Porsche the ‘strongest it has ever been’ in Qatar WEC round, says Estre

Porsche has led every session so far in the lead-up to this Saturday’s Qatar 1812km season-opener, with either the factory Penske team or the customer Jota squad topping the charts across Prologue and Free Practice 1.

In comparatively hot and windy conditions on Thursday afternoon, all five Porsche 963s broke inside the top seven, with only Ferrari and Cadillac preventing the revered sportscar racing marque from monopolising the front of the pack.

While Porsche drivers wanted to play down their chances until rival teams have shown their true pace, Estre is clear that his team has never looked as competitive in Hypercar as it appears in Qatar.

“At the moment, it looks like we are the strongest we have ever been in this championship,» the German driver, who shares the #6 Porsche with Andre Lotterer and Laurens Vanthoor, told Motorsport.com. 

“But there are many, many brands. We will still have to wait for quali. It will give a small taste and the race is very long.

«I think [the track] fits our car pretty well. It’s very smooth, it’s very flat, which I think our car likes. So the car actually feels very nice to drive. 

“We will definitely not be too confident too early. The others can definitely be on pace I’m sure. 

“Definitely the car, it feels nice to drive. Just looking at us it’s already an improvement compared to some tracks we go to.”

#5 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963: Matt Campbell, Michael Christensen, Frederic Makowiecki

#5 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963: Matt Campbell, Michael Christensen, Frederic Makowiecki

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Porsche returned to the top class of sportscar racing with much fanfare last year, joining forces with American powerhouse Penske for a factory programme in the WEC and the IMSA SportsCar Championship.

But it was unable to put up much of a challenge to Toyota in its first year of competition with LMDh machinery, scoring just a pair of third-place finishes in the seven-round WEC season.

This means 2017 remains the last time it scored an outright win in the WEC, the year it retired the 919 Hybrid from what was then known as the LMP1 class.

Asked if the 10-hour fixture at Qatar represents Porsche’s best chance of scoring an overall win in the WEC, Estre’s team-mate Lotterer told Motorsport.com: “Yet to be shown and proven and mustered. But yeah, on paper it’s the first time we look as good.

“I think we have done good progress with the car and our set-up. The trend looks good for many Porsches. Should be a good race.”

Not only has Porsche been rapid over a single lap in Qatar so far, but data from Prologue also suggests that it has a clear advantage over its rivals on long runs.

Michael Christensen believes Porsche’s ability to be gentle on the tyres at the Losail circuit, which was resurfaced last year, is playing a part in its strong showing.

“If you get a good balance and you can treat the tyres well, automatically it’s a snowball effect,” he explained to Motorsport.com.

“If you are well off, it will really help you towards the end of the stint. I hope we can manage to do that also in the race. But it seems like in the Prologue and also in FP1 we could do that. 

“We only had one night session. It can be tricky because of the temperature of the track and then how the tyres are behaving. 

“If you get going in a good way, you will be alright. If your stint starts wrong, you make some damage to the tyres then it could be a really long stint. It’s all about managing and understand the tyres and the car.

“I think we had a decent week, decent preparation. In FP1, the car felt what we expected. Hopefully we can build on that.”

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