DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – As the Porsche GT Team seeks to nail down no less than four championships in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale on Oct. 12, Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta appears to provide the perfect setting.
The iconic circuit in Braselton, Ga., where the Motul Petit Le Mans takes place, is a suburb of Atlanta, the home to Porsche Cars North America. Further, the two Porsche entries vying for the four titles in the GT Le Mans class will be carrying a special throwback livery featuring Atlanta-based Coca-Cola on the cars. And in a bittersweet twist, it will be the final race for the current version of those Porsche 911 RSRs before an updated model debuts next season in WeatherTech Championship competition.
Co-drivers Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor in the No. 912 Porsche hold a 12-point lead over teammates Patrick Pilet and Nick Tandy in the No. 911 Porsche. The German marque also has a 19-point edge over Ford in the manufacturer chase. All the Porsches need do is leave the starting grid for the 10-hour race to secure the GTLM driver, team and manufacturer championships.
In addition, Pilet and Tandy boast a six-point edge over Bamber and Vanthoor and No. 67 Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT drivers Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe in Michelin Endurance Cup competition, which awards points at designated junctures in each of the four endurance events. So there’s more than a reasonable chance that the Porsche 911 RSRs that emerged on the IMSA scene in 2017 could exit with a grand slam of titles in 2019.
“After Petit Le Mans, the car will retire, so it’s also some emotion since it will be the last race of the RSR 2017,” says Pascal Zurlinden, Porsche director of factory motorsport. “We will move on to the new RSR 2019 for Daytona (in January). So there is some emotion and at the same time, a really successful car.”
The No. 911 finished sixth in the GTLM standings in 2017 and the No. 912 was fifth a year later. But the momentum for this year’s dominating performance by the two cars – which includes three wins for each entry and a total of three races where both Porsches finished on the podium – was cast in last year’s season finale won by Pilet, Tandy and their endurance racing teammate, Frederic Makowiecki, in the No. 911 Porsche.
“At Petit Le Mans last year, it was like a switch (went on),” Zurlinden says. “We won the race and since that time I think the team is doing a perfect job. We never have the best car on track, the quickest one, but all because of the strategies, splitting the championship between cars, at the end it’s almost perfect but close to (it). That’s what makes all these wins and all the podiums achievable.”
The current Porsche 911 RSR was a departure from previous generations with its mid-engine design. Zurlinden admits there were teething issues at the outset – both in WeatherTech Championship and FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) competition.
“Looking back to the last three years, I think the first year was a bit difficult year,” Zurlinden says. “Not everything was directly in place and we didn’t understand as well the car and the tires. But looking at the last two years, in IMSA and outside in WEC, I think was really successful. This year, the confirmation was the second win in Sebring (the No. 911 with Pilet, Tandy and Makowiecki at the wheel). It was a confirmation that we can do it with this car.”
Indeed, that triumph in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts in March ignited a five-race win streak for the Porsches to vault them atop the GTLM standings. Makowiecki returns as the third driver in the No. 911 at Michelin Raceway, with Mathieu Jaminet teaming with Bamber and Vanthoor in the No. 912.
Zurlinden says anticipation is high, particularly since the popular Coca-Cola liveries are the latest that Porsche will run this season to help commemorate IMSA’s 50th Anniversary Celebration. Combining that with it being the last race for the current Porsche RSR and final event for Scott Atherton as IMSA president, Zurlinden hints there may be tears of joy – and some sadness – when the checkered flag waves.
“At the end, there will be some emotion because it will be the last race of the year for IMSA, the last race for Scott in his active position, the last race for our RSR Porsches, so a lot of emotion,” Zurlinden says. “Whatever the (outcome of the) races will be, a lot of emotion.”
Porsche has already collected one IMSA crown before on-track action gets started next week at Michelin Raceway. Talented rookie Zacharie Robichon wrapped up the WeatherTech Sprint Cup championship in GT Daytona on Sept. 15 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. The Sprint Cup, which debuted this season, is exclusive to the GTD class and consisted of seven non-endurance events on the calendar in 2019.
By finishing fourth at WeatherTech Raceway in the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, Robichon took the title.
“This was a really important milestone for Porsche motorsports and also for Pfaff,” Zurlinden says. “Not only for Pfaff it was the first season in IMSA, it was also for Porsche Motorsport the first season for our new GT3 Gen-2. Winning one championship in the big fight with all the manufacturers in GTD in the first year of the car and first year of the team, with a rookie, it’s the perfect situation for us.”