Mazda Prototype Paces Rolex 24 Testing

Rolex 24
The new Porsche 911 RSR hit the track on Tuesday at Daytona Int’l Speedway. (IMSA Photo)

In the GT classes, the new Porsche 911 RSR turned its first official WeatherTech Championship laps Tuesday morning at Daytona Int’l Speedway.

The Porsche North America team brought both the No. 911 for co-drivers Patrick Pilet and Dirk Werner and the No. 912 for Kevin Estre and Laurens Vanthoor to the two-day test and got right to work on their preparations for a titanic GTLM class battle in 2017 with the Corvettes, Ford GTs, BMW M6s and the Ferrari 488. The new car already has logged more than 35,000 kilometers and 25 hours of testing, but this morning represented its first laps on the 3.56-mile Daytona International Speedway circuit.

“It’s the first time here at Daytona with the new car,” said Porsche GT Project Manager Marco Ujhasi. “It’s a very exciting moment to see the baby out on the official track. We are quite happy that we could get some good information. We are starting very close to zero with all our knowledge again with the new car. We’re trying to build that up very quickly and hopefully generate some good ideas.”

Beyond learning the new race car, Pilet also has three new teammates to get to know heading into the 2017 season. He will team with Werner in the No. 911, who joined the Porsche team after driving with BMW for the past several years, while Vanthoor and Estre are a brand-new pairing in the No. 912.

“It’s great for (2016 Porsche North America) drivers Earl (Bamber) and Nick (Tandy) to have the chance to drive LM P1, but especially for myself, we are good friends so it was difficult to change,” said Pilet, the 2015 GTLM champion. “But I think we have a really good connection with Dirk. Also, the other car will be for sure young drivers with a bit less experience, especially Laurens because he doesn’t know the championship, but Kevin has some experience already.

“It’s good to have an old man like me with some experience. I’m not that old, but I know the team very well. Honestly, everything went smooth. We have really good feedback together, we like the same things on the car for the moment, so it’s quite easy. He’s a good guy. I’ve known him for a long time since I first drove here in 2008.”

Pilet also is impressed with all of the new machinery debuting in other WeatherTech Championship classes for the 2017 season.

“I’m really excited about all the categories,” he said. “You can see the GTD level is getting also incredible with a lot of new manufacturers coming. I drove with the Acura on the track this morning. It’s always special to have new manufacturers. Also, DPi looks really cool from the outside as drivers. The Cadillac, the Mazda look like really awesome cars. I think it’s the way to go.

“It’s difficult everywhere in the world to get a lot of cars, a lot of manufacturers interested in the championship, but to be honest, in the WeatherTech Championship, the people are really looking to help the manufacturers and find the best way to have a lot of cars at the events. It works pretty good. The level of the championship is getting higher and higher each year. It looks like it works. I’m really looking forward to seeing all these cars at the start of the Daytona 24. It will be exciting.”