Porsche has added another GT ace in Kevin Estre to its roster of factory drivers, confirming the rapid Frenchman Saturday night during its annual Night of Champions event in Weissach.
For Estre, only 27, it’s a chance to come home to the manufacturer after spending his formative years in sports cars with Porsche before branching off to McLaren.
He’d transitioned from single-seaters, primarily Formula Renault, into sports cars right as he ended his teen years and turned 20 in October 2008.
Championships in the single-make Porsche Carrera Cup France (2011) and Carrera Cup Germany (2013) followed, but the opportunity to join Porsche as a works driver didn’t just yet.
“I started my GT career after changing from single-seater to the Cup,” Estre told Sportscar365. “I did a lot with Porsche, won a lot of races and championships and then finally didn’t happen to be a works driver.
“Then McLaren took me in and I’m really glad they did, and I was really happy and proud to be a McLaren GT driver for the last two years.”
Estre, of course, starred on several continents and in two different types of McLarens – the MP4-12C first and now the current model 650S GT3 that premiered at the 2014 Gulf 12 Hours at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.
All the while though, and particularly as he racked up four wins in the 2015 Pirelli World Challenge GT season with the K-PAX Racing with Flying Lizard Motorsports team, Estre remained on Porsche’s radar and his factory debut came during the manufacturer’s biggest clash of the year.
With seven factory cars set to race between the FIA World Endurance Championship Six Hours of Spa-Francorchamps and TUDOR United SportsCar Championship in Monterey on the same weekend, Porsche didn’t have enough drivers to go around.
It meant that Estre and Porsche Junior Sven Mueller got their shot in one of the Porsche Team Manthey GTE-Pro Porsche 911 RSRs in the WEC race, and despite a chaotic race, it endeared the Frenchman to Porsche once more.
“I could show my potential, and then Porsche called me this year with a busy schedule and the clash between U.S. and WEC,” Estre said.
“They took me for Spa, and we did a good job in Spa, with no big issues. Just some small ones… we had two drive-throughs and crashed into another car!
“But to stand on the podium there for our first race with Sven Mueller was a good experience, and then the discussion came. I’m really proud, really happy to be here for this brand.”
Estre’s year of diversity continued with his perhaps overdue 24 Hours of Le Mans debut in OAK Racing’s Ligier JS P2 Honda in LMP2, which along with Audi GT rising star Laurens Vanthoor and IMSA Prototype Challenge class veteran Chris Cumming was the darling dark horse pre-race entry.
Racing the wide range of cars, rather than just with one manufacturer, proved a boon for Estre during his 2015 campaign.
“I think you need that, or it helps to be a better driver,” he explained. “Before I was doing Cup and GT and sometime I’d test in a single-seater. I think it helped every driver to adapt really quickly and get some experience.
“This year was again a year like this where I did a lot of McLaren stuff, but besides coming back to a Porsche without ABS, then coming back to an LMP2 with a lot of aero, something which I never drove before, and no ABS again. Sometimes this kind of experience helps you in the car you drive every day like the McLaren.
“But I think if you drive a Porsche, either it’s a 911, a GT3, a GTE, Cup car, it’s still a Porsche, and you’ll be fast in each of them.”
Estre’s 2016 program has five confirmed races thus far – the four Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup rounds in the WeatherTech Championship alongside Patrick Pilet and Nick Tandy in the No. 911 Porsche.
He’s also set for another 24 Hours of Le Mans drive with the same pairing in what would be a Porsche Team Manthey-entered car, subject to the ACO’s approval.
Other races such as the Nürburgring 24 are likely, and a European season in a 911 GT3 R may also present itself.
Estre is looking forward to not just racing with Porsche, but helping contribute to the development process.
“I think the GT3 R is already at the end of the development process,” he said. “The first race is in a month.
“It’s going to be soon, but this year is a big project, there’s a big project with a new RSR for ’17, so I think that’s going to be a cool one. Then some other cars. I’m really happy to be a part of it. A lot of testing, a lot of races.
“Being a Porsche works driver and doing Daytona and Le Mans for Porsche is I think something which you can’t compare to anything else.
“Le Mans for Porsche is the biggest race in the world with the biggest manufacturer in the world… the one with the most titles. It’s something that you can’t describe.
“I think I will see it in June, then the Nürburgring should be on the plan for sure. I’m really, really impatient to be there because I missed it this year.
“Maybe some other championship… a full championship. But it’s not sure yet what it’s going to be. The European season starts pretty late, so we have some time.”