Porsche, Michelin and winning have been inextricably linked through decades of sports car racing.
That will remain true even after the Porsche GT Team ends its seven-year factory program at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. Porsche will focus instead on its new Porsche Carrera Cup North America series and its GT Daytona and Michelin Pilot Challenge customer racing programs.
In the cauldron of full factory or factory-supported efforts from BMW, Chevrolet Corvette, Ferrari, Ford and occasionally Aston Martin and Dodge, Porsche always put its best foot forward.
The Porsche GT Team enters this weekend at Sebring with 20 program wins, two driver and team championships, and a perfect opportunity to capture a pair of three-peats that seemed impossible merely a few weeks ago.
Reflecting on the Start
In American GT racing, teams like Alex Job Racing, Flying Lizard Motorsports and Petersen/White Lightning carried the torch for Porsche in the early-to-mid 2000s, and all chose Michelin.
When Porsche made the decision to enter a full factory GT Le Mans class program in IMSA, CORE autosport emerged as perhaps an surprising choice but one that clearly had the right trajectory.
Rock Hill, S.C.-based CORE autosport, led by Jon Bennett and Morgan Brady, had set the bar in the single spec LMPC class for three years in the American Le Mans Series.
CORE ran a Porsche 911 GT3 RSR customer program to signal its intent to ascend, and included Porsche’s lone American factory driver, Patrick Long, in the driver lineup.
The early conversations suddenly blossomed even quicker than everyone realized.
“The evolution of starting with CORE and Porsche came out of the Flying Lizard era,” Long said. “We were starting to look for a new partner to run an RSR in IMSA.
“Jens Walther, who was the president of Porsche Motorsport North America (at the time), came to me with a few ideas and prospects of teams. I spoke to him about what I thought Morgan Brady and Jon Bennett brought to racing as a start-up, and how they immediately found success in the LMPC category.
“We spoke to them about our goals. We started with a partial season in 2013, and they brought a level of professionalism I knew the factory was going to love.
“Speaking to Owen Hayes, one of the top engineers Porsche has had over the last two decades, I said, ‘Look, come to the track, listen in and join us for a race. I think you’ll like what you see.’
“Less than a year later, we had a full two-car factory deal.”
Consistent Success, Highlights Throughout
In some respects, the team’s incredible GTLM start in 2014 remains under-appreciated. The magnitude of the merger that brought IMSA under one roof after more than a decade divided stood as the dominant storyline at that year’s Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Overshadowed by a serious accident in-race and a controversial finish in one of the other classes, Porsche’s debut victory in GTLM with the trio of Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet and Richard Lietz didn’t get its full due (CORE won LMPC too in the same race, for good measure).
A second straight win at Sebring in March (Long, Joerg Bergmeister and Michael Christensen driving) also had a tinge of controversy because of a penalty assessed to the incorrect Porsche.
Porsche’s success could not be overlooked in 2015 and 2019, two years it utterly dominated the sports car racing scene.
The 2015 season included a run of four GTLM victories in the final five races.
Michelin’s newest specification slick tire introduced midseason, helped bring the Porsche to life.
In completely opposite conditions, at the waterlogged Petit Le Mans, Porsche claimed its famous, historic overall victory with its GTLM car as it toppled the prototypes and GT field to cap off its driver and manufacturer championship season.
Tandy would have joined Pilet as driver champion but missed a race to prepare for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The preparation clearly paid off, as he won overall at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in Porsche’s 919 Hybrid LMP1 car with Earl Bamber and Nico Hulkenberg.
The 2019 season was even better as Porsche again claimed both the GTLM driver and manufacturer titles, now with the second generation 911 RSR that placed the engine in front of the rear axle.
Porsche reeled off a GTLM record of five consecutive victories from Sebring through Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. The team scored its sixth 2019 win at the Michelin GT Challenge at VIR. T
he social media savvy pair of Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor – a.k.a. “BamThor” – delivered the GTLM driver’s championship driving the iconic Coca-Cola historic livery at Petit Le Mans.
Synergy and Sebring Sign-Off
Things have not gone all smoothly since Porsche announced in June it would end the GTLM program a year early. Luck eluded the team throughout most of the season, and the U.S. team was forced to skip the Mid-Ohio round out of an abundance of caution.
But luckily they head to Sebring focused on ending on a high. Tandy, Fred Makowiecki and Matt Campbell claimed a breakthrough win for the new 911 RSR-19 car at Petit Le Mans, and Bamber and Vanthoor delivered Porsche’s first Monterey win last race.
Tandy and Makowiecki are shooting for a personal Sebring 12-hour three-peat if they win this race. If the No. 912 car wins, that would also provide Porsche its third straight 12-hour win.
Ending at Sebring in a year when little has gone to plan suddenly becomes fitting, when reflecting on the origin story.
“We rolled out for our first test at 2013 at Sebring as well,” Long said.
“I tell a funny story that Morgan Brady told me, the session started at 9 a.m. that day. At 9:01 a.m., we were already producing laps.
“That’s how Morgan ran the operation – I’m proud to have been a small part of it.”
And so is Michelin.