Like its Hypercar revivals at Ferrari, with whom it will share the Monza circuit for a pre-Le Mans test, Porsche Penske Motorsport is feeling more bullish about the prospects for the Porsche 963 following a more successful FIA WEC race in Portimao. The team netted its first podium finish, with its No. 6 963, driven by Kevin Estre, Laurens Vanthoor and Andre Lotterer, on a weekend which saw the IMSA arm of the program score the 963’s first win globally at Long Beach.
Speaking to RACER after the 6 Hours of Portimao, Estre was generally positive about the team’s progress in extracting more pace out of the 963.
“We were all very down after Sebring — it was a very tough weekend for the whole Porsche Penske motorsport group,” he said. “We worked really hard between then and now to try and improve the car’s reliability and performance.”
However, Estre stressed that there is still a long way to go and a lot of speed to find if it is to challenge Toyota and Ferrari for race wins. At Sebring the Penske team’s cars finished a distant fifth and sixth in the WEC 1000 Miles, four laps off the winning Toyota. In Portugal, Porsche’s lead car was much closer, but the No. 6 crew, still crossed the line off the lead lap.
“(Despite the improvement in form) we proved in the USA that the performance is not where we want to be, in qualifying in both the USA and WEC, on one-lap pace,” Estre admitted.
“I think we did a good job on both sides of the Atlantic on strategy, on tire calls. Pretty much everyone made mistakes in Long Beach and here, and we were closer to everyone else, which I think pushed people into mistakes.
“I think we can improve on our side. We made a small step, but it’s not enough — we are too far from Toyota. There are still some steps to come. If it’s enough or not is another question.
“At the moment we are really far (back) in performance. Even if we execute the race well we are one or two laps down, which is too much. I am not sure if this is all in our hands, we don’t have the data. We have to be confident in the FIA and ACO.
“You have to keep in mind that one Toyota had an issue (at Portimao), and a Ferrari had an issue. Other than that it would have been very hard to beat them. On performance, our position is more fourth and fifth rather than third. I think it’s still Toyota in front of Ferrari, and then us, which was nice because it was Cadillac after them in Sebring.”
It must be noted though that the No. 6 Porsche didn’t enjoy an entirely perfect race. The drivers battled power steering issues throughout, which Estre said made the car tough to drive. “It didn’t impact performance, I think, but as drivers, we were happy to only do double stints and not a triple,” he said.
Thankfully the handling issues for Estre and company weren’t as catastrophic an issue as the sister car’s power steering woes, which forced it into the garage for repairs that cost the team a huge chunk of time. The No. 6 also lost time at the end of the race to an additional stop, the car forced to come in for a splash in the closing laps. Estre admitted that “there wasn’t enough fuel in the car” to make it home.
“We were luckily we spotted it early,” he added.
What may help Porsche, and fellow LMDh manufacturer Cadillac at Spa, is a change to the Platform BoP, which can be made every two races (the BoP for individual cars is frozen until after Le Mans to prevent the temptation for teams to hold back performance ahead of the 24 Hours). Whether or not the ACO and FIA decide to give the LMDh cars a significant boost for the race in Belgium remains to be seen.