Celebrating Porsche's seven years of factory campaigning in the USA
Porsche’s factory effort in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship came to an end last weekend with the final outing in Sebring. We look back.
Porsche’s factory effort in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship came to an end last weekend with the final outing in Sebring. The GT Team went out on a high at the 12-hour race in Florida, with the 911 RSR finishing first and second. The emotional farewell from the fiercely competitive GTLM class concludes a seven-year programme that yielded an outstanding record: seven title wins in the IMSA series, five championships in the North American Endurance Cup, 21 race wins in total and 56 podium results.
The journey began in 2014 when ALMS and Grand-Am merged to become the Tudor United SportsCar Championship and Porsche made the decision to enter two works 911 GT3 RSR. Joining forces with the experienced Core Autosport team from South Carolina, a highly effective team was created in a very short time and at its first outing, Nick Tandy, Richard Lietz and Patrick Pilet took a class win at the 24 Hours of Daytona. The remarkable start continued at the second round of the season, the Sebring 12 Hours, when their teammates Michael Christensen, Jörg Bergmeister and Patrick Long won the class. After more strong performances and another victory at Petit Le Mans, Porsche took home the manufacturer’s title on debut.
The following year, at Road America, Porsche completed what is arguably its greatest single success in North America. At the 2015 Petit Le Mans, in heavy rain, Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet and Richard Lietz not only beat their GTLM rivals but also outstripped the prototype class. This incredible feat handed Porsche its second straight manufacturers’ title as well as the team championship, with the prestigious drivers’ crown in the US racing series taken by factory driver Patrick Pilet.
Long Beach, 2016
For 2016, the series was renamed the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Porsche fielded the brand new 911 RSR for the first time. Up against five other manufacturers in the GTLM class, this time the factory team left the season-openers of Daytona and Sebring empty-handed, but at round three in Long Beach, Patrick Pilet and Nick Tandy clinched the new 911 RSR’s maiden win. Teammates Earl Bamber and Frédéric Makowiecki followed this up with a second victory in Austin, Texas.
At the start of the following season, Porsche unveiled a completely new RSR – with its 4.0-litre Boxer engine mounted in front of the rear axle for the first time. In the absence of prototypes, Pilet and teammate Dirk Werner secured overall victory at Lime Rock and claimed the drivers’ title in the North American Endurance Cup, which in turned helped Porsche take the team title.
Patrick Pilet and Dirk Werner at Lime Rock, 2017
In 2018, the factory team notched up three wins and numerous podiums, but the silverware remained elusive. Things change dramatically in the following season, however, which turned into one of the most successful years in the history of Porsche Motorsport. After victory at Le Mans and in the FIA World Endurance Championship, Porsche’s American team stepped up to the plate, taking the manufacturers’ championship and drivers’ title for Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor. The victorious pairing and their colleagues Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet, clinched five wins in a row during the first half of the season, an unprecedented run in GTLM. Another outright victory at the Virginia International Raceway and a strong performance from both RSRs in the Coca-Cola livery at Road Atlanta were the icing on the cake of a dream year.
Petit Le Mans, 2019
But it would not all be plain sailing after that, and the works team faced a real test of patience at the start of 2020. At the first six IMSA events of the year, the works cars secured four pole positions and lead the field for 3,445km, but still took until mid-October for that elusive first win of the season. At Petit Le Mans, Nick Tandy, Frédéric Makowiecki and Matt Campbell brought the No. 911 car over the finish line in first place, while Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor followed suit in the next round at Laguna Seca.
Last weekend’s final appearance could not have gone better, however. Race day began with parade laps from five 911 RSR from three different generations, wearing the Brumos, Coca-Cola and Mobil1 liveries and spearheaded by the current car with its commemorative ‘Thank You’ design. After an immaculate performance from the team at the twelve-hour classic, the works cars took the final chequered flag of the season in first and second.
After seven years, this triumph closed the circle perfectly for the Porsche GT Team in the IMSA series: victory on debut in 2014 and victory at our final race some seven years later.