Rolex 24h Debut: Porsche 911 RSR
The start of the 2017 race season has arrived. With it comes a number of rule changes, several new manufacturer-backed programs, and many new international drivers. This year’s 55th running Rolex 24hr race at Daytona is set to be an exciting start to the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship.
Minnesota’s own Peter Lapinski was on hand and had his lens aimed on one car in particular for us – Porsche’s all-new “further forward mid engine” 911 RSR. This car marks a major shift in what we know a Porsche 911 race car to be. And what better place than Daytona for it’s first test.
The roll out came Thursday morning for the first practice and qualifying sessions of the weekend.
Porsche put the cars 1st & 2nd on the GTLM timing sheets after the first practice session. A solid start, but reality of a new car set in during qualifying – the two factory #911 & #912 RSRs qualified 5th & 8th, respectively. They were quick, but three Ford GTs and a single Ferrari 488 went quicker (which is not much of a surprise as both cars are largely the same as they ran in 2016).
One final practice before overnight preparations begin. The new RSR had good pace and was ran smoothly to start the weekend. It must be said that the new RSR is just stunning, and very much a 911 if based on looks alone. The “Spearhead” livery looks great at speed.
The factory teams waste no time digging into the cars. This process is especially valuable to the team this year as their RSR is running some 90% new components on the car.
This image is a good reference to where the further-forward 4.0L, 510hp flat-six engine is placed – the firewall begins at the B-pillar behind the driver and the engine rests forward of the rear axle. The orange tape and blue tie down strap perfectly mark the engine’s placement.
The team works late to prepare both cars for an early morning tech session on Saturday.
You can almost smell it from here.
The bodywork on the 911 RSR is about as good as it gets for Porsche fans.
After a quick start, the field settled into race pace. A few early cautions kep things interesting for some. Porsche was off to a smooth start – both 911 RSRs putting in work to maintain track position near the sharp end of the field.
8 hours in and the pair was running 3rd & 4th in GTLM.
Evenings have an odd sense of serenity at Daytona.
Not for long, however. Rain was in the forecast. And on it’s way earlier than anticipated.
Porsche was one of the first teams to make the switch to rain tires and it paid off immediately – the pair of RSRs moved to 1st & 2nd in GTLM.
Even though the engine has moved “further forward”, the 911 RSR proved it was still very much a 911 – once again it was the car to beat in the wet.
The rain eventually gave way to cloudy, cold conditions by daybreak. By way of safety car periods and pit stops, the Porsches had shuffled back in the field – #911 remained in the top 5 while #912 lost two laps with an unscheduled suspension fix.
The final 3 hour stretch made for some of the most exciting GTLM racing in years. Seven cars from four different manufacturers all on the lead lap.
Patrick Pilet put in a huge final stint. He worked through the pack up to 2nd place behind Dirk Mueller in the #66 Ford GT. An intense battle fueled into the final minutes of the 24hr race.
In the end it was Mueller in the Ford GT that better managed his Michelins and took the win. The #911 of Pilet, Dirk Werner, and Frédéric Makowiecki finished 2nd in the debut of the new 911 RSR.
It was an incredible first outing for the new program. Porsche can be proud of their creation, and validated in the decision to finally move the 911’s engine ahead of the rear axle.
The question remains – is it still a 911?
Of course it is. And more importantly it’s a Porsche, and it performed as such. And that’s all that matters.
Photos courtesy of Peter Lapinski