There should be a flash banner here. There are 2 main reasons why you may not be able to see it:
  • You do not have the required version of Flash MX installed (v8.0+) in your browser
  • JavaScript is disabled in your browser

Porsche 911 RSR Launch

The launch of a Porsche works team, as happened at Paul Ricard ahead of the impending FIA WEC test days, is big news – and very good news for the FIA World Endurance Championship.  With a shortage of GTE pro entries in 2012, despite the extremely high standard of those entries, the return of the German marque in a factory capacity is a welcome boost for the class.

“I’m sorry, but this is not another manufacturer, this is Porsche,” beams Gerard Neveu, CEO of the WEC.  “Porsche is a full part of the endurance story.  This is a full part of Le Mans.  If you ask any guy with this passion, these people immediately think, ‘Porsche’.  For us, we are so proud to see the army of Porsche coming back to the paddock.  This is a big emotion and big added value for endurance and the WEC.”

The return of a works squad to the WEC is steeped in expectation and history.

“Everybody that’s doing this, the ones not doing just for a hobby (and that’s definitely not what we’re doing), wants to win,” explains Hartmut Kristen, boss of Porsche Motorsport.  “There is a long history with Le Mans and Porsche, and with the 911 – 32 class victories and two overall wins.  The most important point is that the first appearance of a 911 car was very closely linked to the factory, with the 996 or 997.  This time it’s more than just a 24 hour race, it is an entire season.  But you know, the 50th anniversary of the 911 is something special.”

On a technical side, the new 991 GTE represents a significant step forwards for Porsche in GT racing, and the car is as newsworthy as the works squad’s participation.  The last couple of years saw their 997 fall behind its rivals and the results suffered, so there had to be an improvement.  The team are not afraid to admit that.

“We weren’t as competitive as we hoped for, especially in Sebring I would say,” admits Jörg Bergmeister.  The tall German endured a frustrating season with Flying Lizards in the States, taking a solitary victory at Lime Rock.  “After Long Beach, going to Laguna, we were pretty competitive for the rest of the year.  Unfortunately we didn’t have quite the luck we wanted – I guess that’s racing.”

“It was everything with the 997,” muses Marc Lieb, who took Porsche’s only WEC win at Spa last season, alongside Richard Lietz.  “It wasn’t like we didn’t know what to do, or that Porsche didn’t know what to do, it’s just that times changed a lot.  If you look at the GT class five or six years ago, you had two manufacturers who could compete against each other and they had two great road cars like the GT3 and the 430 and 458.  Now it’s changed – Aston Martin has come, with lots of waivers, and Corvette and BMW.  It’s completely changed the environment of building a GTE car.”

The environment is certainly hot right now.  Ferrari’s 458 has taken another step forward and Aston Martin’s program in 2013 looks frightening to a new starter – even a new starter like Porsche.

“It doesn’t make the challenge smaller,” smiles Kristen.  “I mean, this is part of our business, there might be a day where the situation is vice versa.  At the moment we simply have to analyse it properly and get our homework done.  Times have changed significantly in GT racing.  In the GTE category, not so long ago it was practically a privateers’ approach, but now we have factory and semi-factory teams.” 

So the new 991 has arrived into a tough category.  Can it match up?  Initial estimates would suggest it stands a strong chance.  The car is a significantly different beast than the 997, one almost totally removed from its predecessor.  The wheelbase is longer, the weight distribution vastly improved and it sports new double wishbone front suspension.

The car’s kilos have been lowered considerably, thanks to excessive use of carbon fibre – it is easier to highlight the parts of the car that aren’t carbon than those that are.   The front and rear arches, front and rear lids, doors, underbody, wheel arches, rear wing, dashboard and centre console are all carbon. On top of that, the windows are made of extra thin and light polycarbonate.

The engine has been largely carried over from its predecessor, though that was not particularly the issue with the previous car and the unit should be more than capable at this level.  The cooling architecture has also been optimised for the new car, too, with a centrally mounted front radiator and better air conditioning efficiency.

On the exterior, the car is clearly linked to the final iteration of the 997.  Huge flared arches and a massive rear wing , alongside a massive front air dam give the car quite the distinctive look – completed by curious side lights in the front fenders.

One thing’s for sure – the drivers like it.

“It’s a lot easier to drive – but different to drive, a different driving style,” reckons Lieb.  “The 997 was very… at the end, with a lot of downforce, it was very edgy to drive, very hard on the limit.  There was a lot of tyre wear.” 

Asking him what has improved is like asking a child which of their Christmas presents was the best.

“With all these components it’s changed a lot, we’ve got better tyre wear, and should be quicker. There’s a more agile front, and everything is getting better every year but this is a big step.  And it improves at each test – we’re still learning, finding some stuff that we can improve, and some stuff that we can improve, but we’re still better all the time.”

Aerodynamically, it is moving in the direction of single seat grip levels, belives Patrick Pilet, who stepped into the Porsche fold from Formula Renault 3.5.

“I’m coming from single seaters and this is a slightly more aero based car, especially in the fast corners,” says the French driver, who has done a lot of his racing with the IMSA team.  “It’s challenging, different, but not so difficult.  For sure you have to change the style, perhaps to be less aggressive than the 997.  There’s a lot of pleasure behind the wheel.  We’ll have to assess race by race, because we don’t know the full potential of the car because we have things to learn, but for sure it is a very good car.”

The set up is spectacular – taking care of drivers Bergmeister, Pilet, Timo Bernhard, Lieb, Richard Lietz and Romain Dumas, is a team manager Olaf Manthey.  The bearded German has five Nürburgring 24 Hour victories in his trophy cabinet as well as sundry other achievements, and he’s a man with a great deal to do in 2013.  Not that it bothers him…

“I think it is not such a big step for us, because we’ve got a lot of races behind us in Supercup, in the junior team,” he says.  “We’ve done a lot of international races before.  I think it is really important that you don’t put pressure on yourself, that you stay easy and with a free head.  Then I think you can make a good job.  I think the pressure on ourselves won’t be higher than any time before.”

It’s not as if he’s ignorant of the gravity of this opportunity, however.

“I’m really proud that I can be a part of the Porsche factory team.  We’ve done it a lot of years before, in 1999, at Le Mans.  This will be a new step forwards, a new challenge for us.  I think we have a good team together, with the mechanics of Porsche, the mechanics of Manthey, the engineers of Porsche, the engineers of Manthey… Then, with the driver line up… We have the best drivers you can have in racing cars.  Hopefully we will be successful.”

Certainly, you’d have to be a brave man to bet against them doing the business.  Don’t expect any of the drivers to be revealing direct objectives, but the recurring theme is a small event in June.

Pilet; “Our first aim is to win Le Mans.”

Lieb; “We want to be competitive, to fight for the win at Le Mans.”

Of course, it’s a full championship and one that will be extraordinarily tough for a brand new car to be competitive in.  But if anyone can do it, it’s Porsche AG Team Manthey – and they won’t be shy of belief.

“Porsche are always coming to the circuits for victory,” grins Pilet.  “The goal is victory.”

Technical specs of the 911 RSR (991):

Body: Self-supporting body in steel aluminium hybrid design (base 911 Carrera 4, type 991); welded-in safety cage; removable roof hatch; body widened and aerodynami-cally optimised with carbon parts; front underbody aerodynamically optimised; PC side and rear windows; adjustable rear wing; steering wheel with shift paddles; six point safety belt; racing buckle seat; FT3-safety tank with fast filling function; air jack; fire extinguisher.

Engine: Six-cylinder aluminium boxer engine in the rear; bore 102.7 mm; stroke 80.4 mm; capacity 3,996 cm³; power output approx. 338 KW (460 hp) with restrictor; four valve technology; water cooling, dry sump lubrication, multi point fuel injection; weight op-timised modular race exhaust system, twin-branched muffler with centred exhaust pipes.

Transmission: Porsche six-speed sequential dog-type gearbox with pneumatic shift mechanism; oil/water heat exchanger; hydraulic disengagement lever; single mass flywheel; three-plate carbon clutch.

Suspension: Front axle: Fully adjustable double wishbone; 4-way gas pressure shock absorber; double coil springs (main and helper); adjustable blade-type anti roll bar; power steering. Rear axle: Multi-link axle with rigidly mounted cross member, adjustable ride height, camber, track; 4-way gas pressure shock absorber; double coil springs (main and helper); adjustable blade-type anti roll bar.

Brake system: Brake system with balance bar control and optimised cooling air ducting. Front: Monobloc six-piston aluminium fixed callipers; steel brake discs internally-vented, 380 mm diameter; racing brake pads.
Rear: Monobloc four-piston aluminium fixed callipers; steel brake discs internally-vented, 355 mm diameter; racing brake pads.

Rims and tyres: Front axle: 12.5J x 18, central bolt, Michelin racing 30/68-18. Rear axle: 13J x 18, central bolt; Michelin racing 31/71-18.

Electrics: Cosworth colour display with integrated data recording and gear shift point display; Cosworth electrical system control; Battery 12 V, 70 Ah; 140 A alternator; air conditioning.

Weight: 1,245 kg (minimum weight in compliance with regulations)

Jake Yorath