It's been quite a long time since we've seen a Daytona 24 Hour entry list so short on Porsche entries. With the factory GTLM program having ended at the close of the 2020 season, Porsche was looking to be absent from GTLM for the first time since the series convergence in 2014. Thankfully the WeatherTech racing team stepped up to the plate from GTD, representing the Porsche faithful in the class with a single car supported by Proton Competition. There were five cars planned for the GTD category, but unfortunately Black Swan Racing's Tim Pappas caught COVID-19 and was forced to back out at the last minute. This leaves the race's most populous class with just a quartet of Porsches, one each from TGM, Hardpoint, Wright, and Pfaff. The Wright car ran fastest in class, but crashed during Saturday's overnight practice session, necessitating that Wright buy Black Swan's now unused chassis to swap all of its kit into.
Because the run up to the season needed to be truncated somewhat, the format for 2021 is different than it ever has been before. A short 100 minute sprint race took place on Sunday, with the finishing position in that race dictating the starting positions for the Rolex 24 next weekend. Luckily for Porsche, both the GTLM and GTD classed 911s saw podium finishes this weekend. Cooper MacNeil and Porsche factory ace Kevin Estre teamed for a run to third in the six-car GTLM class, while Zacharie Robichon and Porsche works driver Laurens Vanthoor hauled their 911 GT3 R up to second on the podium in the hour and forty minute race.
While the BMW team had managed to qualify on the front row for Sunday's sprint race, pre-race balance of performance saw them lose significant horsepower and go tumbling down the leader board in short order after the green flag fell. MacNeil, the son of WeatherTech impresario David of the same name, started the sprint race in sixth position. It's obvious from the outset that he'll be the team's weak point, but sharing the car in the 24 hour race with Estre, Richard Lietz, and Gianmaria Bruni means he'll only really need to keep the car on the lead lap to keep the car reasonably competitive. Proof of that, MacNeil served a short stint at the start of the race, keeping the car clean and within distance of the GTLM frontrunners. Once he handed off to Estre, the car moved rapidly through the grid and captured the lead of the race for much of the second hour. A scheduled fuel stop dropped the car to 3rd at the checkered flag. More of that, Cooper. More of that.
The Hardpoint car, driven by Christina Nielsen ended up in the barriers at the bus stop chicane early in the proceedings, costing that car two laps. The TGM car sat out the qualifying race, seeing no point in stressing the car too much for a starting position in a twice-around-the-clock endurance. The Wright car got off to a good start, but was penalized two laps for an incorrect yellow flag wave around procedure. Factory ace Patrick Long worked his way up to 9th at the end, just one lap back. “After the strong qualifying performance on Saturday with pole position going to Wright Motorsports, the Pfaff Motorsports customer team did a good tactical job and fought their way up to second place,” says Sebastian Golz, Project Manager Porsche 911 GT3 R. “This is a very good result for our Canadian partner. We’re ready for the first highlight of the 2021 year at Daytona.”
Drivers’ comments on the qualifying race
Kévin Estre (Porsche 911 RSR #79): “It’s a great result for us. Third place was the most we could do today. The team implemented a perfect strategy, and we put in a flawless drive over the entire race. I’m thrilled for the WeatherTech Racing and my teammate Cooper MacNeil about this first outing. We also learned a lot in the qualifying race under changing conditions with wet tyres and slicks.”
Laurens Vanthoor (Porsche 911 GT3 R #9): “This was a great practice session for the 24-hour race with our team. We’re very pleased with second place and we’ll gladly take that grid spot this coming weekend. On top of today’s result, it’s important that during the day we discovered where we can make improvements to our car for the endurance race. We’ll now implement these findings.”
Patrick Long (Porsche 911 GT3 R #16): “The qualifying race was really chaotic with heavy traffic and a slippery track at the beginning. Unfortunately, we misinterpreted the information from the race director and overtook during a safety car phase. We were one of many teams that were handed a penalty. I’m a bit disappointed, but I’m still proud of our team. We’ve learned a lot for the upcoming race.”
Earl Bamber (Porsche 911 GT3 R #88): “The accident at the start was bad luck. This can happen in close fights on a wet track. Running two laps behind in a relatively short race meant there was no chance of catching up. We’re now starting the big season opener from 14th place. It’s not ideal, but it’s not that critical in a 24-hour race either. What’s more important is that the team is well prepared. In this respect, we’ve learned a great deal today.”
Result GTLM class
1. Sims/Tandy (GB/GB), Corvette C8.R #4, 49 laps
2. Taylor/Catsburg (USA/NL), Corvette C8.R #3, 49 laps
3. MacNeil/Estre (USA/F), Porsche 911 RSR #79, 49 laps
Result GTD class
1. Auberlen/Foley (USA/USA), BMW M6 GT3 #96, 48 laps
2. Robichon/Vanthoor (CDN/B), Porsche 911 GT3 R #9, 48 laps
3. Bortolotti/Ineichen (I/CH), Lamborghini Huracan GT3 #111, 48 laps
9. Long/Hardwick (USA/USA), Porsche 911 GT3 R #16, 47 laps
14. Bamber/Nielsen (NZ/DK), Porsche 911 GT3 R #88, 45 laps