobile Club de L’Ouest may interpret their rulebook. Toyota’s Gazoo Racing team, a heavy favorite after three straight wins last year with its GR010 Hybrid, never recovered from a surprise interpretation by the ACO of its agreement with teams to make no BOP changes before Le Mans. A resulting new BOP for all manufacturers just prior to the test weekend ultimately resulted in a highly popular win by Ferrari’s 499P in its first factory appearance at the Circuit de la Sarthe in 50 years.

Judging by the retrospective photographs of the Penske team’s history found in Le Mans shop windows last year, a win by his team and the return of Porsche to the top step of the podium would likely be very popular. It would also boost attendance at IMSA’s WeatherTech Championship events in a year already witnessing a bumper crop of fans showing up to watch the GTP hybrids.

The GTP victory on Sunday enabled Porsche to notch an impressive 600th victory in IMSA, including 37 posted by Penske. The GTD Pro class-winning Porsche 911 GT3 R of AO Racing, driven by Seb Priaulx and Lauren Heinrich, then made it 601 victories when it took the checkered flag a short while later. In GTD, the Mercedes AMG GT3 of Winward Racing’s Philip Ellis and Russell Ward took a third win in four races.

Penske now counts six sports car victories at Laguna, which he calls “one of my favorite tracks.”

“The Captain” used to call strategy on one of his two Porsche RS Spyder entries when those LMP2 cars did battle with the LMP-1 class Audis for overall victories in the early 2000s. These days, Penske is content to help rally the troops just by showing up—like Caesar riding with his red cape to various points of battle in the Roman Empire days.

In fact, Penske’s current sports car team looks a lot like a “Roamin’ Empire.”