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Catching Up With.... Marc Lieb

As one of the drivers who struggled through 2012 with the Porsche 997, Marc Lieb has a lot to look forward to this coming season.  Just one victory went the way of the venerable car in WEC last season, a triumph at Spa on a weekend that Aston Martin faultered and Ferrari, according to Lieb at the time, held back. 

“It was everything with the 997,” he shrugs.  “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 frustration for Lieb is that the team knew what needed to do, but just had to wait for a new car to be able to do it.

“This was the logical step from the engineers in Weissach,” he continues.  “They had it in their mind, what to do, to have a quick car.  It wasn’t like we had to tell them, they knew what they were doing.  Of course we had some issues last year.  I mean, the performance was good; we just had a very small window where the performance was.  You look at Fuji when the temperatures we cool, we were very competitive in the 997 – we were quickest.  As soon as we passed a certain point on track temperature or air temperature we were struggling.  Now, I think with this car we have more possibilities, and a better racing car for sure than the 997.”

So the 991 comes as something of a relief for beleaguered drivers, with improvements particularly with a new front suspension set up, far apart from the old car.

“We cannot only talk about the front suspension – it’s a combination, you know?  We’ve never run a short wheelbase 911 with double wishbone suspension, so it’s a combination of suspension, wheelbase and the weight distribution which makes the car a lot better over better over bumps.

“It’s a lot easier to drive – but different to drive, a different driving style.  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.”

On the car’s performance relative to its rivals, the cars are remaining pretty close to the brand new Stand 21 outfit for now.

“It’s difficult to say.  I’m sure that we know that the car is better than the 997, but we don’t know exactly by how much.  At the end, you know we have so many factors in a six hour race where you need to be good.  You need good speed, good tyre wear, good fuel consumption.  It’s all depending where we are.  We’ll probably see in qualifying and the first two stints at Silverstone where we really are.  At the moment, it’s very difficult.  We don’t know.  We have to see at the first race, but it looks promising – really, though, it’s too early to say.”

Go on Marc – give us something…

“When you enter with a new car, you will always struggle at the beginning until you have a proper, well-balanced car.  If you look at the Aston or the BMW, they all struggled in the first three or four races.  For us the goal is to be competitive right away – this was the main goal.  Especially when you have the 50th anniversary of the 911, it is important.  The time was very short to develop.  It’s a very tough job and for Le Mans, you always need luck as well.  You can be the fastest car but you need luck, and reliability.  We are working really, really hard on it, to get it all right for Le Mans.

“We want to be competitive, to fight for the win at Le Mans,” he finally admits.

As a driver, he’s got mixed feelings about his changed environment.

“It’s exciting,” he says about the works opportunity.  “I mean, I really enjoyed the customer racing in the last few years, it’s a very special relationship with Team Felbermayr in recent years.  On the one hand I was really sad that we ended this program because it was a great team, but on the other hand the opportunity to work with the factory team is great.”

He’s clearly got a lot of respect, too, for the man whose name is now linked even more closely with Porsche racing – Olaf Manthey.

“It’s a big step for us, for a team, for Porsche, to come back after 15 years, and that’s why we need the help from Olaf.  He was always sharp, always on the edge always had good competition.  He was great in DTM, had a great Carrera cup team and everything.  It’s a good combination because on the one hand we have the engineering and development side from the factory, and on the other side you have the team and the spirit from Olaf and the experience in endurance and sprint racing.  The combination is good, but of course we have to find each other and see how it works.  It’s been promising in testing.”

With the combination of six of the best GT drivers ever assembled, one of the best team managers in the world and the backing of the most successful manufacturer in Le Mans history, it’s hard to bet against Lieb being successful in 2013.  But who can be sure of anything?

JY