On Friday evening Porsche drivers Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre teamed for a GTE Pro-class victory in the 1000 Miles of Sebring race to kick off the FIA WEC race season in flying fashion. After the Sebring race was removed from the FIA WEC calendar for two years thanks to COVID-induced international travel restrictions, it was nice to see the return of the “Super Sebring” double race weekend with the WEC and IMSA sharing the weekend at the track. It was a nice return to form for Porsche after the team narrowly lost the 2021 championship to Ferrari. With just six rounds in the WEC season, it was imperative for Porsche to kick off the season right, and sets them up nicely for a strong run this year. Porsche also managed to get its second car with Richard Lietz and Gianmaria Bruni up onto the podium in third, with the two mid-engine 911 RSRs split by a single Corvette.
“We scored important points towards the championship. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite enough for a one-two result today – which would have been possible,” commented Thomas Laudenbach, Vice President Motorsport. “During a pit stop, we couldn’t get a wheel off the No. 91 car for a moment. We need to take another close look at that. This incident prevented us from finishing first and second. Still, it was a great start to the season. I have nothing but praise for the drivers and the team. We can be happy with this result. Of course, it would’ve been nicer to achieve this success over the full eight-hour distance.”
“That was a long and crazy race. And we won – the season couldn’t have started better,” said Alexander Stehlig, Director Factory Motorsport FIA WEC. “We had a great run over the entire time in Sebring and we managed to work our way through each session steadily and steadfastly. The Corvette proved to be a strong rival. At times we held the advantage, sometimes they did – it was fun. We kept our cool during the interruptions and ultimately took home a well-deserved victory. We’re happy to harvest the points and we’re looking forward to the next WEC race at Spa-Francorchamps.”
Both Porsches qualified well for the race, but the heat of the day meant that the Porsches weren’t quite as strong on their tires as the competition. After about 30 minutes of racing, the Corvette passed into the lead and proceeded to set blistering lap times. Both Porsches were actually handed 15-second penalties for rule violations on the formation lap leading to the green flag, and fell far afield of the Corvette when serving that in the pits. Even with the hold up, both Porsches managed to re-enter the race ahead of the Ferrari duo.
The Corvette drivers managed to stretch and maintain a decent lead over the Porsche pair, but both cars from Germany remained on the lead lap, which was absolutely imperative. A massive crash from one of the Toyota Hypercars caused a 45-minute race red flag, which brought the full field into a single bunch, and deleted all of the Corvette’s GTE Pro class lead. When the race went back to green, the #92 Porsche quickly grabbed the opportunity to return to the lead of the race, and within about 40 minutes of racing the #91 sister car followed past the Corvette up into second. On the next pit stop, however, the 91 fell back behind into third thanks to a slow tire change.
Richard Lietz in the third-placed Porsche was tearing up the track as the race closed to the final ninety minutes on the clock, getting back into the battle and poised to reclaim his second placed position on the track. It was at that point, however, that the race was placed under an unexpected red flag session thanks to nearby lightning storms. The hope was that the race would go green again before the time ran off the clock, and at one point it looked like it would, but then more lightning struck and the race was called finished after 183 laps of GTE Pro racing. It’s entirely possible that Porsche could have netted a 1-2 finish with just a few more minutes of green flag racing, but ultimately it wasn’t to be, and the team had to settle for a 1-3 finish. A double podium still isn’t bad.
Porsche also looked strong in the GTE Am category with both the Dempsey-Proton and Team Project 1 taking over the lead at various points of the race. Both teams were caught out with bad luck on the timing of their pit stops ahead of the red flag conditions at the end, and while both were still on the lead lap in the class, neither finished in a representative position after several hours of racing. The Team Project 1 car of Ollie Millroy, Ben Barnicoat, and Brendan Iribe managed to stay on the podium in third, while the bright yellow and blue Dempsey-Proton Porsche of Christian Ried, Sebastian Priaulx, and Harry Tincknell finished just behind in fourth. While the teams could do no better than third and fourth, that is in no way indicative of the race they ran or the performance their cars are capable of. Keep an eye on the Porsches in GTE Am for the 2022 season, because the gauntlet has been laid down.
Drivers’ comments after the race
Kévin Estre (Porsche 911 RSR #92):“What a crazy race! We were really strong at the start and led the field. But the Corvette was almost, too. Unfortunately, a 15-second penalty set us back a bit, but we didn’t let that rattle us and afterwards, we drove without a single mistake – that was our big advantage and it was enough to win. I’m thrilled.”
Michael Christensen (Porsche 911 RSR #92): “It was a weird end to an otherwise great race. The team did a fabulous job over the entire time at Sebring. We deserve this victory – regardless of the race being stopped. Our car was quick over the distance, and we made the best use of that to claim our first win of the year.”
Richard Lietz (Porsche 911 RSR #91):“In the USA, there’s a general rule that all employees must be brought to safety during a thunderstorm. That’s why the race was eventually stopped. We might have managed to drive a little longer because the anticipated rain didn’t arrive for quite some time. Still, safety must come first, of course. Our race was okay: initially, we struggled with oversteer but we got that under control. Third place isn’t perfect, but it’s still a decent start to the season.”
Gianmaria Bruni (Porsche 911 RSR #91): “It’s a shame that we didn’t quite manage to hand Porsche a one-two result. We lost a lot of time and one position with our No. 91 car at the last pit stop. Had we not been held up with the wheel change, we’d easily have achieved a double victory, because we were right behind our sister car.”
Ollie Millroy (Porsche 911 RSR #56): “That was great fun – this is my first time driving a Porsche 911 RSR. I headed into this race with zero experience. But we worked together perfectly as a team and wrapped up this adventure on the podium. Our bronze driver Brendan Iribe gave a very strong performance and withstood the pressure perfectly at the start – we’re all very impressed and we’re delighted with this great start to the WEC season.”
1. Estre/Christensen (F/DK), Porsche GT Team, Porsche 911 RSR #92, 183 laps
2. Milner/Tandy (USA/GB), Corvette Racing, Corvette C8.R #64, 183 laps
3 Bruni/Lietz (I/A), Porsche GT Team, Porsche 911 RSR #91, 183 laps
4 Calado/Pier Guidi (GB/I), AF Corse, Ferrari 488 GTE Evo #51, 183 laps
5. Fuoco/Molina (I/E), AF Corse, Ferrari 488 GTE Evo #52, 182 laps
1. Dalla Lana/Pittard/Thiim (CDN/GB/DK), Northwest AMR, Aston Martin Vantage AMR , #98, 180 laps
2. Keating/Latorre/Sörensen (USA/F/DK), Aston Martin Vantage AMR, #33, 180 laps
3. Iribe/Millroy/Barnicoat (USA/GB/GB), Team Project 1, Porsche 911 RSR #56, 180 laps
4th Ried/Priaulx/Tincknell (D/GB/GB), Dempsey-Proton Racing, Porsche 911 RSR #77, 180 laps
10th Poordad/Lindsey/Andlauer (USA/USA/F) , Dempsey-Proton Racing, Porsche 911 RSR #88, 169 laps