Fuji : Best qualifying for the Porsche 963 since its FIA WEC debut

Porsche 963, Porsche Penske Motorsport (#6), Kevin Estre (F), Andre Lotterer (D), Laurens Vanthoor (B)

– Strong qualifying result in Japan for the two works-Porsche 963
– Both Porsche Penske Motorsport’s cars on second grid row for the first time
– Customer teams’ hybrid prototypes clinch eighth and ninth
– P2 for Iron Dames’ Porsche 911 RSR in the GTE-Am class

The two Porsche 963 fielded by the Porsche Penske Motorsport works team have locked out the second grid row for round six of the FIA World Endurance Championship WEC. In the Hypercar qualifying at the Fuji Speedway in Japan, works driver Kévin Estre (No. 6) and Frédéric Makowiecki (No. 5) secured positions three and four. With this, the French duo has achieved the best qualifying result since the debut of the Porsche 963 in the FIA WEC. The identical prototypes from the customer teams Hertz Team Jota and Proton Competition turned the eighth and ninth fastest lap. In the GTE-Am class, the Porsche 911 RSR campaigned by Iron Dames put in an impressive performance setting the second fastest lap time.

The qualifying session for round six was held in high humidity and temperatures of around 26 degrees Celsius. After some heavy rain on Friday and Saturday morning, the track offered little grip during the 15-minute session. While the asphalt remained dry in many places early on, the rainfall increased in the last five minutes, which prevented better times. Under these tricky conditions, works drivers Kévin Estre and Frédéric Makowiecki tapped the full potential of their 500 kW (680 PS) hybrid prototypes.

While a large contingent of the hypercar field headed straight out of pit lane at the start of the session, the Porsche Penske Motorsport works team initially waited. After about a minute, Estre attempted a flying lap in the No. 6 car, followed by his brand colleague Makowiecki two minutes later in the No. 5 entry. Their patience paid off: Both drivers got a cleaner run and were only slightly hampered by traffic. The two works drivers continued to improve over the first five laps and ended up securing third and fourth.

« This is a very good result for our entire team, » sums up Urs Kuratle. The Director Factory Motorsport LMDh adds: « It’s been a long road this weekend. We’ve systematically improved our setup from practice to practice. That made this excellent result in qualifying possible. We could’ve been even closer to the top. Both drivers were making considerable gains in the final lap, but then the rain started and it was too wet in the third sector, so we couldn’t push as hard. Our customer teams are starting from the midfield in their two Porsche 963s. Let’s see what we can do from there in the race. »

« That was a great session. We’re very pleased with third and fourth on the grid, » grins Jonathan Diuguid, Managing Director Porsche Penske Motorsport. « Both cars were very close in qualifying. This shows that the drivers and the whole team have done their best. We’re well prepared for the race. We aren’t quite at the top, but those positions are well within reach. Tomorrow, we want to fight at the very front. »

The two Porsche 963 fielded by customer teams Proton Competition and Hertz Team Jota secured grid positions in the midfield of the top hypercar class. At the helm of the #38 Hertz Team Jota car, Portugal’s António Félix da Costa finished in eighth position, with his works driver colleague Ginamaria Bruni from Italy lining up directly behind him in ninth place at the wheel of the #99 Proton Competition car.

GTE-Am class: All-female Iron Dames crew starts from P2
In the GTE-Am category, Porsche’s customer teams had varying degrees of success with the proven 911 RSR. In the hunt for top times at the foot of Mount Fuji, Sarah Bovy again turned heads. The Belgian planted the No. 85 Iron Dames car on the second grid spot. At the end of the 15-minute session, she was only 0.035 seconds off pole position. The identical ca. 378 kW (515 PS) 911 racers fielded by Project1 – AO Racing, Dempsey-Proton Racing and GR Racing form a trio in eighth, ninth and tenth place. Iron Lynx’s 911 RSR tackles the race from 13th place in its class.

Round six of the FIA WEC at the Fuji Speedway around 100 kilometres southwest of Tokyo runs over six hours. The race gets underway on Sunday, September 9 at 11:00 am local time (04:00 am CEST).

Driver’s comments on qualifying
Frédéric Makowiecki (Porsche 963 #5): « It’s a great result for us. We’ve made leaps and bounds with the car. It makes me proud to see how much we’ve improved since the start of the season. I think the car will be strong in the race as well. I’m really optimistic. Even if the weather conditions change throughout the day, I’m not worried at all; during practice we did well here in the rain and on a dry track. »

Kévin Estre (Porsche 963 #6): « Our Porsche Penske Motorsport cars are lined up alongside each other on the second row of the grid – brilliant! The car felt better than it previously had in qualifying, and that translated into our best result in the hunt for top times. This is proof that our hard work is paying off. We’re constantly improving. We also hit the ground running in qualifying. It’s not quite pole position, but it’s a clear step in that direction. Now we’ll see how we do over the distance in the race. In any case, the car feels fantastic. »

António Félix da Costa (Porsche 963 #38): « I’m disappointed. We were really looking forward to qualifying and wanted to go for the top. Unfortunately, other cars kept getting in the way on my last laps. That cost three or four-tenths of a second each time. It was a bit unlucky. We could have been much further forward. The race tomorrow will run over six hours. That’s still ample time to make a significant improvement in our ranking. »

Gianmaria Bruni (Porsche 963 #99): « We learned a lot in the practice sessions. In qualifying, I was creeping closer and closer to the limit, but then it started to rain. On my fastest lap, I wasn’t able to make any considerable gains in the last sector because the track was wet. We gambled a bit there – but it doesn’t matter. We’re satisfied. Let’s see how the weather develops on race day and what’s possible for us then. »

Sarah Bovy (Porsche 911 RSR #85): « It was incredibly close in qualifying. I wanted to pull it all together into one last hot lap at the very end, but unfortunately, it was too late to improve my time. The front grid row is excellent. I’ll try to replace my colleague Ben Keating at the front in the first few laps. Let’s see how that goes. Hopefully, it’ll be an entertaining race. A bit of rain could spice things up and raise our chances of success. »

Qualifying result
Hypercar class
1. Conway/Kobayashi/Lopez (UK/J/ARG), Toyota #7, 1:27.794 minutes
2. Buemi/Hartley/Hirakawa (CH/NZ/J), Toyota #8, 1:28.418 minutes
3. Estre/Lotterer/Vanthoor (F/D/B), Porsche 963 #6, 1:28.667 minutes
4. Cameron/Christensen/Makowiecki (USA/DK/F), Porsche 963 #5, 1:28.717 minutes…
8. Da Costa/Ye/Stevens (P/CHN/UK), Porsche 963 #38, 1:29.111 minutes
9. Bruni/Tincknell/Jani (I/UK/CH), Porsche 963 #99, 1:29.338 minutes…

GTE-Am class
1. Keating/Varrone/Catsburg (USA/ARG/NL), Corvette #33, 1:38.338 minutes
2. Bovy/Gatting/Frey (B/DK/CH), Porsche 911 RSR #85, 1:38.373 minutes
3. Hoshino/Stevenson/Fujii (J/UK/J), Aston Martin #777, 1:38.875 minutes…
8. Hyett/Jeannette/Cairoli (USA/USA/I), Porsche 911 RSR #56, 1:39.179 minutes
9. Ried/Pedersen/Andlauer (D/DK/F), Porsche 911 RSR #77, 1:39.183 minutes
10. Wainwright/Pera/Barker (UK/I/UK), Porsche 911 RSR #86, 1:39.202 minutes…
13. Schiavoni/Cressoni/Picariello (I/I/B), Porsche 911 RSR #60, 1:40.292 minutes…

Holger Eckhardt,