Porsche factory driver Richard Lietz said the German manufacturer was “caught by surprise” at the high tire degradation it encountered during the 8 Hours of Portimao which ultimately prevented it from challenging Ferrari for the GTE-Pro win.
The team switched its Porsche 911 RSR-19s onto a harder specification of Michelin tire during the race in an attempt to reclaim lost ground to the factory Ferrari 488 GTE Evos.
Kevin Estre, Neel Jani and Michael Christensen finished third while Lietz, Gianmaria Bruni and Frederic Makowiecki settled for fourth as Ferrari came away with a one-two result.
“Unfortunately we didn’t see the issue in the practice sessions,” Lietz told Sportscar365.
“Therefore, we were caught by surprise. We had to react in the race. The first thing is you react with the driving style, you take care, and then you try other stuff.
“It’s a bit sad that this question arrived in the race. Luckily we were faster [after the spec change]. But if the others had the answer already before, they were faster.”
Lietz, Bruni and Makowiecki appeared to experience harsher tire degradation on their No. 91 car than Estre, Jani and Christensen did in the No. 92 Porsche. The No. 91 machine also had a puncture caused by debris, which threw it off the standard pit sequence.
Porsche’s head of WEC operations, Alexander Stehlig, explained that the mid-race tire specification change produced “better pace and results” from the Porsches.
“The plan was ticked off in the Free Practice sessions,” he told Sportscar365.
“We thought what we were doing was correct, but the first three to four stints showed us that we have to adapt the plan, and that’s what happened.
“At the beginning of the race, the first stint was good on No. 92 and OK on No. 91. And then from the second stint, we realized we couldn’t go the pace that we wanted.
“We had more tire deg than we wanted. We saw that the tire specification we chose was not in the working window, and that’s why we lost pace. Then you try to understand the tires on the car, temperatures and so on.
“We decided in the race to change to the next specification. But you cannot change from one spec to the next, from one minute to the next. Because you have a strategy: you have tire plans and heating plans. You need to adapt everything; it takes some time.
“About mid-race we changed the specification and saw some better pace and results.”
The pole-sitting No. 92 Porsche even got back into second, courtesy of a seventh-hour Estre pass on Daniel Serra through the final two corners, however this change only lasted until the final-hour Full Course Yellow which gave the No. 52 Ferrari a strategic edge.
“At that point, we had lost some gap to Ferrari, which at the end of the day brought us back for P2 in the last half-hour when they brought the Full Couse Yellow [out].
“Due to our pit stop sequence we were already in for our last stop under a green track, and the Ferrari was six or seven laps delayed. But exactly in that six of seven laps, the Full Course Yellow came.
“He could use this Full Course Yellow to have a much lower pit time loss, for his pit stop. That’s how they could pass again for P2.”
Calado: One-Two Result “Great for Ferrari”
GTE-Pro winner James Calado Calado hailed his and Alessandro Pier Guidi’s AF Corse Ferrari crew after taking the manufacturer’s first win in the category in 19 months.
The Brit added that the safety car and Full Course Yellow periods toward the end of the race enabled his No. 51 Ferrari to make the end without needing a costly additional stop.
Pier Gudi’s final pit stop came with 1 hour, 17 minutes remaining. With a GTE-Pro stint typically lasting around an hour, the final-hour FCY helped the Italian to deliver the win.
“They [Porsche] were a little bit quicker on pace, but I think they suffered more with tire degradation compared to us,” said Calado.
“We struggled in practice, but we managed to go back to a baseline that we knew something similar to Spa. So the car was pretty good in the race.
“The safety car helped us a bit with our strategy because of the fuel that we needed to save, so originally we were five laps short. We were going to do a splash but the safety car stopped us from doing that.
“It’s nice to get a win, obviously. It’s been a long time – the last one was Shanghai  – so it’s great for the team and to get a one-two is great for Ferrari and AF Corse.
“It was down to the guys’ strategy: that’s what made us win the race. We’re so pleased and looking forward to Monza.”