Podium for Porsche in Portimão

The Porsche GT Team finished round two of this year’s FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) third and fourth in the GTE-Pro class.

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In place of the cancelled Sebring 12 Hours, the World Endurance Championship descended on Portimão in Portugal for the first time at the weekend. In preparation for Le Mans, the GT Team went ahead with its existing plan to field three drivers per car in GTE-Pro, with Michael Christensen joining regulars Kévin Estre and Neel Jani in the No.92 car, while Richard Lietz, Gianmaria Bruni and Frédéric Makowiecki shared the No.91 sister car.

Qualifying for round two of this year’s championship began on Saturday at the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve. Estre once again assert his single-lap dominance on the new circuit, with the flying Frenchman taking another superb pole position in the works 911 RSR.

The race began in good conditions the following day, with Estre quickly eking out an eight-second lead over the first hour. After the first scheduled pit stop, Jani rejoined the race in second place with four fresh tyres. Behind them, Bruni was enjoying a close battle with the second factory-run Ferrari, but had eventually to relinquish third place after a light nudge. Then a puncture caused by debris on the track shortly before the two-hour mark forced him to pit earlier than planned, and Makowiecki took the wheel.

With the air and asphalt temperatures rising, both 911 RSR were unable to maintain the ideal performance window of the chosen Michelin tyre and began to lose ground. By the halfway mark, they were running a number of laps behind the class leaders in third and fourth. However, a safety car phase after five hours and an adjusted tyre strategy turned the tables again for Porsche. With Estre back in the No. 92 car, and Bruni the No. 91, Porsche reeled in the leaders for a nail-biting final phase.

At the start of the final hour, the four GTE-Pro rivals were all on the same lap and Estre even managed to work his way into second place, only to relinquish it at his final pit stop. With about 30 minutes left in the race, another caution phase played into the hands of the competition, enabling them to defend first and second to the flag. Nevertheless, the No.92 911 RSR was only 20 seconds off the Ferrari after eight hours and 278 laps of the 4.7km GP circuit, with the No. 91 close behind in fourth.

“Third and fourth place is not the results we’d hoped for,” said Alexander Stehlig, Head of Operations FIA WEC. “We set pole position again yesterday and we thought we could build on what we’d achieved at Spa-Francorchamps. During the first half of the race, we were simply too slow and couldn’t match the pace of our competitors, because our tyres deteriorated more. From about the halfway mark, we opted for the second tyre spec and that allowed us to catch up. Our number 92 car was on a sure course to second place until the final 30 minutes of the race.”

In the GTE-Am class, meanwhile the Dempsey-Proton Racing 911 RSR started on the front row but soon fell back to fourth. Matteo Cairoli launched a spirited charge through the field for the Project 1 team, and at times was leading the class. However, a ten-second pit-stop penalty meant the team would ultimately have to settle for second.

Round three of the World Endurance Championship will be held at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza in Italy on 18 July.

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