A few months ago Porsche announced that it would be pulling two of its entries from the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2020, thanks to budgetary cutbacks in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic. The two IMSA team entered cars have been pulled, and only the two full-season WEC 911 RSRs will run in the 24 this year. This will be Porsche's smallest entry at Le Mans in years, but it's still a strong entry. The WEC 911s have won two rounds this year, including the most recent round at Spa-Francorchamps, where the car's aerodynamics are most closely related to the Le Mans aerokit. Porsche won Le Mans in 2018, and finished with a double podium in 2019 (Ferrari won) so it's on a roll at this track. Here's hoping for more in 2020.
Add in eight Porsche entries in the 22-car GTE Am class, and Porsche has a fairly strong chance at taking home some hardware again this year.
Porsche In GTE Pro
Ford and BMW are gone. That's the big story this year. The GTE Pro class is as small as it's been in years, and with only Aston Martin and Ferrari to fight, you'd thing Porsche is on easy street. Not so fast. Aston Martin has won three rounds of the 2019-2020 FIA WEC season, and Ferrari has a victory as well. All of the cars in this class are in with a shot at victory, depending on how weather, strategy, traffic, and pure dumb luck play out. In fact, this might be the class to keep an eye on more than any other this year, because it'll be so tight.
Porsche will have the familiar trio of Gianmaria Bruni, Richard Lietz, and Frédéric Makowiecki in the #91 car for the 24, while the #92 car will be sporting Michael Christensen, Kévin Estre, and Laurens Vanthoor for driving duties. All six of these drivers have proven their mettle at Le Mans, and should be willing and able to deliver for the German brand.
Both cars are fitted with a special livery, marking fifty years since Porsche's first overall victory at Le Mans in 1970 with the famed red and white Salzburg livery. Both cars are adorned with the numerals 1970 across the hood and roof, with a commemoration of Attwood and Herrmann on the rear quarter panel. The 91 will be in matching red and white, while the 92 is the same livery, but black and white.
Porsche in GTE Am
In the GTE Am class, Porsche has sold privateer machines to eight different entries. Three cars each will be entered from Team Project 1, and Dempsey-Proton Racing, while a single car will be campaigned by Proton Competition and Gulf Racing UK. Let's break each team down, shall we?
Team Project One has a bunch of great drivers on their roster. I'd say the #57 car of Jeroen Bleekemolen, Felipe Fraga, and Ben Keating is one to really look out for. As with any of these pro-am teams, it's always the am you want to pay attention to. A mediocre gentleman driver will break a race for a team, even if the pros are superstars. In this case, Keating is one of the more talented racers to still be called an am. Keating and Bleekemolen teamed to win the Bahrain round last fall, so they know what it takes to win.
Dempsey-Proton's team is another one to look out for. With the driver pairing of Matt Campbell, Riccardo Pera, and Christian Ried, this could be a force to be reckoned with. Matt Campbell is a Porsche professional, and Christian Ried is quite good in his own right as the team's am. Riccardo Pera is a bit of an unknown, but he was a runner up in the ELMS championship last year, so he might stack up alright.
That fourth non-Dempsey entry from Proton Competition has Michele Beretta, Horst Felbermayr, Jr., and Max van Splunteren sharing the driving. Felbermayr hasn't run at Le Mans since 2011, and the other two are relative young guns, so maybe the less said about this lineup the better. Clearly someone has paid Proton to enter their car, and that's never a bad move.
The Gulf Racing team again has Ben Barker, Michael Wainwright, and Andrew Watson at the wheel. This team is pretty consistently a mid-pack finisher in the GTE Am category, so I wouldn't count them in for the victory, but you never know. Crazy things happen at Le Mans.
Here are some choice quotes from the Porsche teams as they head into Le Mans week. Good luck, and Godspeed.
Fritz Enzinger (Vice President Motorsport): “I’m delighted that the 24 Hours of Le Mans can be held during the coronavirus pandemic – despite the very challenging conditions. I would like to thank the ACO and WEC management who worked alongside the authorities, manufacturers and teams to make this happen. In June, we gave our fans a great show with the virtual 24 Hours of Le Mans. Now the real race has arrived. I’m positive that we’ll provide our loyal fans with another exciting event – and I hope that the thousands of spectators can return to the racetrack next year.”
Pascal Zurlinden (Director Factory Motorsport): “Le Mans will be completely different this year because of the lack of spectators and the heavily modified schedule. Still, I’m expecting a fantastic highlight for the fans. This year’s event is hugely significant for Porsche. Fifty years ago, Porsche’s winning streak began with the first outright victory for the 917. We commemorate that triumph with spectacular vehicle designs and special pit fit-outs. Our sporting aim is clear: After our win at the virtual 24 Hours of Le Mans in June, we now set our sights on claiming Porsche’s 109th class victory with the real 911 RSR.”
Alexander Stehlig (Head of Operations FIA WEC): “We’re competing under completely different circumstances. The climatic conditions in September are different compared to June. There are still some unknowns in terms of weather, temperatures, performance and tyres. We’ll use the existing data from our WEC and IMSA campaigns as well as the insights gained from testing so that we can hopefully be well sorted for the first free practice session. We’re competing for the first time with the Porsche 911 RSR-19 here. It’s not only new for us, but also for the ACO, which handles the BoP. We have complete confidence in the expertise and experience of the specialists. Remaining unchanged, however, are the two driver trios in the cockpits. This will be their third year of working together at Le Mans. That’s a strength we will build on.”
Gianmaria Bruni (Porsche 911 RSR #91): “I’m very excited to see our Porsche 911 RSR decked out in the special Le Mans livery in real life. I’ve only seen the artwork and it looks fabulous. Turning up at the track with our stylish and fast cars on the anniversary of Porsche’s first overall victory at Le Mans is both a motivation and an obligation for us. We’re aiming for class victory. In the past two years, we finished in second place with our number 91 car. If we can make it over the distance without incidents, then nothing should stand in the way of a great success.”
Richard Lietz (Porsche 911 RSR #91): “The fact that Le Mans is being held in September this year will have a huge impact on the race. It gets dark earlier on Saturday and light much later on Sunday. We’ve never experienced such a ratio between day and night before at this 24-hour classic. What’s more, we’re facing very changeable weather. All of this promises an extremely thrilling race. Let’s see how the competition is in the GTE-Pro class. Our tests in the lead-up to Le Mans went well. Class victory is our clear goal.”
Frédéric Makowiecki (Porsche 911 RSR #91): “Le Mans will feel very different this year. I’ll really miss the spectators. We’re always very pleased to have their huge support in the paddock and especially at the drivers’ parade in the city centre – but unfortunately, that’s not possible this year. There are also some changes in the race operations. The weekend schedule is strictly streamlined, the test-day is cancelled and the chance of rain is higher in September. Our goal with the number 91 car is clear: After finishing the last two Le Mans races in second place, we’re determined to win our class this time. ”
Kévin Estre (Porsche 911 RSR #92): “We’re returning to Le Mans with the very best memories. In 2019, we won the WEC championship title here. As a Frenchman, Le Mans is a home race for me. I’ll miss the fans very much. Traditional events like the autograph session in the pit lane and the drivers’ parade are a huge part of the special charm. In terms of the sporting challenge, it’ll be extremely exciting: Our current 911 RSR has been fast everywhere so far. I hope this will be the case at the special Le Mans circuit. The distinctive design of our number 92 car looks great – I think the black areas suit the shape of the 911 RSR perfectly.”
Michael Christensen (Porsche 911 RSR #92): “We’re heading to the highlight of the year with high expectations. At the previous WEC race at Spa-Francorchamps, we celebrated our first win of the season with the number 92 car – that was important for the championship and it gives us extra motivation for Le Mans. Even without a pretest, we’re very well prepared for the 24-hour classic.”
Laurens Vanthoor (Porsche 911 RSR #92): “The time plan for this year is totally different from usual. The very long Le Mans week seems almost like a normal WEC race weekend. It’s important to be well prepared with the new 911 RSR right from the start of the first session. We prepared ourselves to the best of our ability during the test drives. Our team scored a class victory at Le Mans two years ago. I’m confident that we’ll be part of the fight for victory in the GTE-Pro class again in 2020.”
Matteo Cairoli (Porsche 911 RSR #56): “I can hardly wait to contest my fourth 24 Hours of Le Mans. Our driver line-up is extremely strong this year, the car has been perfected and is good for a win. If we can do a flawless job and keep out of any trouble, we have good chances. I’m convinced that we could end up on the podium. Victory is also within the scope of our possibilities. We’re optimally prepared.”
Matt Campbell (Porsche 911 RSR #77): “Le Mans is held this year under different conditions, but I’m happy that we can drive there at all. It is and remains the biggest event of the year. Christian Ried and I won our class in 2018 – now I’m eager to repeat that with Riccardo Pera. We finished the previous WEC race at Spa-Francorchamps on the second podium step. We now want to take a big step forward in the championship with a success at Le Mans.”
Benjamin Barker (Porsche 911 RSR #86): “I’m very excited about our return to Le Mans. In the past, we’ve always had the pace in the 24-hour race, but our results didn’t reflect this. That needs to change this year. The atmosphere at the racetrack will be very different without the fans, but Le Mans in 2020 will have the same sporting significance as it’s always had.”