20th Le Mans win looms into focus as Porsche Hypercar is quickest — again

Sports Car News

Poor reliability cost Porsche dearly in 2023. But its 963 Hypercar started winning at the end of last season and is setting the pace again in 2024. It's still early, but anticipation is rising ahead of Le Mans, says Gary Watkins

No12 Jota Porsche in 2024 WEC Prologue

No12 Jota Porsche topped the first two sessions of the Prologue

James Moy Photography/Getty Images

Porsche was the manufacturer on the move at the top of the sportscar tree at the back end of the 2023 season, both in the World Endurance Championship and the IMSA SportsCar Championship. A race-leading performance at the Fuji WEC round for the German manufacturer’s 963 LMDh, two wins over the final three races in North America and then victory in the Daytona 24 Hours season-opener in January are testament to that. There was no sign of that momentum waning in the pre-season Prologue test ahead of the first world championship round of the season in Qatar this weekend.

Porsche ended up fastest over the course of the two-day test that leads into race week for the Qatar 1812Km. It topped each of the four sessions of the Prologue on Monday and Tuesday, the customer Jota team leading the way on day one of an event delayed courtesy of the late arrival of freight and then the Porsche Penske Motorsport picking up the baton the following day.

It’s a far cry from the first steps of the 963 in competition at start of its maiden season in ’23. The LMDh developed in conjunction with Multimatic Motorsport was neither fast nor reliable. Porsche Penske Motorsport took a maiden victory for the car one day in mid-April at Long Beach and then a first WEC podium the next at Portimao. But it was a false dawn for a car that had already endured a difficult gestation from hitting the track at the start of 2022 to the beginning of its competition career.

No 5 Porsche 963 Hypercar in 2023 Spa 6 Hours WEC race

Unreliability hampered Porsche at the start of the 2023 season


It wasn’t right at the sharp end of the grid in either of the championships it was contesting until their very end, nor was it reliable to begin with, witness its struggles at the 24-hour races at Daytona and Le Mans. Porsche failed to get one of the cars to the finish cleanly in either of big races. What’s more the car was unstable under braking, making it tricky to drive.

Refinements to the electronic controls of the hybrid system, the differential and rear fly-by-wire brakes came on stream over the summer and transformed the 963.

From the archive

“It was about understanding the car and what we needed to do to make it work — these are complicated cars and for that you need time,” says WEC driver Laurens Vanthoor, the architect of the startling performance of the No6 Porsche at Fuji courtesy of an opportunistic move to take the lead at the first corners. “The car became much nicer to drive and as drivers we could get much more out it.”

Porsche has achieved the improvement without recourse to one of the five so-called evo jokers allowed to a manufacturer over the lifecycle of a LMDh or Le Mans Hypercar. These can be categorised as hardware changes that result in an increase in performance. Improvements aimed at improving reliability are unlimited, though still have to be signed off by the rule makers, while software is free.

Jonathan Diuguid, boss of the PPM squad that races in both WEC and IMSA, explains that the focus since last year has been reliability. “Our performances in the endurance races in 2023 weren’t the best,” he points out.

No99 Porsche Hypercar in 2024 WEC Prologue

Porsche 963 is now more drivable and an engine upgrade is in the works


“To know what we want to change we have first to be pretty confident that that is the area in which we want to develop the car,” he says. “We had reliability problems and that is what we focused on with the resources within Porsche Motorsport and PPM. After that you are limited with performance evo jokers and you are limited from a budgetary perspective.”

There is, however, an engine upgrade in the works at Porsche. It intends to move away from the current flat-plane cranks its 4.6-litre twin-turbo V8 currently runs to try to reduce vibration in the name of reliability. Plans for it to arrive in time for Le Mans in June have been abandoned, though Porsche is still promising a 2024 introduction.

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The performance at the Qatar Prologue was significant because Porsche has been a loser in the Balance of Performance reshuffle for the start of the 2024 season. The car has gained only a couple of kilos since the end of the last year, but its power has been cut from 520kW to 514kW, a reduction of approximately 12bhp. The hit it took was greater than those that went against Toyota and Ferrari, the manufacturers above it in the WEC pecking order at the end of last year.

It’s far too early to say with any certainty that Porsche has now leapfrogged ahead of them. The Losail International Circuit in Qatar was built for MotoGP, remember, and its overhaul last year has left it with a track surface that could probably be described as unique in terms of the WEC. Toyota wasn’t the only manufacturer to be hit by tyre graining during the Prologue, probably as the result of it having the heaviest car under the BoP.

Saturday’s Qatar race probably won’t give an accurate picture of what is to come in the WEC this year. But Porsche clearly remains on an upward curve on the road to Le Mans as it attempts to claim victory number 20.