Porsche’s triple victory in the Sebring double-header has been hailed as “exceptional” by the marque’s director of GT factory motorsports, Pascal Zurlinden.
Porsche 911 RSRs won both the GTE-Pro and GTE-Am classes of the 1000-mile FIA World Endurance Championship race last Friday, before the manufacturer’s GT Le Mans team took victory in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring IMSA race on the Saturday.
A quicker late-race wheel change put the No. 91 Porsche ahead of the lead BMW M8 GTE to win the WEC race, while in the 12 Hours Nick Tandy produced what Zurlinden called an “astonishing” drive to hold off the Ford GT of Ryan Briscoe in the closing stages.
Dempsey-Proton Racing completed the trophy haul with the No. 77 GTE-Am Porsche taking its second consecutive class win.
A Pfaff Motorsports-entered 911 GT3 R almost made it four wins out of four in the IMSA GT Daytona class, but an ABS problem late in the race ended its chances.
“It was an exceptional weekend because we have never had a 1000-mile race and then a 12-hour race straight away, the day after, so it is really something special,” Zurlinden told Sportscar365.
“On [Saturday evening the WEC crew] were celebrating because they were in the hotel bar watching the [IMSA] race all together, and they were sending us pictures. Our last celebration was yesterday and we had a meeting with employees in Weissach to celebrate it.
“At the end for me, it was also really emotional because Sebring last year was at the proper start of my new job as project leader for the RSR, so it was really emotional to come back and win again.”
“We were not the quickest car on average, but when you see all of the teamwork and how reliable the car was, how the pits stops and strategy were, I think we have a great package.”
Zurlinden admitted that Porsche was surprised by the lack of pace from its IMSA cars in the wet during the first half of the 12 Hours before it bounced back.
“In the rain we were struggling in Daytona, as everyone saw, and we thought that we learned our lessons, but Sebring showed exactly the opposite,” said Zurlinden.
“In the end we were struggling even more than Daytona. I think it’s a grip problem and we are definitely looking into that next time there is a race in the wet, we don’t look slower than the GTD cars.
“In the dry, I think we were definitely not the quickest car, but we were able to follow everyone and as the [full course] yellows came, we were able to come back on the lead lap, and with the right fuel strategy we were able to fight and be at the front.”
Zurlinden put the WEC victory down to superior work in the pits after Gianmaria Bruni brought the No. 91 Porsche onto the tail of the leading MTEK BMW just before a late-race yellow.
“If you look at the timing it is quite interesting that when the cars are on their in-laps to get wets, with the BMW in front of us, Gimmi did an awesome drive to reduce the 17-second delta to a 10-second delta,” he said.
“Then the pit crew did the rest and got the win for Porsche, because they were 10 seconds quicker in that pit stop. The wheel change was around 12 to 15 seconds, which is half-tank, and they [BMW] didn’t need any more than half-tank at that point in the race.”
CORE, Manthey “Working Really Closely”
Zurlinden added that the growing synergy between Porsche’s CORE squad in North America and its Manthey Racing counterpart over in Europe played a part in the successful Sebring weekend.
CORE and Manthey ran as Porsche GT factory teams in the same race for the first time at last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, and will do the same again this year as the manufacturer returns with four 911 RSRs.
Zurlinden explained how there was little crossover between the two programs at Sebring, but the preparation had involved collective efforts from both sides.
This included the WEC Porsches undergoing prep work at CORE’s American workshop while the rest of the WEC equipment was shipped over in the championship’s collective sea freight.
“At the beginning of last year, in the preparation for Le Mans, both teams have been working really closely together,” said Zurlinden.
“In the middle to end of February, the IMSA team had a test at Sebring. Our cars were sent to the CORE workshop, so the WEC cars were revised there and sent to Sebring.
“We have meetings every week over Skype. This is just increasing month by month. So at the end, I think after this weekend we are nearly like one team, we can consider.”