Porsche Power – 7 decades of success
Porsche Power – 7 decades of success
The world of international sports car racing is blessed with nearly two dozen manufacturers, both old and new, looking to develop technologies or polish their brands in competition.
Only a few successfully do both long term; a list that often starts with Porsche.
Through almost seven decades of competition, up markets and downturns, generations of managements and corporate structures, Porsche has always been Porsche.
Porsche’s success is not merely a remnant of its storied past.
Overall race victories at Le Mans in 2015 and 2016 (its record 17th and 18th), the 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship in both LMP1 (Prototype) and GTE-Pro (GTLM equivalent) and the 2015 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GTLM manufacturer, team and driver titles, are powerful examples of its continued prowess.
“The name Porsche carries an expectation,” said Steffen Hoellwarth, program manager for Porsche’s IMSA SportsCar Championship.
“Porsche buyers buy more than a vehicle. They acquire a package, a vehicle with a name and image, a position in the marketplace and a remarkable history in competition.”
Hoellwarth, who started as an intern in the Porsche factory, attributes much of Porsche’s success to the company’s culture.
“I think it is an attitude,” he said. “We are always trying to improve. We never give up, no matter what happens and that attitude is not only at our factory teams, but also with customers.
“We question ourselves every day. We take a different approach. We always ask ‘what we can do to improve?’”
While some manufacturers and suppliers view motorsports as primarily a marketing and image building program, Porsche takes a deeper, more comprehensive approach.
“Of course, marketing is part of our program and we work hard to communicate our success, but our motorsports program is sustainable because it is led by our R&D department not simply by marketing.”
RIDING THE GT CYCLE
Production based, GT race cars typically have a three to five year life cycle.
It is difficult to accelerate that pace as corresponding new production based cars must be created and homologated in a business where $100 million dollars is considered the equivalent of a single poker chip.
New cars are introduced. Teams work to establish reliability, extract maximum performance, and gain early success.
As time goes on, the rate of improvement slows as the car reaches a development point where only small gains are possible. In mid-term, a new car is typically in final design to pick up where the old car left off and reach the next level when it debuts.
This year, the BMW M6 GTLM, the Ferrari 488 GTE and the Ford GT are all in their first seasons of WeatherTech Championship GTLM competition and were designed to the 2016 rules.
Porsche and Corvette currently race “updated” versions of their 2014 models.
There is only one topic off-limits with Hoellwarth, the next Porsche 911 racer, scheduled to make its WeatherTech Championship competition debut at the 2017 Rolex 24 At Daytona next January.
As one would expect, the specifics of the car have drawn considerable speculation by Porsche enthusiasts, fans, media and competitors. “I’m sorry, but I cannot discuss the new car,” he says politely.
It is known that the car is already testing in Europe as Porsche works to establish consistency, reliability and optimize performance.
The goal is for its newest entry to win the first race, a task exceedingly difficult in the WeatherTech Championship where the first two races are the longest of the season, the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the rugged Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. The current Porsche 911 RSR won both in its first season, 2014.
However, before the new car appears next January, there is the matter of closing out the 2016 season in a fashion similar to 2015.
The Porsche North America team reeled off victories at Road America, here at VIR and with a stunning overall race win in the wet season finale at Road Atlanta’s Petit Le Mans, clinching the 2015 IMSA GTLM Manufacturer, Team and Driver Championships.
They would like to finish the season and the current car’s cycle on a similar high note.
“The competition here is very strong, perhaps the best in the world of sports car racing,” said Hoellwarth.
“You have (GTLM) factory teams, factory drivers, and they are all very close.”
And, if momentarily, the competition believes they have Porsche in their sights, two of Hoellwarth’s soft spoken comments echo in the ears of the Porsche faithful and its competitors; “Porsche’s motorsports program is led by R&D” and “what we can do to improve?”
That relentless combination makes Porsche the benchmark for the category on the track and with its production vehicles.
And, the impending debut of the newest Porsche may very well kick-off the next round of GTLM leapfrog.