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Catching Up With.... Hartmut Kristen

Hartmut Kristen, head of Porsche Motorsport, is the man who has brought the 991 RSR to fruition.  At the launch at Paul Ricard, he was reasonably candid about the challenges the 911’s layout brings to creating a racing car.

“It won’t become a mid-mounted engine race car,” he admits. “But the most important point is that you get a more forgiving weight balance between front and rear axle.  When you take into consideration that, on top of the rear mounted engine, we have the fuel tank in the front, that is full in the front with about 75kg of fuel when you start the stint, that at the end you might have five or ten kilos, that comes on top of everything.  All this we try to neutralise with the design of the car.”

The car’s design, with new double wish bone front suspension and a longer wheelbase, has meant a more forgiving package, but it is one that still needs tweaking.  

“From what I see at the moment, I would say we can be pretty satisfied.  There’s still a lot of detail set up work that we need to do.  At the end of the day you have to go racing and collect experience as much as you can.  There are only two races before the 24 Hours of Le Mans, so there’s still a long way to go.”

On the aims of the 991, one thing comes up when you talk to anyone in the program – Le Mans.

“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.  There is a long history with Le Mans and Porsche, and with the 911 as I mentioned – 32 class victories and two overall wins. 

“We want to be competitive but we will have to see.  At the end of the day it always takes that little bit of luck and you have to stay out of trouble otherwise there is no chance to be competitive and there is definitely no chance to win at Le Mans.  We have to get our homework done and then we have to see how everything works.”

“To a certain degree, the car is more complicated than the 911 GT1 98,” he says when asked about the 911’s most recent Le Mans win.  “But you know, with the 911 GT1, we had more freedom from the regulations.  With the GTE car you have to stick much closer to the production car and when you look at the performance that you can get from a car like that it’s not that far away from what you could get 15 years ago with the GT1 car.  So that overall shows the performance development that you see in GT cars and that you see with the 911. This is definitely very impressive.”

As soon as the competition is mentioned, a wry smile appears – the prospect of facing extensively developed machinery from Ferrari and Aston Martin in the WEC, and Corvette at Le Mans, is daunting.

“It doesn’t make the challenge smaller,” he muses.  “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, five or ten years ago it was practically a privateers’ approach, but now we have factory and semi-factory teams. 

Now, Porsche is one of those factory teams, and they step into LMP1 in 2014 – did that impending project influence the decision to run the GTE program as a factory effort?

“No – the LMP project runs completely separate from the GTE.  The most important point is that the first appearance of the car was always 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.”

So when will we see the car in the hands of customer teams?

“That decision has to be made within the next month,” he explains.  “We are working on that scenario, there are a lot of parameters that have to be taken into consideration – but I can’t properly answer that question now.  As soon as we know, we will publish it.  It will not be this season.”

That decision will surely be based on how the car performs against its rivals at Silverstone – and therefore how much work needs doing before it can be released.  It is certainly going to be fascinating.