Insight: Porsche 963's First Laps of Daytona
John Dagys goes behind the scenes for unrivaled access to Porsche Penske Motorsport's recent LMDh test...
Daytona International Speedway is hallowed grounds for those in the motorsports world, and for any new car or program, the first laps on the Florida high banks serves as a memorable experience that will be looked back upon for years to come.
With less than 150 days until the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona and the highly anticipated debut of the GTP class, last weekend’s test for Porsche Penske Motorsport was not only a historic moment but also a crucial phase in the continued development of the Porsche 963.
Following Sportscar365’s behind-the-scenes look during a multi-day test at Spa-Francorchamps in April, we were invited back to get an update on the progress made in the nearly five months since.
Between the reveal of the car’s name, full technical details and the announcement of the first eight drivers, there’s been a flurry of news surrounding the dual WeatherTech Championship and FIA World Endurance Championship factory operation this summer, and that’s not counting additional testing.
Porsche was the first LMDh manufacturer to break cover in January, with Cadillac, Acura and BMW playing catch-up in the months since. All three competing OEMs only began on-track testing in July although are in the midst of intensive development programs over the last 60 days.
In fact, the Porsche 963 was joined by the Wayne Taylor Racing-run Acura ARX-06 and a pair of Cadillac V-LMDh cars, fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing and Action Express Racing, at the Porsche-hosted Daytona test, which Sportscar365 was on hand for during the opening day of the two-day outing.
For the German manufacturer, the objective was to continue gaining mileage in what was only its second test on U.S. soil after a five-day run at Sebring International Raceway in July. Its North American-designated test car was then air-freighted back to Europe to take part in a validation test at Monza alongside the European-based chassis.
Daytona marked its return to America for the start of a busy stretch of testing.
Matt Campbell and Mathieu Jaminet, fresh off their fifth class victory of the IMSA GTD Pro season at Virginia International Raceway, were joined at the wheel by Dane Cameron, who has been the only driver to have taken part in every single Porsche LMDh test to date.
Weather played a significant factor in Friday’s running, with lightning in the area delaying the start of the test by nearly 90 minutes and showers in the afternoon resulting in a full wet track.
"I think everybody knows Florida in the summertime is highly variable but our goal was to break up the test into different blocks and say, 'Hey if we could complete this block, we'll step into the next one,” explains Jonathan Diuguid, managing director at Porsche Penske Motorsport.
"Cranking out significant mileage is important. That's the one thing about the LMDh class is that the cars have many setup items and a lot of other things so we can focus on performance later but reliability is something that's paramount.”
Campbell completed driving duties in the morning and into the early afternoon, with the car staying on track through the lunch break in an attempt to make up for lost time. Cameron then jumped aboard in the mid-afternoon, amid rain showers that resulted in the switch to wet-weather Michelin tires.
While in dry conditions, the Australian turned an unofficial best lap in the 1:35 range, which was within two seconds of the DPi track qualifying record albeit with a significantly heavier car per LMDh regulations. It was also quicker than the competition based on lap times gathered around the same period of time.
It wasn’t completely smooth sailing for Porsche, however, as to be expected with any car in development and especially with the complexity of a hybrid-powered LMDh. Campbell stopped on track with a reported battery issue, which was quickly resolved, although led to some additional downtime.
The Bosch-supplied MGU, another component which is spec across all LMDh cars, has also been an area of concern according to Porsche Motorsport factory LMDh director Urs Kuratle, who said they’ve generally seen increased reliability in recent tests but have also discovered different problems related to the electric motor.
"Part of it is the normal development process,” he says. “You solve one problem, you gain more mileage and then at one point you go to the next problem. We're not over that yet unfortunately. It's not a secret that we've wanted to have [more] mileage so far than we actually have. Still, we're pushing and fighting for it.”
Campbell, whose last proper test in the Porsche 963 came at Motorland Aragon in the spring, said the car has come a long way since then, specifically citing the developments to the MGU both on the hardware and software fronts.
"It's evolved a lot on the systems side for sure, definitely on feeling,” Campbell says. “There's been a couple of evolutions on different parts like the MGU for example. That's changed quite a bit. But obviously when you come to a circuit like Daytona, it's a completely different setup to what we normally run somewhere in Europe, where the car has done the majority of testing.
"Almost every day there's a new software update, a new update on hardware or something on the car. There's been so many evolutions for sure, which is good. There's always progress, which is so important. I think we're in a very good position for this because we've been having a lot of mileage and running. It really helps a lot because I don't think it's been easy for the other manufacturers so far.”
In addition to Roger Penske, who was playing an active role in his second LMDh test, a number of crew members from future Porsche customer team JDC-Miller Motorsports, including team co-owners John Church and John Miller, as well as lead engineer Rick Cameron (who is Dane’s father), were also on hand to observe the test and get up to speed on the car’s advanced systems.
Porsche, meanwhile, provided the invited group of journalists unrestricted access to its garage and pit box, something unheard of amid the ongoing development of a next-generation race car. Both Acura and Cadillac, meanwhile, were working behind covers in its garage spaces and limited access to its team members and suppliers only.
While photos were not allowed to be taken of the Porsche 963’s engine bay, the packaging of the hybrid system inside the bell housing is arguably the most impressive component and what clearly sets it apart from the outgoing DPis or current-spec LMP2 machinery. The longer wheelbase and larger dimensions of the car is also another standout feature of the new formula.
Despite only reaching roughly half of its 30,000 km testing target so far, Porsche is still ahead of the other manufacturers in terms of track time and experience heading into the all-important homologation process, which will lock in the car’s technical specification for the platform’s debut seasons in the WEC and WeatherTech Championship.
"We've had to hand in the [homologation] papers according to the normal process and now we're in discussion with both the ACO and IMSA on how to proceed in the process,” Kuratle explains. “All of the LMDh OEMs are sitting in the same boat and we're all lacking mileage. As we speak, we're in discussions with the governance bodies.
"Soon there will be the wind tunnel tests and some further scans, etc. But the real final date for when the homologation process is finished and has to be finished is still yet to be defined. The ideas on both sides don't quite fit yet but that's the discussions we're in.”
With a focus on U.S.-based testing in the coming months, the next significant step for the Porsche Penske Motorsport development program will be the arrival of a second chassis, which is expected sometime this fall prior to a return to Daytona for the mandatory two-day IMSA-sanctioned test on Dec. 6-7.
Ask any LMDh manufacturer and the timeline is extremely tight, especially given ongoing supply chain challenges. But the excitement building around the new era of top-class sports car racing can be felt in the paddock and on the track, with Porsche currently leading the way.
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