Why Daytona 24 Hours victory was so “huge” for Porsche and Penske

The German manufacturer has now matched its number of wins at the Floridian sportscar classic to its record tally of 19 Le Mans 24 Hours triumphs.

While acknowledging the size of the achievement in the IMSA SportsCar Championship’s biggest event, Kuratle admits that this will bring “huge pressure” for the world’s most prestigious sportscar race at Le Mans in June.

“All those numbers, obviously it’s huge for us,” said Kuratle. “It is huge. 

“Especially if you think where we’re coming from last year here, that was not our best performance I have to say, and there was a lot of obviously lessons learned we had throughout the year.

“Obviously, it pays out, so there was a lot of work from all our part. It was not only the IMSA team we have out of Mooresville, but also the team in Mannheim [in Germany]. Obviously, people in Weissach, the development team, and also our chassis partner Multimatic.

“We had a lot of lessons to learn from last year, but again, it pays out now.”

Kuratle admitted that this also raises the high expectations of the program, which were egged on 86-year-old team-owning veteran Roger Penske with his post-race comment of “This is one of the biggest wins we’ve had, now we’ve got to go for the big one at Le Mans, you know that.”

#7 Team Penske Motorsport Porsche 963: Dane Cameron, Felipe Nasr, Matt Campbell, Josef Newgarden

Photo by: Bob Meyer

#7 Team Penske Motorsport Porsche 963: Dane Cameron, Felipe Nasr, Matt Campbell, Josef Newgarden

Penske is known to rate Le Mans in the same bracket as the Indianapolis 500, which his team has also conquered 19 times, but apart from being on the driving crew of the Le Mans pole-winning Ferrari in 1963 he has never tasted any success, and his team has only raced there sporadically.“The pressure was already quite big,” said Kuratle. “If you go to a race with Porsche, with brands like Porsche and Penske together, then you have to win. You’re not going to come second. 

“That makes a lot of pressure. Then if you have the history from Porsche and the Le Mans with the 19 victories we had there, there will be this year a big and huge pressure. 

“But it’s also an honour to work for those companies and be representative of those companies.”

Porsche Penske Motorsports No. 7 963 won at Daytona by just over 2s ahead of Cadillac – which was looking for its fifth D24 victory to tie with Ferrari.

After the race flipped on the final pitstop, when the Porsche needed a shorter fuel fill, Kuratle admitted: “It easily could have gone the other way. It was really, really tight. 

“I’ve been asked a couple times how much was still in the pocket. There was nothing in the pocket anymore as most of the people could see.

“Always when it’s dark we are performing very good. But come daytime, it was tight.”

#7 Team Penske Motorsport Porsche 963

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

#7 Team Penske Motorsport Porsche 963

The sister No. 6 car also led the race but was hampered by a series of penalties issued for failing to adhere to its powertrain parameters, which was caused by a software issue.

“We reacted straight away,” said Kuratle of the software fixes. “So obviously we loaded all those files and all those corrections into the No. 7 car and also into the customer cars.”

When asked to clarify the issue, he explained it was “power made basically when the car was being charged, especially toward the Bus Stop Chicane. We had peaks and they were just too much for the system, put it this way. As I said, there were corrections done, and that was it”.

On behalf of the other side of the Porsche and Penske coin, PPM’s managing director Jonathan Diuguid – a longtime Penske employee – reflected on the turnaround in fortunes after a disappointing debut here 12 months ago.

“Comparing last year’s Daytona to this, it was all about just surviving,” said Diuguid. “When I say surviving, I’m not talking about surviving the race, I’m talking about surviving day-to-day with parts and building the cars and getting the cars on track and it was a monumental effort to do that.

“This year we showed up and I think we looked at each other and said, this is totally different. We had spares. We have gearboxes. We had everything, and it was all prepared in the workshop in the proper way. 

“Both cars finished on the lead lap and both were very competitive, and that is a huge difference from 12 months ago.

#7 Team Penske Motorsport Porsche 963: Dane Cameron, Felipe Nasr, Matt Campbell, Josef Newgarden

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

#7 Team Penske Motorsport Porsche 963: Dane Cameron, Felipe Nasr, Matt Campbell, Josef Newgarden

“I think 12 months ago we were probably competing to stay on the lead lap, and this year we were putting people laps down and things like that. I think it just goes to show you the steps the program has taken and the effort that everybody has put in.”

Diuguid also paid tribute to the scale of the operation – which relied upon staff in Germany, who also work on its dual World Endurance Championship squad – as well as those in Daytona.

“I think we had three or four people from the WEC program from engineering on-site,” he explained. “And then most of the engineering staff from the Mannheim base were in Weissach in the ops rooms with Porsche Motorsport during the race, cycling in and out so everybody wasn’t staying up 24 hours looking at computer screens across the world.

“But there was a high level of support that took us to the finish line.”

Looking ahead, PPM’s next race is the WEC opener at Qatar on 2 March. That series also includes Le Mans Hypercars built to a different ruleset than IMSA’s (currently) LMDh-only top prototype class, which features well-oiled title-winning machine Toyota and Le Mans victors Ferrari.

Can it go there and win also? It’s a question that Motorsport.com put to Porsche’s motorsport chief Thomas Laudenbach ahead of its Daytona success.

“Difficult question… I hope so,” he replied. “I think we’ve learned a lot and shown a good curve of our development. We have been the strongest LMDh, even though it has been very close, and so let’s look and see how the situation is.

#7 Team Penske Motorsport Porsche 963: Dane Cameron, Felipe Nasr, Matt Campbell, Josef Newgarden

Photo by: Porsche Motorsport

#7 Team Penske Motorsport Porsche 963: Dane Cameron, Felipe Nasr, Matt Campbell, Josef Newgarden

“The only thing we can really do is try to make a perfect job, get the maximum out of our car. Look at how many manufacturers we’ll have in WEC. I cannot remember having such a great line up and therefore I just hope that everyone who produces such a great effort is in a position to fight.

“There is no bigger or more iconic race than Le Mans. That’s what we want. I mean, we’ve had times where we only had one competitor, it was still a Le Mans victory, but it’s much sweeter if you win against such strong competition. That’s what we’re looking for. These are great times.”

Organisers have promised a ‘simplified’ Balance of Performance between the two types of car. Laudenbach treads carefully when it comes to discussing BoP, but added: “The highest priority, of course, must remain to give everybody a fair chance to fight for a victory. 

“We fully appreciate everything that the FIA and ACO does; everybody tries to get it right. We know it’s not easy. We’ve been through one season, everyone has learned a lot, which is good, and now let’s see what evolves out of that.

“It’s so very easy to criticise, it’s a lot more difficult to get it right.”

One thing is for sure: Porsche is going to Le Mans with sure-fire intentions of winning it.

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