This weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona marks a number of firsts, including the highly anticipated debut of Porsche’s all-new factory GT Le Mans team, as well the first outing of the German manufacturer’s 911 RSR “Evo” on U.S. soil.
Having completed a successful rollout in last year’s FIA WEC season-ending Six Hours of Bahrain, the newest evolution 911 is now set to take on the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship as part of the factory two-car CORE autosport-run effort.
The new 911 RSR features a number of updates over the 2013 Le Mans class-winning model, including a revised front bumper and radiator placement, a 1 inch wider rim on the rear axle and a 85mm wider rear wing, the latter two thanks to waivers from the ACO.
Minor IMSA-specific changes were also made, including a 110 liter fuel tank and switch to E85 fuel, which is allowed in the TUDOR Championship.
“We’re trying to improve the efficiency of the car,” Porsche Motorsport North America’s director of racing operations Owen Hayes said. “Every time you always want to try and get a little bit of downforce, a little less drag and improve the efficiency. This is an evolutionary step as we’re just trying to refine what we have.”
Roughly 30 percent of the 911 RSR evo is brand-new, with Porsche having built fresh chassis for both cars that debuted in Bahrain late last year. One of those chassis was sent directly to Florida to begin pre-season TUDOR Championship testing, a new environment for the car altogether, which had only previously competed in the U.S. at the Circuit of The Americas.
“There is a different characteristic to American circuits than European circuits,” said Hayes, who engineered the Penske Porsche RS Spyders. “In a normal FIA circuit, you have a very similar design to all of the circuits. They’re normal all between 4 to 6 km with a certain smoothness to them, whether it’s for WEC or in Europe.
“Over here, and what I love about it, is that there’s so much variety. You’ve got really bumpy circuits like Sebring and really fast circuits like Mosport. You’ve got really high tire abrasion circuits like VIR. Every circuit you go to has its own unique challenges.
“As a result, the setup range will be wider than a WEC season. That’s a big challenge for the race engineers as well. There’s some big challenges over here compared to some of the European circuits.”
While a development freeze by the ACO limits any significant updates Porsche can make to the car, to have it be better adapted for North American circuits, Hayes sees the biggest steps forward coming with its new U.S. partner, CORE autosport.
The three-time Prototype Challenge champions, which campaigned a customer Porsche 911 GT3 RSR in ALMS last year, has become the operation partner for the Porsche North America factory effort. It’s added a new but familiar element to the equation.
“This is a big ramp up for us,” Hayes said. “Not only could we have the cars developed to a certain level, but we’ve got other challenges as well, including the logistical, the preparation and integration of a new team into the Porsche [factory] world.
“We’re now trying to get to the stage where we can get a functioning system and a functioning team together. The blessing in disguise is obviously that it’s not somebody new. They ran a GT3 RSR last year and now are running 911 RSRs for us this year.”
Hayes says he expects up to 15 personnel from Porsche AG to support the CORE-run operation at Daytona, with the number likely tapering off as the season unfolds when the U.S.-based crew becomes more versed with the cars.
“To be quite honest, it’s very similar to Manthey from last year [in WEC],” Hayes said of the team structure. “The only difference is that we had a lot more Porsche people involved in the Manthey/Porsche partnership last year because we were still in such a big development stage with the car.
“Now, the car has not only been developed for its first release but it’s gone through an evo stage as well. We’re still pushing for sure but we’re not as busy with development as well.”
Having shown encouraging pace at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 earlier this month, Hayes and the Porsche North America squad will be looking to keep the 911 RSR’s undefeated record of 24-hour race success alive come 2:10 p.m. on Sunday.