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Porsche GT Team Reflections: End of an Era

Porsche drivers, team principals reflect on key moments of North American GTLM program…

Photo: Porsche

Saturday’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring will mark an end of an era for one of the most successful partnerships in the modern era of IMSA racing, with the Porsche GT Team completing its final race in the GT Le Mans class.

The factory program, operated by CORE autosport, delivered three manufacturers’ titles, 20 class wins — including an overall victory at Motul Petit Le Mans in 2015 — along with 55 podium finishes in the 74 races contested over its seven-year run in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Sportscar365 caught up with key players in the program, from drivers Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber to Porsche and CORE’s top-level management, to reflect ton the program’s key moments and what made the program such a success from the onset.

Photo: Porsche

Pascal Zurlinden, Director of Porsche Factory Motorsport:

“If you look at single events I think winning the first race in Daytona in 2014 was something really special. But on top of that, the one that everyone who was involved will always remember is Petit Le Mans 2015.

“It was an overall win with a GT car, and every time we go to Petit Le Mans in the future you will see that car on the winner’s wall, and this is something really special. The championship wins, those are special, but those are probably two events that are extraordinary ones.

“In 2015, I was part of the Porsche 919 Hybrid LMP team but I was watching it on the live stream. I think that the achievement — looking from the outside at that point — was as huge as for the people on-site. We knew from the LMP side how quick the LMP2 cars are and GTs were also running in WEC so we could see that they have no chance against these prototypes.

“It was simply impressive, I have to say. It’s probably the biggest achievement as a single point.”

Photo: Porsche

Jon Bennett, CORE autosport team owner:

“It was a great partnership. We have a lot of good experience and tools, and of course Porsche has an almost immeasurable depth and experience. Putting those two together created a great atmosphere for success.

“[The] first year, I was very, very nervous. Morgan was very, very confident. And our little race team in 2014 was heading into our very first 24 hour race after the merger with Grand-Am. Personally, I was nervous.

“Colin [Braun] and I were about to embark on a prototype version of the 24 hours, and then we had the very, very important relationship with Porsche.

“That day, Daytona 2014, I won’t forget for a long time because Colin and I and James Gue and Mark Wilkins were able to win the LMPC race at Daytona and then also our GT Le Mans partner, we were also able to win that for Porsche, which was basically their first factory race in what they called their return to racing.

“[It was a] very, very important day, and we’ve had a good relationship ever since.”

“Porsche has been an enjoyable partner to work with. They’re also a client of CORE autosport, and like the clients of my manufacturing company it’s always very important to me that we do a good job.

“In racing, it’s a little bit different than a traditional business like manufacturing where you work hard, you make a good product, and everyone’s happy. In racing, you can work quite hard, produce a good product, and not have success.

“That’s the difference in motorsports where not always is hard work rewarded.

“That’s where I have a lot of respect for my teammates at CORE and the guys who come in and work long hours every day and are certainly disappointed with things that didn’t go our way but are very good at putting that behind them and reloading for the next race without much loss of rhythm.

“It’s our ability to learn and to keep pushing and understanding that motorsports can be a very trying business.

“I hope that Porsche will look at this era of racing as a success. I don’t think you can’t look at it that way: several GTLM championships and some remarkable wins.

“I’m very proud of our partnership with Porsche and certainly look forward to seeing Porsche come back to racing when these strange days are behind us.”

Photo: Porsche

Morgan Brady, CORE autosport Chief Operating Officer:

“To anybody who was in the team, everybody understood that we always operated at a level a little bit higher than wherever we were at the time.

“When we were a privateer, we were trying to operate like a factory team and figuring out what that looked like and what that needed to be.

“The level within the team wasn’t such a step when the time came and we were ready. That’s why we came out of the gate as strong as we did in winning the Daytona 24 right out of the box, the first race with Porsche.

“In terms of forming that relationship, that was very much a goal of Jon Bennett and me for many years. Even the announcement of that partnership before we even turned a wheel was really the culmination of two years of strategic work to get to that point.

“The thing that impressed me most at the time was just how sophisticated Porsche was and how they continued to grow. There’s a lot of manufacturers in our paddock, and of course I’m biased, but I continue to be impressed by the level that Porsche operates at.

“Of course the win at the Daytona 24, winning a championship in our first year, backing that up by winning a championship in our second year, I think the that proved that it wasn’t a fluke.

“Winning overall at Petit Le Mans in 2015, I think we all are still talking about it and still surprised by that.

“Just the fact that we’ve won almost 50 percent of the championships, I think that says a lot.

“This has certainly been a challenging year on track, off track, for the team, for the whole world, but to even in the closing stages of the program win back-to-back races shows just how much strength program has.

“What it did for me is that honor and responsibility when you put on that Porsche uniform.

“For anyone who’s walked through the Porsche museum in Stuttgart and sees this history of road cars but also racing cars and to know that our cars are the next ones to be in the museum and to know that we’re writing chapters in Porsche’s racing history that will be remembered for a long, long time.

“That’s a big responsibility and something that we’re very proud to have been a part of.”

Photo: Porsche

Nick Tandy, Driver No. 911 Porsche:

“We’ve won three Sebring’s, three Petit’s, we’ve won at every track and we’ve won every major endurance race including Watkins Glen and Daytona.

“It’s obvious that the team has been very good at the endurance stuff, and that’s when you don’t just need a fast car and a couple of clean pit stops. You need a whole lot more that goes into getting a result in these endurance races, and I think it’s clear that we’ve been one of the best teams at that in the seven years we’ve been together.
“There’s a lot of people who are still here that I remember from when the project started, me included of course.

“Okay, there’s people who’ve been and gone, but there’s a core group and very influential people within the team that have been with us since Day 1.

“Looking back, [the Petit Le Mans overall win] will probably be the enduring legacy of the team and what we did. We had a lot of success, we won championships, we won every race going, but that one will stand out forever probably.

“The circumstances around that race from our point of view, we were in a super close battle in the last race of the season for a championship win, and with the weather conditions as they were and the risk of something happening, the car having some sort of issue in an endurance race that’s plagued with water, looking back it’s an incredible thing.

“I’m lucky enough to get to see pictures of the event and pictures of the celebrations afterwards and the video of the race. Seeing people’s faces, seeing people’s reactions, it’s something else that you can take with you.

“You never forget the feeling at the time of what was happening. You can look back and see it and it reminds you of exactly what we did accomplish that day.

“I think ultimately I will remember [this stint with Porsche in GTLM] as the greatest time of my career to date.”

Photo: Porsche

Earl Bamber, Driver No. 912 Porsche:

“Some of the highlight achievements have to be for the team to have won so many of the Endurance Cup races so many times.

“For us on the 912 car, the championship last year was something awesome to get the manufacturer’s and the driver’s titles in GTLM. It was something quite fitting, to be honest. And also to see everyone grow as a team.

“We started off so many years ago and for me it’s a special place because it’s the place where I first raced as a factory driver back in 2014 at Petit Le Mans. I can remember it like yesterday but already six or seven years have passed. Time’s gone by really, really quickly. It’s been special the whole way along.

“In the beginning when it first came back it was a lot of people reminiscing back on the Flying Lizard days, and we had big shoes to fill because that car was so popular and famous with all the fans.

“I think in the last two, three years that fan base has really come to grow into loving the Porsche GT Team in North America. Some of the things we started to do at the end with individual posters each weekend, it became a fan favorite and quite a collectible item between all the fans and the Porsche Club of America, seeing them each weekend.

“It was really nice to tick the box of Laguna Seca [earlier this month] because we can leave saying that we’ve won at every single regular season track now.

“Not many manufacturers can say that they’ve won at every single track on the calendar. That was something really important that we ticked that box.

“I think the stance and presence at endurance events, being so strong there, winning the manufacturer’s title twice in that period and two times driver title as well, it’s going to be a legacy that’s held of the success of the results of the team.”

Photo: Porsche

Ryan Myrehn is an Indianapolis-based broadcaster and reporter. In addition to his work covering primarily domestic sports car racing for Sportscar365, he is a pit reporter for SRO America's TV coverage as well as for IndyCar Radio. Myrehn, a graduate of DePauw University, is also the host of Sportscar365's “Double Stint” Podcast.

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