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13 May 2024

The Porsche 963 takes first and second at Spa

Hertz Team Jota has clinched the maiden WEC victory for a privateer 963    

Huge crowds witnessed the six-hour race at the Circuit Spa-Francorchamps with more than 88,000 spectators flocking to round three of the FIA World Endurance Championship WEC over the weekend. In spring-like air temperatures of 23 degrees Celsius and asphalt reaching 32 degrees, the race was split into two parts over a total of almost nine hours: before and after a 120-minute interruption.

A collision after four hours and 15 minutes required the race to be red-flagged so that crash barriers on the Kemmel straight could be replaced. It took until 7:15 pm local time for the race to resume for another 104 minutes. At this stage, Proton Competition’s Porsche 963 was running in third place. Julien Andlauer from France and Switzerland’s Neel Jani initially led the race for long stretches. However, like many other vehicles, after the restart, the customer team’s prototype had to pit to refuel and fell back to ninth place. As a result, Andlauer launched a spirited charge to catch up, which ultimately yielded him fifth place. The former Porsche Junior also set the fastest lap of the race in 2:06.459 minutes.

Things went better for Hertz Team Jota’s No. 12 Porsche 963 and Porsche Penske Motorsport’s No. 6 works car: both had already completed their penultimate pit stop shortly before the race was red-flagged. As a result, they promptly catapulted to first and second place. Fate seemed to be sealed: these two hybrid prototypes from Weissach would win. Jota’s final driver Callum Ilott remained resolute despite coming under a determined attack by Kévin Estre. With 45 minutes left on the clock, Porsche Penske Motorsport opted for a different strategy in the last tyre change and fitted four new tyres for the decisive final sprint. However, the tactic failed to reap rewards. After their success at the season opener in Qatar, Estre (France), Laurens Vanthoor from Belgium and André Lotterer from Germany crossed the finish line in second place – a repeat of the Imola result. With this, the trio further extended the lead in the drivers’ standings. Victory went to Ilott and his British teammate Will Stevens – the first win for a Porsche customer team with the 963.

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The other works Porsche 963 driven by Frédéric Makowiecki, Michael Christensen and Matt Campbell started a WEC race from pole position for the second time this season. Starting driver Makowiecki managed to initially defend his lead. After a good 40 minutes, the Frenchman had to allow Julien Andlauer’s Porsche to pass in a confusing lapping situation. Later, the No. 51 Ferrari also overtook. Shortly before the halfway mark, Denmark’s Michael Christensen hit a curb at the end of the fast Blanchimont lefthander and scraped the side of the track barrier. The impact caused the high-voltage hybrid system to switch off for safety reasons. This signalled an early retirement for the No. 5 race car.

“We probably experienced one of the craziest sports car races in recent memory,” said Urs Kuratle, Director Factory Motorsport LMDh. “There were a few major accidents that everyone involved escaped unharmed – that’s the most important thing. Huge congratulations to Hertz Team Jota: What an amazing effort. They totally deserve this win. Proton Competition also delivered a top performance with the Porsche 963 and looked promising for a long stretch, but was ultimately hampered by the red flag. We’ve once again claimed the second step of the podium. Looking ahead to Le Mans, we feel excellently prepared.”

“While we’re always looking ahead to the next challenge, we’re proud to earn Team Penske’s 100th sports car pole. Sports car racing is an important part of our team heritage, so this represents a significant milestone for our organisation,” underlined Roger Penske, Founder and Chairman Penske Corporation. “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 programme. We appreciate the achievement of winning 100 poles and now we’re focused on reaching our next milestone – earning our 100th win in a sports car competition.”

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LMGT3 class: First and second place for the Porsche 911 GT3 R as well
For Porsche customer team Manthey PureRxcing, starting the race already felt like a victory in itself: After a serious accident in the Hyperpole qualifying session, the No. 92 GT3 racing car had to be rebuilt overnight. This was completed at around seven in the morning. UK driver Alex Malykhin started the 6 Hours of Spa from eighth place and fought his way back to the front as the race progressed. At the helm of the Manthey EMA sister car, Australian Yasser Shahin set the fourth-fastest time in the Hyperpole session. Before the race was red-flagged, Morris Schuring (Netherlands) continued his formidable form and made the leap to first place.

After the restart, a nail-biting three-way battle for victory unfolded between the two Manthey racing cars and the two Lamborghini. The decisive moment came on the very last lap: the leading Iron Lynx car had to stop again for refuelling. Klaus Bachler’s PureRxcing-Porsche had made better use of its fuel. However, the Austrian lacked the last reserves to fend off his compatriot Richard Lietz, who was charging from behind. As a result, first place went to Lietz, Schuring and Shahin ahead of Bachler, Joel Sturm (Germany) and Malykhin.

“After having rebuilt our No. 92 Porsche virtually overnight, this was an extremely intense race weekend,” says Nicki Raeder, Managing Director of Manthey. “Nevertheless, we managed to bring home victory here. The number 91 sister car simply had more fuel reserves left at the end, while the other 911 GT3 R had to save a lot of petrol to keep the Lamborghini at bay. I’m extremely proud of the whole squad. That was a very special team effort.”

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The next round of this year’s World Endurance Championship is considered by most to be the highlight of the WEC season: the 24 Hours of Le Mans on 15 and 16 June.
 

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