Le Mans Test Concludes With Mixed Results For Porsche

919 Hybrids refrain from simulating qualifying while the 911 RSRs storm the timesheets

Porsche

Toyota has bested Porsche in the opening two rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship, but the German team is not about to let them run away with the blue riband event of the season; the 24-hour race at Le Mans. In just a couple weeks time, Porsche will face off against Toyota in what is likely to be an endurance race for the ages. Toyota will be hauling three TS050 chassis to Le Mans with nine world-class drivers splitting driving duties, while Porsche will split just 6 LMP1 drivers across two 919 Hybrids. Porsche has won this race twice in two years, but Toyota came within minutes of the victory last year themselves. It'll be interesting to see which team has improved the most since that race almost a year ago. In GTE, the fields are perhaps even more competitive with crazy good racing from Ferrari, Ford, Aston Martin, and Corvette for Porsche to contend with. This weekend was the Le Mans Test at the circuit in preparation for the big event, so how did Porsche play their strategy?

LMP1 - 

Porsche

Porsche's 911 Hybrid pair covered a whopping 156 laps combined during this weekend's test. In addition to the regular season drivers Neel Jani, Andre Lotterer, and Nick Tandy in the #1 car, as well as Earl Bamber, Timo Bernhard, and Brendon Hartley in the #2 Porsche, Mr. Marc Lieb also ran some test laps in the 919 Hybrid as preparation for the big event, being that he's been nominated as the team's reserve driver. Even though the ruleset has been changed to make the cars slightly slower with aero and power application limitations, Porsche managed to run nearly a second per lap quicker (3:21.512) than they had in 2016 at this same test. This is made all the more impressive by Porsche's admission that they were not set up to run in qualifying trim, preferring instead to focus on race pace. All three Toyotas ran quicker single-lap times than the faster of the two Porsches over the course of 8 hours of on-track testing, but they seem to be okay with that fact. 

Porsche

Fritz Enzinger, Vice President LMP1: 

“Now Le Mans 2017 is on. The return to the Sarthe definitely brings back the nicest memories for us. Of course, we would like to follow up on these recollections. The test result is difficult to read as we stuck to our plan and focussed on race preparation. On Tuesday, we’ll have a roll-out with the Le Mans cars here on the Circuit Bugatti. Afterward, the majority of the team will be sent home to take a deep breath before we return and enjoy the hype at scrutineering next Sunday in the Le Mans town center.”

Andreas Seidl, Team Principal: 

“We’ve had a mixed test day. We were focussing on race set-up and refrained from simulating qualifying. Although we didn’t achieve the mileage we wanted, we still learned important lessons for the race regarding tire choice and tire wear. Toyota’s speed was impressive, we could not match that. In the coming days, we will analyze today’s data and draw our conclusions to improve our cars’ performance. We, unfortunately, lost a lot of test time with our number 2 car. Due to an oil leak, we had to change the combustion engine over lunch. At 3:38 pm, after only two-and-a-half hours repair time, the car was back on track. What caused the leak is still to be analyzed but the team did a great job. Now we go full throttle on the road to the Le Mans race week.”

Neel Jani, Driver, Porsche 919 Hybrid #1: 

“You can’t compare Le Mans to any other race circuit in the world, that’s why the test day is so important. At the beginning, the track was extremely dusty, especially on the 9 km section where we use normal roads. But later we were able to conduct proper preparation.”

André Lotterer, Driver, Porsche 919 Hybrid #1: 

“The basics of our car was okay from the start which allowed us to work on our set-up list. We stayed on our program and studied the performance of the tire over several stints. Compared to Toyota, we’re probably missing a little over a single flying lap – but then we didn’t attempt this ourselves.”

Nick Tandy, Driver, Porsche 919 Hybrid #1: 

“It is just amazing, to be with the 919 Hybrid back on track at Le Mans. I am so much looking forward to the race in two weeks time.”

Earl Bamber, Driver, Porsche 919 Hybrid #2:

“For us, it was a bit difficult today to find a good balance for the car. But I believe we know the direction we have to work towards now.”

Timo Bernhard, Driver, Porsche 919 Hybrid #2: 

“At the beginning, the track was very slippery but then we found the right path with our set-up work. It would have been nice to get more time to fine-tune our 919 but the team worked very hard to change the engine. I had the impression there were more inexperienced drivers on-track than usual. Due to them not knowing the track well created some difficult situations.”

Brendon Hartley, Driver, Porsche 919 Hybrid #2: 

“Today we had lots of yellow flags and safety cars plus some home-made interruptions. In the morning I hit a bollard what caused some damage and cost time. Later we were in the garage for a long time to change the engine.”

Marc Lieb, Porsche 919 Hybrid reserve driver: 

“I’m very glad that the ACO made the participation of reserve drivers during the test day mandatory. It is a huge privilege to drive a fantastic car like the Porsche 919 Hybrid on a wonderful track like this. If necessary, I’m ready to step in but in favor of my colleagues, I hope this will not be required.”

GTE Pro - 

Porsche

In addition to their LMP1 efforts, Porsche will again be running a pair of factory cars in the GTE Pro category (after skipping a year in 2016). The new mid-engine 911 RSR will compete in this category at Le Mans, marking the first mid-engine GT car Porsche has entered at La Sarthe since the overall victory in 1998 with the 911 GT1-98 nearly 20 years ago. This test day found Porsche's GT drivers running a relatively new chassis at the track in changeable conditions working on setup and varying tire choices. Richard Lietz, Patrick Pilet, and Fred Makociecki shared the #91 Porsche, running nearly 1200 kilometers during the test to set the fastest lap of the day. The #92 Porsche covered just under 1000 kilometers with Michael Christensen, Kevin Estre, and Dirk Werner at the wheel, and set the second-fastest time at the track.  

Porsche took a gamble by running the 911 RSRs in their "low downforce" setup for the first time ever. Considering the occasional rainshower and hot heat of the track, the test day could have ended far worse than it did. The long straights should provide a significant speed advantage for a low-downforce car. With a current 1-2 on the time sheets, it looks like the strategy is paying off for Porsche.

Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser, Vice President Motorsport and GT Cars: 

“The first tests at Le Mans with the new 911 RSR were very clearly on the tire situation and the setup. After the first laps, our drivers provided us with a very encouraging feedback. The car feels good, the drivers feel comfortable, the 911 RSR responds logically to all our set-up changes. Right from the start, everything ran according to plan. The fast lap times gave us a good comparison to our simulations and an insight into the grip conditions on this non-permanent racetrack. We now know where we stand, even if not exactly how we compare to the competition. This is because today’s testing programs were simply too different.”

Marco Ujhasi, Director GT Factory Motorsports: 

“Today we put our new 911 RSR on the Le Mans track with a low downforce trim for the first time. Hence, we had to work through some issues with the setup and tire choice. We did this successfully. The new driver crews worked well together so that we were able to wrap up the race preparation. In the race week, we’ll be able to concentrate on details and the team procedures.”

Richard Lietz, Driver, Porsche 911 RSR #91: 

“That was a positive test for us and critical for the race preparation. With three drivers we all have to feel good in the car, we have to cope with the circuit and most of all with the setup. So our team had a lot to do but we’re heading home feeling good.”

Frédéric Makowiecki, Driver, Porsche 911 RSR #91: 

“This test was an important part of our preparation. There is not a lot of practice time during the race week, so we had to sort out important issues like aerodynamics and tires and had to make sure within a very short time to work in the right direction. That’s a big challenge and possibly pivotal for the race.”

Patrick Pilet, Driver, Porsche 911 RSR #91: 

“It’s been one year since we drove at Le Mans. These tests were predominantly about seeing how the new 911 RSR reacts to this racetrack. My first lap at Le Mans with the brand-new car was a very emotional moment for me. We used this test day very well and we can confidently look forward to the race.”

Michael Christensen, Driver, Porsche 911 RSR #92: 

“This test day was a very important step in our preparation for the most important race of the year. We used today to better familiarize ourselves with the Le Mans aero kit and to get used to this very special circuit after being away for a year.”

Kévin Estre, Driver, Porsche 911 RSR #92: 

“This test was crucial. Le Mans is a very special circuit which requires a special setup for the 911 RSR, different tires, and a different aero kit. The Le Mans race week doesn’t give us a lot of time to adjust to the special conditions here, and hence every test kilometer is important.”

Dirk Werner, Driver, Porsche 911 RSR #92: 

“This is the first time that we’ve driven our 911 RSR on this circuit. For me, those were my very first Le Mans laps with Porsche. We’ve worked our way through everything on our comprehensive list at these tests. We put particular emphasis on working on the setup and the tires. Now we look forward to the race.”

GTE Am - 

Porsche

Outside of the two factory-entered pro categories, Porsche also has an additional four cars wearing the corporate crest in the GTE Am category, some even with factory support. Because of the way the rules are written in an attempt to save costs, this class runs to the rules that the Pro category was subjected to in 2015, meaning these cars are two years old. The spotlight in this class shone brightly on the #77 Dempsey Proton Racing Porsche, as their Young Professional driver, Matteo Cairoli celebrated his debut at the world famous long-distance classic. Patrick Long, another Porsche factory driver, competes for the Proton Competition customer team, who are fielding two 911 RSR cars. Gulf Racing UK is fielding the fourth 911 RSR in the Le Mans 24.

Matteo Cairoli, Driver, Porsche 911 RSR #77: 

“To drive the 911 RSR at Le Mans – this was just a dream not long ago. And now this dream has come true. This test was a taster for what is about to come. I enjoyed every kilometer today.”

Patrick Long, Driver, Porsche 911 RSR #93: 

“A part of the Le Mans circuit is normally open to everyday traffic and that’s why we can’t just come and test anytime. So this made it all the more important to set up our 911 RSR for the race in a very short time.”