Porsche Motorsport, Team Penske seek Daytona/Le Mans glory with Porsche 963

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 2, 2022

The race for world sports car racing domination revved up in the last month as manufacturers Cadillac, BMW and Acura unveiled concepts of their first hybrid race cars. But the Porsche program — run by Bloomfield Hills’ legendary Team Penske — seems to be well ahead of everybody.

Porsche Motorsport and Team Penske unveiled their 680-horsepower, 963 prototype race cars at Goodwood Festival of Speed this month in full racing livery with eight drivers and already 4,900 miles of testing to their credit.

The Porsche 963 LMDh prototype is the second collaboration between Porsche and Team Penske.

It puts 85-year-old Roger “The Captain” Penske in the driver’s seat as he seeks to add the twin jewels of sports car racing — the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 24 Hours of Le Mans — to his already illustrious trophy case. Penske will field two factory cars for 2023 while Porsche also announced a private entry run by Minnesota JDC-Miller through its customer racing program. JDC-Miller has run Cadillac IMSA prototypes for the last four years.

The 963 marks a return to glory for Porsche, which dominated prototype podiums in the 1970s to 1990s — establishing its reputation as one of the world’s great performance brands.

“Over the past few months, Porsche Motorsport and Team Penske have grown into an efficient and committed squad — the Porsche Penske Motorsport Team,” said Porsche Motorsport LMDh chief Urs Kuratle. “We’ll have powerful driver crews in the factory cars. The Porsche 963 should be homologated this autumn. Until then, we want to make further progress with test drives and gain additional insights.”

LMDh stands for Le Mans Daytona Hybrid and will replace the current DPi class next year in North America’s IMSA series, where it will also be known as the GTP class. Cadillac and Acura compete in DPi, with Cadillac winning at the Detroit Grand Prix in June.

The new LMDh category has been endorsed by both IMSA and the international World Endurance Series, rekindling a global war of performance brands not seen for decades. The first-ever hybrid-powered prototype series — the world’s fastest sports car class — offers an opportunity to prove brand superiority in electrification at a time when manufacturers are introducing battery-powered production cars.

In addition to Porsche, Cadillac, BMW, Ferrari, Toyota, Peugeot and Acura, Lamborghini and Alpine are expected to join in LMDh racing come 2024.

While manufacturer cars and teams have been solidifying this summer, Porsche Penske Motorsport has been noticeably aggressive in getting its horses on track. The team’s concept car was unveiled in May with a top-drawer driver lineup already putting test miles on the test mule.

“It’s a typically efficient Penske operation. They got started well ahead of anyone else,” said veteran Hagerty racing correspondent Stephen Cole Smith in an interview. “If I were to put money on a team to win Daytona next January, I’d put my money on Penske.”

The sleek white, red and black machine took a run up the hill climb at Goodwood, trailing its signature, whispery exhaust note from a twin-turbo V-8.

“We’re on a very good path but there is still work to be done before the start of next season,” said Thomas Laudenbach, Porsche Motorsport vice president. “Our new Porsche 963 should continue the legacy of legendary models such as the 917, 935, 956, 962 and the 919. I’m positive that we’ll be well-positioned for wins in the thrilling competition between many manufacturers.”

In addition to its IMSA series debut next January, Porsche Penske Motorsport has targeted a noncompetitive dress rehearsal at the final WEC round in Bahrain this November.

Hagerty’s Cole Smith said Penske’s test schedule has allowed it to share technical information with IMSA, WEC and other teams proving the nascent hybrid technology that will be shared across brands. Under class rules, each manufacturer will campaign its own unique engine, but to reduce costs and encourage close racing, the hybrid system developed by Bosch, Xtrac and Williams Engineering will be common technology.

At the wheel of the twin 963 will be France’s Kévin Estre, Michael Christensen of Denmark, André Lotterer from Germany, Belgium’s Laurens Vanthoor, Aussie Matt Campbell, Mathieu Jaminet of France, American Dane Cameron and reigning IMSA champion Felipe Nasr of  Brazil.

Porsche Penske Motorsport has established two race bases: one in Mooresville, North Carolina, for the IMSA series and one in Mannheim, Germany, for the WEC.

The LMDh chassis has ben developed for Porsche by Canadian manufacturer Multimatic, which also developed the Ford GT for the Dearborn brand’s Le Mans win in the GT class in 2016. Mated to the spec hybrid components will be a 4.6-liter, twin-turbo V8 based on the engine in Porsche’s million-dollar 918 Spyder hypercar.

Porsche and Team Penske last teamed up from 2005 to 2008 with the RS Spyder prototype that scored multiple victories. The design of the new Porsche 963 echoes that of the iconic 956 and 962 racers of the 1980s and early 1990s.

Other suppliers of significance to the global program are tire manufacturer Michelin, Mobil1 oil, and software specialist Ansys. Sponsors include luxury watchmaker TAG Heuer, Hugo Boss clothing and Puma.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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