Porsche campaigned a pair of Type 991 RSRs in the GT-Pro category of the FIA World Endurance Championship, and in a season of mixed results for Weissach-Flacht, the new RSR struggled to keep pace with Aston Martin and Ferrari, although Porsche claimed the one that truly matters to any manufacturer—wins of both GT classes at Le Mans.
Porsche Motorsport boss Hartmut Kristen took the time from a manic race schedule at the Circuit of the Americas to discuss the frustrations of making a new car go fast, and the return of a factory-backed U.S. team to compete in the 2014 Tudor United Sportscar Championship.
KM: Congratulations on coming back to the U.S. for 2014. The RSR down in the garage right now, in the WEC technical specification—is it the same car that CORE and Falken will be running?
Hartmut Kristen: More or less, yes. The current GT regulations used in both FIA WEC and IMSA GT racing have a freeze for newly homologated cars for two years, but within the first year you can do an update, and from then on you have to use that specification. In Bahrain you will see the final specification we will race in 2014 here in the U.S. And that’s this car with some slight modifications.
KM: Will you be allowed to make any major changes over the winter before Daytona or the start of the WEC in 2014?
HK: No. In this category you have the majority of parts homologated and therefore frozen. We are not allowed to change a homologated part without a request to the FIA, ACO or IMSA. Most of the parts that are free are not really performance relevant. This is also not where you usually can do the big steps.
KM: What about the aero package?
HK: That’s finished. We are trying to convince IMSA that, like at Le Mans, which has significantly higher top speeds compared to other race tracks, at Daytona we have to be very careful, because we haven’t raced in the top category for years there. And as today’s Grand Am GT car might be able to pull a top speed close to 300 km/h, the GTE cars might be able to do something in the range 265-270, so that could give some strange scenarios.
KM: The way the rules have been written seems to restrict the manufacturers and teams from correcting mistakes to increase performance. There doesn’t appear to be a corrective policy unless you petition the FIA, the ACO, or IMSA.
HK: In an ideal world, yes, there would be that kind of opportunity. The problem is you do not have the same scenario or situation comparing car A to car B. Again, look at Le Mans. You don’t need as much downforce as you need at other racetracks. So that has a huge impact, and then you have racetracks where the temperatures are lower than others. All of these elements are relevant to the overall performance of a given car. For instance, a car that is good on racetracks where you require high downforce is not necessarily as competitive when a low downforce version is what you want. So that’s the point—you always have a third party involved in this type of discussion, and you are not free to make the necessary adjustments that you believe will work. That is why the balance of performance was created. It’s definitely the case here in the U.S., where the situation has always been depending on what side of the table you sit. The organizers always wanted to have the opportunity to make sure nobody becomes dominant. That’s the old history we face here. When the Big Three stepped out of U.S. racing in the 1950s, manufacturer involvement became lower than it was in Europe, and it was more about privateers, so it was also a strategy to keep everybody in the game and happy.
KM: You’ve done your homework.
HK: Yes, but that’s the other point: This holds true when you have regulations that everybody has to work with from the start. Ferrari, for instance, has very exotic high-performance components even on its road cars, and in the past when regulations were made on the philosophy of using a road car you were entitled to a certain range of freedom. And that holds true to what you just said about homework. Number one, you have a good road car; number two, you have used most efficiently and effectively the freedom of the regulations; number three, you end up with a perfect race car. But there lies the problem, when you start using exemptions to tweak the road-car platform, then you have to apply the balance of performance, and that’s when you open Pandora’s box. This is the game we are in at the moment.
KM: Does it make sense to have a unit-body car, such as a 911, compete against something that essentially is composite or a tube frame. You could in theory take a 911 body shell and build a racecar from it and still be within the rules. That’s not something you can do with the majority of cars that are on the grid from other manufacturers.
HK: The competitors or manufacturers involved in GT racing at the moment don’t do it because they like driving in circles, but to some degree it’s marketing, its communication, and that’s why it is so important. What is the message we can send to our customers? In the past, it was always, “Look how close a race car is to our road cars,” so you knew what you got when you bought a road car; you’ve seen the performance. Today it’s more like, “I honestly believe in the fairy tale that the car I buy is a good car,” and I’m not sure how long the customers will actually believe in that kind of story. When it’s not a true story anymore, people that might be interested in GT racing today, tomorrow will go to a football game. I mean, success is sexy. That’s how simple it is.
KM: That rock wall at the gym is not the same as a stroll on Kilimanjaro.
HK: That’s a little bit of the point. On the other hand, we have to accept that road-car performance today is derived from a completely different technology in certain areas than race-car technology. If you want to do an overall good job, you design a car and test it within its mechanical capabilities, and then you start working on the electronic system, like traction control, stability control, ABS, all these goodies you don’t have on a race car. Then on the race car you work with components that do not suit a road car.
KM: Years ago we had a similar conversation about this, and I asked you why we needed a GT3 Cup car with so much stuff in it. Why not a dumbed-down version with a standard gearbox, no electronics—and your point was that the development for the components in the GT3 Cup do, in fact, find their way into the road cars. There was no way to reverse the scenario, in essence meaning that someone might say, “Well, my 911 road car is so far technologically superior than a 911 race car.” You said that would not play in the market.
HK: Maybe I wasn’t really clear about this. The point is when you look at a road car, say the 918 Spyder with a 6:57 or a GT3 with 7:25 lap time on the Nürburgring, if you go back five years ago nobody would ever imagined that this would be possible. Marc Lieb, who is one of the best drivers of the Nordschleife when it comes to an RSR, and you ask him to compare how it feels to drive with an RSR, for instance, after Brunnchen he will lift at two spots and the rest is full throttle. And when you ask him about the 918, he will tell you that in the same part of the track he fully applies the brakes seven times and then accelerates again. Why ? For the very reason the 918 has significantly more horsepower and significantly less downforce, so these three elements—power to weight ratio, the availability of the torque with the electric motor, downforce and tires, meaning mechanical grip—are relevant elements. On a race car, it is completely different. GT cars have a significantly higher level of downforce than they had five years ago, and this has changed the entire picture. And there is one very important part why we don’t like that: Downforce creates resistance and resistance kills efficiency, and what we all are doing on the road car development is working very hard on improving efficiency.
KM: Would you have liked the GT3 Hamster hybrid project to continue?
HK: Sure, it was a really good car. We learned a lot about software. Also the philosophy and the understanding of how it feels to drive a car like that. For instance, a very single point, from a driver’s point of view, but technically very difficult solution is, you want to have always the same feeling when you apply the brakes, you don’t want to get the feeling of now it is recuperating, now it’s applying the mechanical brakes. And the challenge you are faced when you develop a system like that for a race car is a much bigger challenge, because when you go years back when Panoz had its hybrid car (Sparky), the drivers got crazy because they didn’t feel they could trust the car during braking. And we spent a lot of effort to solve that, of course, in the GT3 R Hybrid, and now we have all the necessary tools that it takes to develop these systems for road cars.
KM: On to the RSR effort for Daytona: Will they be new cars or will you rebuild the current WEC RSRs as development cars for that race ?
HK: At the moment, we are still investigating that, because when we started with this project, the framework had changed significantly. At the end of 2012, when we promised we would be back in 2014, we still thought that Sebring would be the first race. We also didn’t know that we would have to race at 2014 specs in the last race of 2013 and that the last race would be at the end of November. So between the final homologation and January, there is not a lot of time. It could well be that we take the cars from Bahrain and run Daytona with them, then build new cars for Sebring and exchange them. I don’t know whether this is necessarily the best way to start a racing season with a brand-new car.
KM: Let’s go on the assumption there will be new cars for Sebring and the remainder of the season. When you get ready for the WEC and Le Mans for next year, will we basically have the same equipment you are using for those races? I recall the silliness of Grand Am, having to change from center lock to five-bolt wheels, nonsense like that.
HK: In the past there was more freedom for the teams. Because of the fewer parts that are homologated, the more you can modify them within the rules as I mentioned before. In the meantime, homologation paperwork is about a hundred plus pages compared to the five pages in the past, so there is not a lot of freedom. You either have to keep the road car part as it is, or you have to homologate a new part and then there are very few things that are left over. We will definitely have to make adjustments in regard to some of the sporting regulations. But as long as we talk about the basic car responsible for the performance on the track, it will be identical.
KM: When will Porsche offer the new RSR to private teams? Usually there is a year of a factory team exclusivity for development and appraisal.
HK: Being responsible for customer racing, my mind hasn’t changed with regard to that over the last ten years. I honestly believe that no racing series can survive if it’s only based on manufacturer engagement; it simply doesn’t work. It looks good at the moment, but take the privateers out and you don’t have enough cars left. When you have customer cars, there is always a second example you can compare to, so you have to play it absolutely 100 percent straight, because you explain something and the steward can go to the other team and ask the exact same question and receive the same answer. If they get a different answer, then you are in big trouble.
KM: Then the current GT/AM category would be running last year’s car, the 997, for two years after the usual one-year factory team effort. You can’t offer them a 991 Cup car or the GT America. Basically, you’ve been put in a corner where the 991 RSR is going to have to be offered.
HK: Yes, we know that, but it seems like we are the only ones who know that.
KM: If you go back to Le Mans, even prewar, the fact is that amateurs always felt they could move up to a more professional level. Now with the strict structure of the amateur category, you end up saying, “This is it: you’re an amateur and you’re staying an amateur.” There has always been a mixing of on-track performance, and it used to be that an amateur had to raise his game to compete with a professional on his team. Now it’s almost a sort of dumbing down, because these teams will not be able to perform in a higher category without a new RSR.
HK: That’s why many are nervous whether we are going to offer the RSR to private teams. I believe the current regulations have positive elements but are not being thought out to the end. Short-term solutions should be applied long term; otherwise you don’t have stability. On the other hand, when you mix professional manufacturer programs with private programs, you want to be able to continue with your development. You need some freedom to continue working, to get exemptions and to homologate new parts, and at the end of the day that means everybody has to get the new parts.