Having forsaken their ill-fated Formula 1 plan, Porsche focus instead on their new World Endurance Championship (WEC) journey, where they meet up against their oldest sportscar foes Ferrari while taking on some familiar ‘faces’ such as Toyota and Peugeot in this Hypercar era.
Porsche of course have an unmatched history and an astonishing record in sportscar championships, Le Mans the crown jewel of endurance racing has been won by the German marque no fewer than 36 times, more than twice the titles that Ferrari (15) and Audi (15) have combined. Toyota, the current dominant force in the top tier of WEC, has eight titles to its name.
Portimão this weekend hosts Round 2 of the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) for the second time since 2021, the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve serves as the stage for the European debut of the new Porsche 963 in the premier Hypercar class.
Consequently, the driver crews, engineers and mechanics are well prepared to tackle the six-hour race. Given the racetrack’s undulating nature and fast corners, the so-called “Algarve rollercoaster” promises plenty of action. The demanding track layout puts the Michelin tyres under stress and throws physical challenges at the drivers.
“Our Porsche Penske Motorsport works team collected critical information from the season opener in Sebring,” said Thomas Laudenbach, Vice President Porsche Motorsport.
“Using this data and experience as a basis, we now have to get much more potential out of the Porsche 963. I’m confident that the processes in our newly formed WEC squad are constantly improving. We aim to achieve our first podium result at the race in Portugal.”
“Our two teams are competing at the same time on both sides of the Atlantic – the WEC squad in Portimão and the IMSA crew in Long Beach,” explained Urs Kuratle.
The circuit in Portugal is notorious for its rough asphalt
The Director Factory Motorsport LMDh added: “Although the venues are very different due to their unique characteristics, the teams are in close communication with each other. Every kilometre driven in each series helps us to understand the car better.
“The circuit in Portugal is notorious for its rough asphalt. This means not only high grip levels but high tyre wear. Thus, the key to success lies in making the best possible use of the Michelin racing tyres.”
Jonathan Diuguid Managing Director Porsche Penske Motorsport previewed: “After Sebring, our WEC programme has a lot to build upon and we are encouraged as we head to Portimão. We had a great test there before the season and were able to simulate some race conditions, which really helped our team prepare for the opener and for this race.
“Then, we had a solid outing in Sebring where we didn’t experience any major issues and was able to get our team a full race weekend together. Now, we want to take what we learned from all of that, plus some of the data we’ve been able to collect from the IMSA programme, and apply it to the second race of the year at Portimão,” added Diuguid.
The WEC Portimao race
Opened in 2008, the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve is nestled in the hilly hinterland of the Atlantic coast close to the resorts of Portimão and Lagos. The 4.684-kilometre circuit, which has hosted Formula 1 twice, features 16 turns and many rolling passages.
The steepest downhill section of the track has an incline of over twelve per cent. Drivers also face several blind corners and deep gravel beds. The start-finish straight stretches over 969 metres.
Porsche teams and drivers
In the FIA WEC, the Porsche Penske Motorsport factory squad fields two LMDh-prototypes in the Hypercar class. In accordance with the current Balance of Performance (BoP), the power output is 516 kW (702 PS).
In the No. 5 cockpit is occupied by Dane Cameron from the USA, Frenchman Frédéric Makowiecki and Michael Christensen from Denmark. Kévin Estre (France), André Lotterer (Germany) and Laurens Vanthoor (Belgium) share the No. 6 sister car.
Porsche’s customer teams campaign six of the 911 RSR racers in the GTE-Am category. Iron Dames is the only all-female team in the WEC. The pink No. 85 nine-eleven is driven by Sarah Bovy from Belgium, Michelle Gatting from Denmark and Rahel Frey from Switzerland.
Porsche have a formidable customer team effort in Portugal
Sharing driving duties in the No. 60 sister car of the Iron Lynx squad are Italians Claudio Schiavoni and Matteo Cressoni as well as Alessio Picariello from Belgium.
In Dempsey-Proton Racing’s No. 77 entry, team owner Christian Ried from Germany joins forces with Mikkel Pedersen from Denmark and the former Porsche-Junior Julien Andlauer from France. In the No. 88 Porsche 911, Proton Competition puts its trust in Ryan Hardwick from the USA, Canadian Zacharie Robichon and UK driver Harry Tincknell.
The No. 56 Porsche 911 RSR campaigned by Project 1 – AO is helmed by the two Portuguese Guilherme de Oliveira and Miguel Ramos as well as Matteo Cairoli. The Italian has also come up through the ranks from the Porsche-Junior squad. Michael Wainwright and Ben Barker from the UK share GR Racing’s No. 86 cockpit with Riccardo Pera from Italy.
Overview of the WEC teams and drivers
Hypercar class (Porsche 963):
Porsche Penske Motorsport (#5): Dane Cameron (USA), Michael Christensen (DK), Fréderic Makowiecki (F)
Dempsey-Proton Racing (#77): Christian Ried (D), Mikkel Pedersen (DK), Julien Andlauer (F)
Iron Dames (#85): Sarah Bovy (B), Michelle Gatting (DK), Rahel Frey (CH)
GR Racing (#86): Michael Wainwright (UK), Riccardo Pera (I), Ben Barker (UK)
Proton Competition (#88): Ryan Hardwick (USA), Zacharie Robichon (CDN), Harry Tincknell (UK)
Drivers’ comments ahead of the race
Michael Christensen (Porsche 963 #5): “I’m curious to see in Portimão if we can improve on our Sebring performance. The previous race didn’t go as we’d hoped because we still lacked a bit of power. After the weekend we immediately went testing. We feel that we’ve made some progress. Hopefully, we can put that into practice in Portugal and fight for decent positions.”
Kevin Estré (Porsche 963 #6): “We tested in Portimão in late February so we’re not starting from scratch. Compared to the opening round in Sebring, we expect a familiar racetrack surface – without bumps. Everything will also be more ‘normal’ for the rest of our WEC crew, like the pit stops for example. The team has kept up the hard work between the two races and we anticipate a better performance.”
Julien Andlauer (Porsche 911 RSR #77): “We had a good start to the season in Sebring with second place. Everything worked pretty well right off the bat. We’re pleased with the car, the driver crew, the technical side, the engineers and the mechanics. Now we’re heading to Portimão – a circuit that I particularly enjoy with the 911 RSR. I’m determined to earn more points there. We’ll do our best to bring home another trophy.”
Rahel Frey (Porsche 911 RSR #85): “The race in Portugal’s Algarve is another special one on the WEC calendar. The circuit is like a rollercoaster with its undulating layout, which always promises a lot of action. We know all about emotional rollercoaster rides from Sebring. After Sarah Bovy’s great pole position performance in qualifying, I made a mistake that had unfortunate consequences and hampered us from achieving a better result. That means we have a lot to make up for. We feel incredibly comfortable in the Porsche and we have the pace. This was evident in Florida. We have a great crew and strong team members as support, which makes us even more competitive. We’re ready to take on the challenge in Portimão and we can’t wait.”
Ryan Hardwick (Porsche 911 RSR #88): “At the season opener in Sebring, we were the unwitting victims of an accident in the second practice session which sadly heralded an early end to our race weekend. Now I’m very much looking forward to racing against the rest of the WEC field in Portimão. I tested the 911 RSR here last autumn and I like the track a lot. I think we have a strong driver line-up in the number 88 car with Harry Tincknell, Zacharie Robichon and me. I can hardly wait to finally get cracking in Portugal.”