– Works team heads to Japan for the first time with two Porsche 963
– Customer squads field two more hybrid prototypes
– Porsche partner teams tackle the GTE-Am class with five 911 RSR
– ‘Circuit Safari’ adds a special highlight to the Fuji event
Porsche Penske Motorsport has set its sights on returning to the podium at the penultimate round of the FIA World Endurance Championship WEC. The works team will run two Porsche 963 in the hypercar class. The Hertz Team Jota and Proton Competition customer squads also take up the challenge at the six-hour race in Fuji, Japan. Each team fields one of the ca. 515 kW (700 PS) hybrid prototypes from Weissach. In the GTE-Am category, a total of five customer-run Porsche 911 RSR racers will fight for points and trophies.
The FIA World Endurance Championship WEC turns onto the home straight with the penultimate race of the year at the storied Fuji racetrack. On the former Formula 1 circuit at the foot of Japan’s most iconic mountain, the Porsche Penske Motorsport works squad is aiming for a podium finish. At the previous round in Monza, the two Porsche 963 crossed the finish line in fourth and seventh. Like in Italy, two more hybrid prototypes from Weissach will contest the penultimate round of the season in Japan: The customer teams Proton Competition and Hertz Team Jota will once again tackle the hypercar class with vehicles producing around 515 kW (700 PS).
« Japan is an important market for Porsche. We’re looking forward to showcasing our Porsche 963 in racing conditions to the extraordinary fans in Fuji, » explains Thomas Laudenbach. The Vice President of Porsche Motorsport adds: « The competition in the FIA WEC hypercar class hasn’t been balanced recently. We’re hoping that the performance structure will be different in the penultimate round of the season. Our goal is clear: We want to finally get back on the podium and be as successful in the World Endurance Championship as we are with the Porsche 963 in the American IMSA series. »
« The Fuji circuit has some very unique characteristics, » says Urs Kuratle, Director Factory Racing LMDh. « With the longest straight on the WEC calendar at almost 1.5 kilometres coupled with several tight and technical corners in the third sector, the circuit throws big challenges at engineers and drivers. In Fuji, the challenge is to find the ideal balance between downforce and top speed. These conditions are somewhat reminiscent of Le Mans. We were very fast there in June so this makes me confident for the race in Japan. »
« It’s no secret that the European stage of the season had highs and lows but the overall trajectory since Sebring has ultimately been positive, » states Jonathan Diuguid, Managing Director Porsche Penske Motorsport. « Despite missing out on the podium, our Monza performance was strong so we aim to continue this momentum as we head to Asia and the Middle East. The Fuji event will require perfect reliability – we’ve, of course, not had the chance to test there so we’re eager to learn as much as possible during the practice sessions where every lap will count. Then, during the race, we’ll have to make sure we’re smart with the tyres – managing the track surface that has high degradation – and that we use the infamous changeable weather conditions at Fuji to our advantage. I’ve no doubt we’ll put on a fantastic show for the fans as we aim for another WEC podium. »
The regular driver crews of this season will once again share driving duties in the two Porsche 963 of the Porsche Penske Motorsport works team. The American Dane Cameron shares the cockpit of the No. 5 car with his works driver colleagues Michael Christensen from Denmark and Frédéric Makowiecki from France. In the No. 6 sister car, Frenchman Kévin Estre and Belgian Laurens Vanthoor join forces with three-time overall Le Mans winner André Lotterer from Germany. In the FIA WEC manufacturers‘ classification, Porsche ranks fourth after five of seven races this season.
The WEC race
Opened in 1966, the 16-turn, 4.563-kilometre Fuji Speedway lies at the foot of Mount Fuji, Japan’s highest mountain at 3,776 metres. The snow-capped peak of the volcano, which was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013 and is revered by the Japanese as a sacred natural monument, is often used as the spectacular backdrop in photos taken at the racetrack. The circuit layout features a wide range of corner radii as well as the longest straight on the World Endurance Championship calendar at 1.475 kilometres in length.
A special highlight of the WEC weekend in Japan is the ‘Circuit Safari’. Shortly before the third free practice session on Saturday, all teams will send one of their vehicles onto the track at almost race speed. At the same time, coaches will be given access to the racetrack, offering fans a chance to experience the circuit up close. This annual event is a huge hit with spectators, with the bus rides giving them lasting memories of the impressive pace of the prototypes and GT vehicles as well as the racing operations of the FIA World Endurance Championship WEC.
Porsche’s customer teams and drivers
The privateer teams Proton Competition and Hertz Team Jota field one Porsche 963 each in the top hypercar class. Works driver António Félix da Costa from Portugal, Will Stevens from the UK and the Porsche Motorsport Asia-Pacific selected driver from China Yifei Ye will compete for the British team, which led the field for some laps at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2023. Works drivers Gianmaria Bruni from Italy, Neel Jani from Switzerland and Englishman Harry Tincknell will share the Proton Competition car.
Five 911 RSR will tackle the GTE-Am class. Project1 – AO again fields ‘Rexy’, a favourite with the fans. The bright green 911 decked out in a dinosaur design will be helmed by the Americans PJ Hyett and Gunnar Jeannette and the Italian Matteo Cairoli. The yellow Iron Lynx car and the Iron Dames pink contender will add even more of a colour splash to the grid lineup. The all-female trio Michelle Gatting (Denmark), Sarah Bovy (Belgium) and Rahel Frey (Switzerland) again share the No. 85 Iron Dames Porsche. Dempsey-Proton Racing and GR Racing will campaign two identical ca. 378 kW (515 PS) racing cars.
Drivers’ comments before the race
Michael Christensen (Porsche 963 #5): « The break after the Monza race was quite long. I’m really looking forward to the next race in the Porsche 963. I’m hoping that we can make further progress in Japan and be more competitive. We have to close the gap to the top and fine-tune our processes as a team. We’re still a young outfit and are constantly learning. We want to underline that in Fuji. I always enjoy racing there because the Japanese fans, the culture and the whole country are extremely interesting. »
Kévin Estre (Porsche 963 #6): « Japan is one of my absolute favourite countries. I’m very eager to travel there again. We were consistently strong in Fuji with the 911 RSR. Whether that will also be the case with the Porsche 963 is too early to tell, since we’ve never tested there. Our engineers have intensively analysed the data from Monza to fine-tune some aspects and squeeze every last ounce of performance out of the car. I’d like us to have an upper hand on our rivals in Japan. »
Yifei Ye (Porsche 963 #38): « The first seven months of the year were very labour-intensive, so I really enjoyed the rest period after Monza. I relaxed, but also trained a lot and intensively prepared myself physically and mentally for the last two races of the year. Our team has evaluated the data from Monza. We have concrete ideas about what we want to try out in Fuji to become even more competitive. I’m looking forward to Japan because I used to race karts there when I was ten and eleven years old. As a Porsche Motorsport Asia-Pacific selected driver, it’s obviously close to my heart to put in a particularly strong performance on an Asian track. »
Neel Jani (Porsche 963 #99): « We used the long break after the last race in Monza to analyse our initial experiences with the Porsche 963. In Fuji, we are competing with a completely new car, as the car from Monza will be fielded in the American IMSA series. I’m very familiar with the Fuji racetrack from my races in the FIA WEC. The fans in Japan are always extremely enthusiastic. I’m looking forward to the atmosphere there. On the sporting side, we’re giving everything, as always. But we’re still a fledgling team so every lap counts. Our learning curve remains steep. »
Overview of teams and drivers
Hypercar class (Porsche 963):
Porsche Penske Motorsport (#5): Dane Cameron (USA), Michael Christensen (DK), Frédéric Makowiecki (F)
Porsche Penske Motorsport (#6): Kévin Estre (F), André Lotterer (D), Laurens Vanthoor (B)
Hertz Team Jota (#38): António Félix da Costa (P), Will Stevens (UK), Yifei Ye (CHN)
Proton Competition (#99): Gianmaria Bruni (I), Harry Tincknell (UK), Neel Jani (CH)
GTE-Am class (Porsche 911 RSR)
Project1 – AO (#56): PJ Hyett (USA), Gunnar Jeannette (USA), Matteo Cairoli (I)
Iron Lynx (#60): Claudio Schiavoni (I), Matteo Cressoni (I), Alessio Picariello (B)
Dempsey-Proton Racing (#77): Christian Ried (D), Mikkel Pedersen (DK), Julien Andlauer (F)
Iron Dames (#85): Sarah Bovy (B), Michelle Gatting (DK), Rahel Frey (CH)
GR Racing (#86): Michael Wainwright (UK), Riccardo Pera (I), Ben Barker (UK)