DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – What does the 2023 Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach have in common with the 1956 Targa Florio, the 1960 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the 1968 Nurburgring 1000 Kilometers and the 1985 Rolex 24 At Daytona?
They are all major sports car races in which Porsche claimed its first overall victory with its latest and greatest creation.
The Porsche 963 is the most recent in a line of winning racing cars to emerge from Weissach, Germany, and the Long Beach triumph on April 15 achieved by Nick Tandy and Mathieu Jaminet for Porsche Penske Motorsport is likely to be the first of many in what promises to be a golden era for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and sports car racing around the world.
“This day will go down in the history of our team,” stated Porsche Penske Motorsport Managing Director Jonathan Diuguid. “The first victory with the Porsche 963 is incredibly important to us; we put in so much energy and work to be able to celebrate such a success.”
Porsche has maintained a presence in sports car racing for almost all the company’s 75-year history. No other manufacturer can match Porsche’s 19 victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Porsche also boasts a stellar record in North America with IMSA, winning dozens of races (including 22 overall wins in the Rolex 24) and multiple championships with the 935, 962 and RS Spyder models.
Amid all the excitement for the WeatherTech Championship’s new-for-2023 Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class and the potential for crossover with the FIA World Endurance Championship’s Hypercar class, anticipation was therefore arguably the highest for Porsche’s return to the top levels of international sports car racing – especially since the factory effort would be in partnership with Team Penske.
Roger Penske’s extensive history with Porsche dates to the 1950s as a driver and team owner, and the Porsche/Penske tie-ups that resulted in Can-Am and American Le Mans Series Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) championships are embedded in the German marque’s lore.
In committing to the GTP class, Porsche Penske Motorsport knew it would face stern competition from Cadillac and Acura, winners of the last six WeatherTech Championship titles in the outgoing Daytona Prototype International (DPi) class. The Penske organization is fully aware of Acura’s capabilities, having partnered with Acura to win the DPi title in 2019 and 2020. In addition, BMW M Team RLL quickly got up to speed with the BMW M Hybrid V8 despite starting its GTP program months later than the other three competing manufacturers.
While the Porsche 963 has struggled for one-lap speed, the car’s race pace has been excellent – especially over longer runs. That put Porsche in position to compete with Acura for the win at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring until an accident with 20 minutes remaining took out the top three cars – two of them Penske Porsches – allowing the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac V-Series.R to claim a surprise win.
At Long Beach, both Penske Porsches saved time during the only pit stop of the 100-minute sprint race by not changing tires. They seized the advantage when the lead No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-06 suffered a slow pit stop, with Matt Campbell in the No. 7 Porsche defending second place long enough to give leader Jaminet in the No. 6 Porsche enough of a cushion to force Ricky Taylor, recovering in the Acura, to make a desperate pass for the lead with two laps to go.
Taylor lost the car under braking and slid into the Turn 1 barrier, ending the race under caution with Jaminet and Campbell running 1-3 for Porsche, sandwiching the No. 25 BMW shared by Nick Yelloly and Connor De Phillippi.
“What an exciting and fantastic race,” Thomas Laudenbach, vice president of Porsche Motorsport, exclaimed after the manufacturer’s first global victory with the new prototype. “It was a spectacle from the first to the last lap. Our team chose an optimal strategy and did a perfect job with the pit stops. Our drivers gave their utmost and drove flawlessly without exception despite coming under enormous pressure. This performance was deservedly rewarded with our first victory.
“Many thanks to everyone in the team, our employees in Weissach and all our partners who made this success possible,” he added.
The latest Penske/Porsche success also brought a lot of joy to the Penske organization. Team Penske Porsche 917s won 12 of 17 Can-Am races in 1972 and ’73, delivering championships for George Follmer and Mark Donohue. The partnership was revived for a three-year run from 2006-08, with the Penske-prepared Porsche 718 Spyder earning 23 ALMS LMP2 class wins in 33 starts – including overall victory at the 2008 Twelve Hours of Sebring and several other sprint races over faster LMP1 competition.
“Our strategy was certainly risky, but it paid off,” Diuguid noted. “We owe this triumph to every single person in the team. What Matt Campbell did in the battle for second place at the end was awesome, to have the sister car’s back in the important final phase. I’m enormously proud of the entire team.”