On the LMDh testing trail with Porsche

On the LMDh testing trail with Porsche

If all goes well, as you read this, a Porsche 963 is circulating Sebring International Raceway for 36 hours, or until it breaks.

Porsche and Penske Motorsports are testing the new LMDh car (pictured at Daytona last month) destined for IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s new GTP class and the World Endurance Championship Hypercar class in its biggest endurance test yet after having accumulated more than 16,000km of testing so far.

“That will be a crucial test for us, because all these all these updates, all these new things are in the car now,” stated Urs Kuratle, Porsche’s director of Factory Racing, LMDh. “And there, we really can see the truth of how far we are at the moment. I’m confident for the test. And we solved a lot of problems, and hopefully we don’t find some new ones.”

Porsche was not present with the other three manufacturers at the IMSA-sanctioned test at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta after Petit Le Mans two weeks ago, choosing instead to focus on this test. But it has been on track with some of the other manufacturers, testing at the same time, and sharing information.

Porsche was the first of the four LMDh manufacturers headed to the grid in 2023 – along with Acura, BMW and Cadillac – to get its car on track. But it was also the one finding many of the issues with the spec hybrid system and working out the bugs with it. As such, Kuratle doesn’t really feel that Porsche has a head start.

“We were testing all the hybrid stuff for all of us. That cost a lot of money, effort and time as well. So do we know much more than the others? Actually not because we had early development phase parts in the car. And this is where we put some laps in and what really will make a difference if you have the race-spec parts available earlier than the others, which is not the case.

“But we are in a close relationship or partnership with all the other OEMs when it comes to standard parts or off-track activities,” Kuratle explained.

Porsche and Penske have been testing the new 963 largely away from the competition (Porsche)

Noting the complexity of the cars, Kuratle said he doesn’t begrudge that early testing that benefitted all the LMDh manufacturers, especially since it’s working in all directions.

“If you are testing and if there’s an incident at one OEM, that will be transferred to IMSA and ACO and the hybrid partners like Bosch, Williams and Xtrac. And there are weekly meetings between the OEMs and we discuss those problems and put our heads together and all the engineering power we have,” he said, echoing the position expressed by the other manufacturers trying to get their cars on the grid for Daytona in January and have them running 24 hours later.

Porsche has previous experience with hybrid racecars, having raced and won with the Porsche 919 Hybrid in LMP1 in WEC and at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. But those cars were even more complex and had proprietary hybrid systems instead of spec, common hybrid systems like the LMDh cars have. That is necessary, he says, especially for cars that will be customer cars. Kuratle noted that it’s important that an army of engineers isn’t required to manage the system.

And Porsche is the first manufacturer to commit to providing customer racecars, with JDC-Miller Motorsports in IMSA and JOTA in WEC confirmed as customer programs, possibly joined by Proton in both series. However, as the Roar Before the 24 looms near in less than three months time, it appears increasingly unlikely that JDC-Miller will have their 963 in hand for the start of the WeatherTech Championship season.

“We cannot say a date yet because of the supply chains, and I’m not talking about the standard parts only, but complete supply chains are really difficult situations,” Kuratle said. “That doesn’t even apply only to motor racing, that’s a global thing. We really struggle to produce the cars, all of them, also the works cars. Unfortunately we can’t give the teams that date yet. They don’t like it, which is totally understandable.

But there’s a close and very open dialogue with the customer teams. They do understand our situation, we do understand their situations, we have to make the best of it. I think it’s a big commitment from Porsche to have customer cars in the first year, and we will definitely stick to that.”

IMSA is neck-deep in the homologation process and wind tunnel testing for all the manufacturers at the moment. That process needs to be completed as soon as possible so the teams can be sure they’re testing the parts that will be on the cars come Daytona.

IMSA’s next sanctioned test is at Daytona in December, and all the manufacturers will be required to participate at that two-day test