Porsche pops onto the GTE Pro podium in Japanese WEC round

 

After delivering a stunning performance in qualifying to start the six-hour race at Fuji from pole and third, Porsche found out quite quickly in the race that it didn’t have the long-run pace to keep up with the Ferraris. A byproduct of the series’ Balance of Performance, and the car’s inability to keep the tires from turning to mush in a hot summer day, conspired to shove the Porsches out of the lead in fairly quick succession. With air temps in the mid-eighties Fahrenheit, and track temperatures up over 120, it was a slick and slippery day at the base of what is probably Japan’s most iconic mountain. With the weekend’s previous sessions having trended much cooler, Porsche opted for a soft compound tire, and in practice the tire only lasted about 30 minutes before dropping its grip off a cliff. In that first stint, the Porsches dropped from 1-3 to 3-4 behind the GTE Pro competition.

At the first stop, both Porsches switched to a medium compound tire, which responded much better and held on much longer, but still didn’t provide the cars enough to put up a fight with the Ferrari team, which had scuttled out to a healthy lead by that point. Both Porsches remained in their positions until the checkered flag fell, delivering a somewhat disappointing result for the white cars with red stripes. The #91 car suffered a pair of time penalties for on-track contretemps, as well as a minor collision with a GTE Am entrant, putting it well in arrears of the rest of the GTE Pro competition.

“Sure, we made mistakes, but there was no doubt that today’s performance would never have been enough to beat Ferrari,” concludes Thomas Laudenbach, Vice President Porsche Motorsport. “It’s disappointing, but we have to move on and analyse the reasons. Perhaps the Balance of Performance issue needs to be revisited. Our goal is unchanged: we want to win the world championship in Bahrain.”
“Was it our fault today? Was it the Balance of Performance? We have to take a close look and then discuss it. The competition was similar for our customers in the GTE-Am class,” says Alexander Stehlig, Director Factory Motorsport FIA WEC. “It was not a good day for us. We have a lot of work ahead of us but, despite today’s events, we’re optimistic that we’ll be back in force in Bahrain and we can win the world championship.”

Having suffered the indignities of loss in Japan, Porsche has dropped out of the lead of the manufacturers’ championship by a single point. Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen are still in with a shot at the Drivers’ title just 11 points shy of the leading Ferrari team of Pier Guidi/Calado. As luck would have it, 11 points is exactly the gap between first and second if the winner also gets the bonus point for pole position. Porsche’s 911 RSR squad will make its final race appearance at the 8 Hours of Bahrain in two months time.

Drivers’ comments on the race
Michael Christensen (Porsche 911 RSR #92): “We tried everything but we couldn’t do more today. We lacked quite a lot of speed. After starting from pole position, we managed to fend off the Ferraris for a while, but eventually, we couldn’t hold them off anymore. They then gradually pulled away from us. The only possible chance would have been to make a smart strategic decision during a safety car phase, but this scenario didn’t eventuate in the race.”

Kévin Estre (Porsche 911 RSR #92): “Ferrari was too strong, we couldn’t match the pace. On the long straight, they were quite a bit faster than us. We could never make up for that in the corners – no chance. Although we put in an immaculate drive, we were more than 30 seconds behind at the end. That says it all.”

Gianmaria Bruni (Porsche 911 RSR #91): “We had a really good car and squeezed everything we could out of it. But it wasn’t enough to seriously challenge the competition today. Compared to our rivals, we lacked top speed and acceleration. That was obvious. Unfortunately, Porsche only managed to finish third and fourth. We have to turn this around in Bahrain.”

Richard Lietz (Porsche 911 RSR #91): “We were clearly too slow. In such circumstances, it’s not much fun if you’re trailing behind. But we couldn’t do more today. The car handled very well and our team did a great job.”

GTE-Pro class:
1. Pier Guidi/Calado (I/UK), Ferrari 488 GTE #51, 217 laps
2. Molina/Fuoco (E/I), Ferrari 488 GTE #52, 217 laps
3. Christensen/Estre (DK/F), Porsche 911 RSR #92, 217 laps
4. Bruni/Lietz (I/A), Porsche 911 RSR #91, 216 laps
5. Milner/Tandy (USA/UK), Corvette C8.R #64, 215 laps

GTE-Am class:
1. Keating/Chaves/Sörensen (USA/P/DK), Aston Martin #33, 213 laps
2. Frey/Gatting/Bovy (CH/DK/B), Ferrari 488 GTE #85, 212 laps
3. Hoshino/Fujii/Fagg (J/J/UK), Aston Martin #777, 212 laps
6. Cairoli/Pedersen/Leutwiler (I/DK/CH), Porsche 911 RSR #46, 211 laps
8. Kimura/Millroy/Barnicoat (J/UK/UK), Porsche 911 RSR #56, 211 laps
9. Poordad/Lindsey/Heylen (USA/USA/B), Porsche 911 RSR #88, 211 laps
12. Wainwright/Barker/Pera (UK/UK/I), Porsche 911 RSR #86, 193 laps
DNF. Ried/Priaulx/Tincknell (D/UK/UK), Porsche 911 RSR #77, 128 laps