Sunday, June 7, 1998, 2:00 p.m.: The #26 Porsche GT1-98 crosses the line to take the flag in the Le Mans 24 Hours for the company’s 16th overall victory. The #25 Porsche GT1-98 finishes in second place. Behind the wheel in the winning car is Laurent Aiello, Stephane Ortelli, and Allan McNish, and in addition to winning the world’s greatest endurance race, the occasion is made all the more significant for other reasons: 1998 is also the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Porsche company, and, just two months earlier, the man largely responsible for setting Porsche on the road to success, Ferry Porsche, had died at the age of 88 years.
Fifteen years on, and the company is back at the Sarthe circuit to do battle once again as an official works team. Of course, the new Porsche 911 RSR has been in action already this season, competing in the first two rounds of the 2013 World Endurance Championships (WEC), but neither of those two outings resulted in a podium finish. Le Mans is, however, different, and while there is a certain amount of pressure on the team and drivers to deliver a result, the same pressure is on all of the other teams to do the same. One team in particular, Aston Martin, is under an even bigger spotlight: This is the company’s centenary year, and their form in the first two WEC races makes them pre-race favorites in GTE-Pro.
It is an appropriate time, on the 90th anniversary of this great race, for an official Porsche factory effort to return to Le Mans. First run in 1923, the only gaps in an otherwise continuous history were the years 1936 (race cancelled due to strikes) and in the war years between 1940 and 1948. It was just three years later that the Stuttgart manufacturer first competed in this classic French twice-around-the-clock endurance race, and this year’s race marks the 62nd year of unbroken competition by a Porsche at Le Mans. You don’t participate in any event for that long without racking up a substantial record of achievements, and Porsche enters the 2013 24-hour with 16 overall victories and an astounding 97 class wins. Audi is the only team to have come close, registering 12 overall victories (including this year’s race).
For Porsche the march to victory had begun many months ago, but following the valuable experience gained in the two rounds at Silverstone and Spa, as well as the three test sessions between the last race and Le Mans, the team is in a stronger place.
Technically the car is outwardly identical for Le Mans as it had been in the first two outings. It differs aerodynamically from the GT3 RSR (Type 997) in that the rear wing is now 100mm lower than the roofline, and is level with the rearmost point of the bumper. Olaf Manthey also told us that the Porsches had received an increase in air restrictor size for the Le Mans race (for both GTE-Pro and GTE-Am cars) from 29.3 mm to 29.6 mm.
Great expectations are placed on the Porsche team, run this season by the very able Olaf Manthey, but, as Wolfgang Hatz pointed out, “This is a full works team, where the cars are produced and prepared at Weissach with Manthey managing the team at the track.” In fact, the 911 RSR (Type 991) is produced by a team of around 60 personnel just a few yards away from where the new LMP1 racer is being prepared for the 2014 season.
So, did the disappointing results of the works Porsches so far this season put any additional pressure on the drivers? “For me as a driver, my outlook doesn’t change, because I always want to win, so therefore no added pressure,” a confident Jörg Bergmeister (#91) replied with a smile. The Porsches have shown a reassuring reliability. Works pilot Bergmeis-ter, during Porsche’s “meet the team” briefing at Le Mans, said, “The new car is a little better in a lot of different ways without being sensationally different in just one area.”