Menu toggle


30 Mar 2023

A tough debut for the 963's

Matt Master reports on the 963's debut at Daytona

It was back in the winter of 2020 that the Executive Board at Porsche formally approved the rumoured return to prototype racing. This gave Weissach two years to develop a car to the newly devised ‘Le Mans Daytona hybrid’ regulations, in time for the inaugural outing at the Rolex 24 in January 2023. For racing fans, it seemed like an eternity. In terms of developing a prototype from the ground up to carry the mantle for one of the greatest names in racing, it was surely gone in the blink of an eye.

What unfolded at Daytona in the last weekend in January 2023 was far from the fairytale start to this grand new era for sports cars that Porsche was clearly hoping for. But would a one-two win straight out of the stalls not actually have been far more disappointing? I think so. Bear with me.
Qualifying for Daytona took place the week before, giving a glimpse of what was to come. Porsche looked punchy from the outset, revealing a healthy turn of speed in practice before Felipe Nasr – no stranger to Daytona – plonked the No. 7 963 in P2, just 0.083 seconds off pole position. Hugely encouraging, but our own Nick Tandy lost it at the Bus Stop chicane, en route to what looked like a pole lap, and put the No. 6 sister car into the tyre wall. With his two fastest laps voided for causing a red flag, Tandy would start from the back of the GTP field. Still, much better than Porsche locking out the front row on debut. Bear with me again.

What we’d seen so far is that the Porsches had the pace to be competitive, but also that the drivers were genuinely pushing, already wringing out these new cars to their limit and beyond. That was because the rest of the GTP field, comprised of Acura (Honda), Cadillac and BMW, were also extremely quick. No-one was walking away with it. Game on.

As with any 24-hour race, qualifying is largely unimportant anyway. What matters is a tricky mix of just enough speed and all the reliability. With an unproven fixed hybrid system to deploy in anger for the first time, there was a lot that might go wrong. And it did. The flag dropped at the Daytona International Speedway at 1.40pm local time, with Nasr on the front row and Tandy way back in ninth. In his first stint, the former Le Mans winner managed to hustle the 963 up into third, not only passing his GTP rivals but also navigating his way through an almighty 61-car field populated by vastly slower GTD cars and frequently wayward LMP pro-ams. It was an astonishing spell.
“The race began really well,” said Tandy, after the stint. “For starting at the back of the field after not putting up a lap in qualifying, the car was handling really nice and gave me confidence. We made up some places and it was fun to battle with the other GTP cars. We found some areas of the racetrack where some cars are good and others not so much. It is really quite interesting. It was a clean, trouble-free run. We are in the race after a couple of hours. I am happy so far.”
Oops. Meanwhile, Nasr stayed in touch with the front-running and blisteringly quick Acura for the first hour before his 963 started to glitch. Power steering failure was fixed remotely before rear-drive issues necessitated a restart of the hybrid system. The No. 7 car was still on the lead lap, however, with Nasr pleased with its pace.
As the sun set, both Porsches continued to look threatening. But so did the two Acuras and three Cadillacs, the only early loss to the new tech being one of the BMWs. The No. 6 Porsche, shared by Tandy with Dane Cameron and Mathieu Jaminet, led the field for several sessions during the night, underlining its speed and reliability among a field of apparent equals.


 But disaster struck for the No. 7 car of Nasr, Matt Campbell and Michael Christensen when it was forced into the garage to replace its high-voltage battery at around 7pm. The half-hour switch-out cost the team 20 laps and, with them, any chance of a podium. Further repairs to the cooling system later in the race would push the 963 well behind the faster LMP2 entrants.
The drama for Porsche was far from done, however. While in the lead, a flying Tandy
was forced to take evasive action around a slower LPM2 car, the resulting trip across
the grass ending in heavy contact with some sandbags. A replacement undertray cost the car three laps, but the team was undeterred. Once again revealing the car’s imperious pace, and Tandy’s stellar talent in such situations, the No. 6 car began to creep back into contention, unlapping itself to get within striking distance of the leaders again.
But there was another twist to the tale. Just as it looked like Porsche might be pulling off the impossible, a gearbox issue forced Tandy to stop twice on track before pulling into the garage, from where the decision was taken to retire the car. Porsche Penske Motorsport were forced to settle for seventh place at the back of the GTP field with the plucky but thoroughly outdone No. 7 car.

The final hours nonetheless saw some thrilling racing, with Acura and Cadillac pushing each other doggedly to the line. In the end, a mere 11 seconds separated the top three cars – an astonishing result after 24 hours of racing with unproven technology and a packed field of cars with huge speed differentials and a consequential mix of experience and talent. At the midway point of the race, two-thirds of the GTP cars were still on the same lap. That’s exactly the sort of close-knit racing these new regulations were designed to create.
Despite Porsche’s obvious disappointment, there were so many positives to take away from Daytona. At the point when it retired, with fewer than three hours to go, the No. 6 Porsche had done the fewest pit stops of any GTP car. It had also achieved fastest laps and not just led the field but reeled the leaders back in after major setbacks, some of which were the fault of a third party.
If anything, this maiden outing was the perfect way to tee up a tantalising year both in IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, with all eyes already on the 100th staging of Le Mans. From a grandstand viewpoint, it would have been far more disappointing if Porsche had romped home with an easy one-two victory after having utterly outclassed every other entrant in GTP. Parity is what the engineers, technicians and drivers spend their whole time trying to avoid, and for good reason, but it’s also at the heart of great racing. Watching plucky, ingenious and indefatigable Porsche fight its way back to the front is far more of a story. And I wager it’s about to get told.

Let us help you unlock the potential of your Porsche

Join now