WEC : Best Porsche 963 tackles Imola race from fourth place

– Porsche Penske Motorsport’s second hybrid prototype on P5
– Hertz Team Jota and Proton Competition with three customer-963 in the top 11
– Pole position in the LMGT3 for the Manthey PureRxcing-Porsche 911 GT3 R

Porsche Penske Motorsport tackles round two of the FIA World Endurance Championship WEC at the Autodromo di Imola from the second and third grid row. Kévin Estre from France planted his works-run Porsche 963 just one place ahead of the sister car driven by Australian Matt Campbell. Two Porsche customer teams, Hertz Team Jota and Proton Competition, also made it into the so-called Hyperpole of the top ten. The pair will start the six-hour race on Sunday at 1 pm from positions nine and ten. In the LMGT3 category, Alex Malykhin from the UK set pole position at the wheel of the 911 GT3 R fielded by the Manthey PureRxcing squad. His Manthey EMA teammate Yasser Shahin from Australia achieved the seventh fastest time.

This weekend, the Porsche Penske Motorsport works team competes on both sides of the Atlantic. The qualifying session for round three of the North American IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was held on the Long Beach street circuit during the European night. There, the two works-Porsche 963 race cars qualified in positions four and five.

The qualifying and Hyperpole hunt for top times for the WEC race in Italy’s Imola took place on a dry track in sunny weather and mild 18-degree Celsius air temperatures and 24-degree asphalt temperatures. Like at the season opener in Qatar, the starting order in the two Hypercar and LMGT3 categories was determined in a two-tier system. First, all participants in their classes had twelve minutes to turn their flying laps. The top ten drivers then advanced to the so-called Hyperpole session to fight for pole position on a significantly freer racetrack.

The qualifying session for the Hypercar class was initially red-flagged after ten of twelve minutes when a competitor spun on the 4.909-kilometre circuit. When the track was given the all-clear, none of the 19 drivers managed to improve their times in the remaining 120 seconds. As a result, four of the five Porsche 963 cars made it into the Hyperpole. Only the No. 38 entry of Hertz Team Jota missed out.

In the ten-minute bid for pole position, Kévin Estre achieved the fourth fastest time with Porsche Penske Motorsport’s No. 6 hybrid prototype with a time of 1:30.101 minutes. The Frenchman starts Sunday’s race from the second grid row with his works driver teammates André Lotterer (Germany) and Laurens Vanthoor (Belgium). Australian Matt Campbell planted his Porsche 963 on P5 despite a short trip through a gravel trap. He shares the 508 kW (691 PS) racing car with Michael Christensen from Denmark and Frenchman Frédéric Makowiecki.

As the best-placed customer team, Callum Ilott secured position nine with Hertz Team Jota’s No. 12 Porsche. The British racer joins forces with his fellow countryman Will Stevens and Norman Nato from France. The tenth fastest time was set by former Porsche Junior Julien Andlauer for Proton Competition and his teammates Neel Jani from Switzerland and Harry Tincknell from Great Britain

« The qualifying result is okay for us with fourth and fifth on the grid – we would’ve gladly accepted this result a week ago. Testing here in Imola was worth it. We managed to systematically improve in the first two free practice sessions. The guys did a good job, » explains Urs Kuratle, Director Porsche Factory Motorsport LMDh. « Four of our Porsche 963 cars in the Hyperpole – that says a lot. Tomorrow it looks like there’s a chance for changeable weather conditions. That might suit us because we have the best driver line-up and we’re also very strong operationally. I think things look promising for tomorrow. »

« All four of our works-Porsche 963 cars performed strongly in the IMSA and WEC qualifying sessions today. I’m proud of the performance that our team has shown since the start of 2024, » states Jonathan Diuguid, Managing Director Porsche Penske Motorsport. « Qualifying has also underlined that the competition is tight in both championships. It’ll take perfect execution in Imola and Long Beach to have our Porsche Penske Motorsport 963 on the top step of the podium. »

LMGT3 class: Manthey’s Porsche 911 GT3 R
Following up from Qatar, Porsche’s customer team Manthey also put in an impressive drive in the 18-strong LMGT3 category in Imola. In the twelve-minute qualifying session, the UK racer Alex Malykhin set the fastest time with the 416 kW (565 PS) 911 GT3 R in 1:42.734 minutes. His teammate Yasser Shahin wrapped up the qualifying in third with a time of 1:43.361 minutes. This earned them both a spot in the Hyperpole session, where Malykhin progressed further. With a lap time of 1:42.365 minutes, he secured pole position for the first time this season and relegated the No. 27 Aston Martin from the Heart of Racing outfit to the second grid spot with a convincing gap of 0.693 seconds. Shahin qualified seventh.

Round two of the FIA WEC season starts tomorrow, Sunday, on the Imola Grand Prix circuit at 1 pm CEST. It race runs over six hours.

Drivers’ post-qualifying quotes
Kévin Estre (Porsche 963 #6): « Because of the red flag, we qualified for the Hyperpole session with tenth place, which was very tight. Then when the yellow flag came out, I only had one flying lap in this very short session, but I think I did quite well. In my opinion, we couldn’t have done much more than fourth place behind the ‘reds’ today. Still, we’re optimistic about the race and looking forward to a good fight – let’s see if we can beat the Ferraris with a better strategy. »

Matt Campbell (Porsche 963 #5): « My qualifying was really good and I was very pleased with the performance of our Porsche 963. Unfortunately, on my first flying Hyperpole lap, the tyres locked up while braking for Turn 1, which caused some serious flat-spotting. But we can be satisfied with our fifth place and P4 for the sister car. We got the best out of it – the top three were just a touch faster than us today. »

Callum Ilott (Porsche 963 #12): « Making it into the Hyperpole was our main goal from the outset. We did that, and I managed a solid lap. The Porsche 963 felt good and I was able to make further progress. In the Hyperpole, the yellow phases made it more difficult. Ninth place on the grid is okay, but of course, we would’ve preferred a better result. We still have some work to do for the race. We want to get the best for ourselves. »

Julien Andlauer (Porsche 963 #99): « I’m very pleased with the tenth grid spot. After the first free practice session we struggled with power steering issues, which cost us a lot of track time. That’s why we started the qualifying with a baseline setup and hoped that it would be generally okay. With no experience with the tyres and little fuel on board, it was a bit difficult. Still, we managed to hold our own quite well against the other Porsche. We’ve definitely taken a step in the right direction. Now let’s see what we can do in the race. »

Alex Malykhin (Porsche 911 GT3 R #92): « To be honest, pole position came as a bit of a surprise – we had to carry extra weight after our victory in Qatar. However, that motivated us to work even harder in preparation. Both sessions went well for me. My first attempt was very clean, on the second lap I went harder. My engineer also helped me a lot. He kept me well informed via radio about how to manage overtaking traffic on the track. At least half of this result is thanks to him! »

Yasser Shahin (Porsche 911 GT3 R #91): « I’m satisfied with the progress we’ve made since the first free practice. The car is getting better and better and I’m improving too. This is my first time driving here in Imola. In the first qualifying section, I pushed a little too hard to make it into the Hyperpole session. It’s part of a learning curve – but I’m happy with where I’m currently at. »

Qualifying result
Hypercar class:
1. Fuoco/Molina/Nielsen (I/E/DK), Ferrari #50, 1:29.466 min.
2. Kubica/Shwartzman/Ye (PL/IL/CHN), Ferrari #83, 1:29.855 min.
3. Guidi/Calado/Giovinazzi (I/UK/I), Ferrari #51, 1:29.953 min.
4. Estre/Lotterer/Vanthoor (F/D/B), Porsche 963 #6, 1:30.101 min.
5. Campbell/Christensen/Makowiecki (AUS/DK/F), Porsche 963 #5, 1:30.385 min.
9. Stevens/Ilott/Nato (UK/UK/F), Porsche 963 #12, 1:30.656 min.
10. Andlauer/Jani/Tincknell (F/CH/UK), Porsche 963 #99, 1:30.692 min.
11. Button/Hanson/Rasmussen (UK/UK/DK), Porsche 963 #38, 1:31.322 min.

LMGT3 class:
1. Malykhin/Sturm/Bachler (UK/D/A), Porsche 911 GT3 R #92, 1:42.365 min.
2. James/Mancinelli/Riberas (USA/I/E), Aston Martin Vantage AMR LMGT3 #27, 1:43.058 min.
3. Rossi/Al Harthy/Martin (I/OMN/B), BMW M4 LMGT3 #46, 1:43.099 min.
7. Shahin/Schuring/Lietz (AUS/NL/A), Porsche 911 GT3 R #91, 1:43.399 min.

Holger Eckhardt,