A few weeks ago, we brought you Porsche's announcement of their 2016 factory driver lineup. On that list were 15 familiar names returning from the 2015 season, but there was a 16th, Kevin Estre, that was perhaps unfamiliar to you. Estre was announced by Porsche to have a role within the squad as a Le Mans GTE driver, as well as a GTLM driver in the endurance events during the WeatherTech United Sports Car Championship season (Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen, and Petit Le Mans). So who is this Frenchman, and why does he deserve to drive some of Porsche's finest cars? Here's everything you need to know about Porsche's newest GT driver.
Karting and Formula Cars
Kevin started his racing career in karts, as many young European drivers do. His first championship was won when he was just 13, winning the French Cadet Kart championship. Just a few years later, he was a champion again, and this time an international champ with the ICA European kart championship. Two years later, he was the French Formula 4 champion, so it's safe to say he has a knack for being quick and winning (6 wins and 12 podium positions from 13 rounds). In 2007, Estre entered the French Formula Renault 2.0 championship with Graff Racing. He did not fare as well in 2007, finishing only 9th overall in the championship with 9 points-scoring finishes from a 13 race season.
Porsche Cup Cars
It is important to note that this is not Kevin's first time in a Porsche GT car, as he has quite a lot of experience in them. In 2008, Graff Racing and Kevin decided together that his talents would be better served in Carrera Cup racing with the Porsche Carrera Cup France championship. Through the 2008 season, Kevin continued to improve, eventually scoring a trio of podium positions, and ended the season on a high note, winning the Magny-Cours round outright for 5th overall in the standings. In 2009, Kevin remained in the PCCF championship, but transitioned to Sofrev-ASP racing. This time he won at Nogaro, Le Castellet, and Circuit de Ledenon as well, clearly improving. 2009 also saw Estre compete in the FIA GT3 European Championship round at Le Castellet with MP racing.
2010 was a banner year for Kevin, as he continued with Sofrev-ASP in the same championship for the third year while continuing to improve his fendered-car racecraft. In 2010, he scored an impressive 5 victories and a total of 12 podium places. He was in the title battle all season long, but eventually lost out to Frédéric Makowiecki by only two points. For 2011, his fourth year in Porsche Carrera Cup France, Estre bounced to yet another team, this time the AS Events team. With Mako no longer around to drown out Estre, Kevin absolutely decimated the competition in 2011, winning 10 rounds. His points delta to second placed Sylvain Noel was 113, making it a thorough trouncing. 2011 also saw Kevin join Attempto Racing for an attack on the Porsche Supercup and Porsche Carrera Cup Germany championships. He scored a maiden victory in Supercup at Monza.
In 2012, Estre dropped full time Carrera Cup France duties (running only 5 rounds with Nourry Competition) to focus on Supercup and German Carrera Cup with Attempto. His efforts in the Porsche Carrera Supercup were well founded, as he finished second only to René Rast, and won at the Hungaroring. In the German championship, Estre finished fourth in the series standings with a victory at the Nurburgring 24 hour support race. 2013 saw a similar program, still with Attempto, and still in Supercup and German Carrera Cup. In Supercup, Estre had a slightly harder time, finishing on the podium 3 times and seeing no victories, ultimately finishing the season in fourth. German Carrera Cup, however, was a completely different story. Similar to his 2011 French Carrera Cup season, Estre dominated from the word go. Winning 8 races of 17, Estre took the title in convincing form.
GT Sports Car Racing
For 2014, Estre's efforts were recognized by McLaren, who offered him a factory GT drive with ART Grand Prix in the Blancpain Endurance Series. Competing in a McLaren MP4-12C GT3 with Kevin Korjus and Andy Soucek, the crew took two podiums and finished eighth in the Pro Cup standings.
2015 was a massive year for Estre with a number of full-time McLaren drives, a run in the WEC with Porsche, and even an entry at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Kevin started the year with a run at the 24 Hours of Daytona in a Porsche GT America with Park Place Motorsports (Estre move from ART Grand Prix to Von Ryan Racing with his Blancpain efforts teamed with Rob Bell and Shane Van Gisbergen). The trio managed to win rounds at Silverstone and the Nürburgring, and ended fourth in the overall championship. Here in the US, Kevin competed in the Pirelli World Championship with the KPax McLaren team, winning rounds at COTA, Barber Motorsports Park, and Daytona. In addition, Porsche borrowed Kevin's talents from McLaren for use as a fill in driver in a GTE car at the Spa round of the WEC. Porsche had added a third 919 Hybrid for Spa, and the rest of their GT driver squad was running in an IMSA race stateside. It was likely Estre's efforts in his podium run for Porsche in this race that garnered him the contract for 2016, if I were to bet on any one aspect of his career. As mentioned before, Kevin also had his first attempt at Le Mans at the helm of a Ligier-Honda JSP2 LMP2 prototype for Oak racing (sadly a DNF after 329 laps).
Kevin Estre, Porsche Factory GT Driver:
I’d really like to thank McLaren GT for giving me my first works contract at the end of 2013 as this enabled me to launch my professional career. A new chapter is beginning with Porsche, a make to which I’m very attached and which I’m extremely happy to join today.
Welcome to the Porsche team, Kevin! As a big fan of the team, we hope that you stick around for a while and provide Porsche the results we know you're capable of. If you need any advice, your team mates will likely be happy to help. Teaming with Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet in WTUSCC races should be certainly educational. Assuming Porsche is admitted to run a GTE Pro car in the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year, Tandy and Pilet will also be sharing the car with Estre. That's a strong lineup for the 24-hour enduro, and I smell a victory coming.