The evening before the opening round of the WEC season at Spa, Porsche Road & Race had the opportunity of chatting to Pascal Zurlinden, Director GT Factory Motorsports, about the 2018 Porsche 911 RSR and the competition in the GTE Pro class.
Uppermost in the minds of some journalists was the question of the auto BoP and how Porsche viewed this. Whatever your thoughts are on this, ever since the auto BoP came into effect at the fourth round of the 2017 WEC, Porsche has been in the fight at all the races. This is borne out by the fact that the Nürburgring round last year was only the 911 RSR’s second pole position since the racer entered the WEC in 2013. This would suggest that the auto BoP offers a far more objective method of calculating this factor than was previously the case.
Pascal Zurlinden said, “The auto BoP process was created to avoid sandbagging, so you need to look at the results of two races before changes are made, and I think this is the right way to do it. So, I wouldn’t change the rule, and there are also others who say it should stay as it is. Before each race, the BoP is signed off by the Endurance Committee, so the Endurance Committee always has the option to change the BoP. But last year we had close racing, the closest for a long time.”
Le Mans is however a special case because the cars have a bespoke aero kit which includes the rear wing, and the splitter and the flicks at the front. This means that the Le Mans results cannot be taken into account for the normal BoP calculation, because the cars will display different characteristics at this race.
Because Spa was the opening race of the 2018 WEC season, the closing BoP from the previous season was the ruling BoP for the opening race this year. Zurlinden, “Yes, the auto BoP from Bahrain [last year], this is what we’re running now.”
But surely the 2018 car is different from the 2017 car, otherwise the GTE Am class would be running with the same car as in the Pro class. “No, it is the same homologation,” Zurlinden responded. “The only difference is tyres, otherwise you’re not allowed to change anything under homologation. The only thing that you can change on the car is the set up and tyres, that’s it. So, the Am teams are running the 2017 car as well, which is the same as ours. If you go from one garage to the other, the cars will be identical apart from the BoP.”
If the cars are identical, what then accounts for the difference in lap times between the Pro and Am cars? “There is an offset in the BoP of 10kW and 15 kg [between the classes]. The difference in qualifying is because we had two Gold drivers in the car, and the Am teams are forced to do qualifying with one Gold driver and one Bronze driver. This means that the Bronze driver is slower which will bring down the average lap time for qualifying,” Zurlinden explained.
Zurlinden was asked if they would be running a specific set up at Spa or if they would be testing their Le Mans set up, or if they would be running a compromised set up. “No, we won’t be doing any compromising, we are just concentrating on this race. We have a Le Mans bodywork kit which we are only allowed to run at Le Mans because it is completely different. The BoP is only for one body kit,” he explained.
Being the first race of the new season in Europe, the team only had the data from the two endurance races run in America this year, Daytona and Sebring. Ford and Porsche are both running the same car in 2018 as they did in 2017, and so Porsche has comparative data that they can analyse between these two cars. The Ferrari is a new car this season, while the Aston Martin and BMW are completely new entities.
Zurlinden was asked if Porsche regarded Ford as their main rival in the first part of the WEC season, even though they had had a close fight with Ferrari at Daytona and Sebring. “Ford and Porsche are quite similar, but in qualifying we always struggle and they are always in front of us. But this time [at Spa] we are really close, although over the distance, that is where we have always won races. Our target is to be better than them over the distance, and in so doing, win the race. The reliability of the new car, the RSR 17 which started last year, is really good.” The first four cars at Spa, being the two Fords and the two Porsches, were covered by 0.4 of a second, but Zurlinden pushed back with a smile, “Yes, but the first three cars are covered by 9/100ths of a second!”
This is the first time that the WEC series has been split over two seasons, with five races in 2018 and three in 2019. The Silverstone race has moved to a new slot in August, and so with just the Spa race before the big one in June, how much testing will Porsche be doing before Le Mans? “We have two more tests and then also the Le Mans test weekend. We have one test in Monza which is organised by BMW, and then later there is a test organised by Toyota here at Spa where we will test with one car,” Zurlinden responded.
When asked how important the GT program was for Porsche, Zurlinden responded, “The GT program is really important for Porsche because we sell sports cars, this is our enterprise. We are the biggest GT manufacturer at Le Mans, this year we will be bringing four works cars and six customer cars. So, we will have ten GT cars at Le Mans out of a total of thirty cars in the GTE class, so we have one third of the field.”
Table of annual Porsche entries at Le Mans with 10 cars or more over the last two decades:
|Year||Number of Porsches|
There are just three weeks to go until the big race, with the Le Mans test weekend on 3 June, and the 24 Hour race on 16/17 June. If you don’t already have your tickets and ferry booked, you will hopefully have reserved front row seats in your living room, and organised the beverages and pizza.
Porsche Road & Race will be there as from Sunday 10 June at the scrutineering, and throughout the whole race week. Be sure to check back as we run down to the race weekend with a selection of features for your enjoyment.
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Virtual Motorpix/Glen Smale & John Mountney