2016 United SportsCar Championship season review
In 2015, Porsche North America Racing captured all three GTLM class titles in the WeatherTech United SportsCar Championship, the no. 911 Porsche 911 RSR of Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet capturing four victories along the way, including a famous outright triumph at the season-ending Petit Le Mans.
For this year though, new GTLM technical regulations were introduced, leading to newly developed entries from Ferrari (in the shape of its 488 GTE) and the radical Ford GT. Porsche, meanwhile, choosing to focus on creating an all-new racer for 2017, brought along an updated version of its 2015 car.
Despite this, at the 24 Hours of Daytona, the traditional curtain raiser for the American sports car season, the factory Porsche 911 RSRs were able to lock out the front row in qualifying, converting this position into a solid one-two during the first half of the race.
As the daylight hours returned on Sunday morning, the Porsches’ pace advantage began to wain but still the two cars circulated at the head of the field until, with five hours to go, disaster struck the no. 911 entry of Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet and Kévin Estre, a driveshaft failing on the high-speed banking.
This left Earl Bamber, Frédéric Makowiecki and Michael Christensen in the no. 912 RSR to fight the two Chevrolet Corvettes but, despite taking the lead after the final round of pitstops, Porsche had to settle for a solid third place at the end of a day’s racing.
The 12 Hours of Sebring brought a similar result for the two factory 911s, the no. 912 car battling through the rain and red flags to secure another third place while the no. 911 retired at half distance when Estre made a failed passing attempt while defending the lead and cannoned into the barriers at turn one.
After the two longest races on the calendar, round three at Long Beach provided the shortest encounter of the year with just 100 minutes of race action around the Californian street circuit.
Unsurprisingly, it also made for one of the most frenetic races of the year, with the result – Porsche’s first victory of the year only decided in the final few laps when Makowiecki missed his braking point and punted into the back of the no. 4 Corvette.
Spinning the erstwhile leader (and forcing the no. 912 car into retirement), the Frenchman’s mistake allowed teammate Tandy in the no. 911 RSR into a lead the British ace duly converted to victory.
Round four at Laguna Seca saw Bamber and Makowiecki take another third place finish for the no. 912 crew however, the Pilet and Tandy’s hopes were dashed early on when one of the Corvettes hit the back of the no. 911 Porsche 911 RSR, knocking the car down the order. The Anglo-French duo would eventually finish ninth.
After four races, Porsche was just three points behind Chevrolet in the manufacturer standings, while Bamber and Makowiecki sat similarly placed in the drivers’ table (albeit 12 points off the top thanks to their Long Beach DNF).
If Weissach was still in with a chance of retaining its titles now, the same couldn’t be said after the conclusion of the next four races: Watkins Glen, Mosport, Lime Rock and Road America (circuits that, in 2015, saw Porsche North America Racing kick-start their championship challenge).
Both factory 911 RSRs failed to make the podium through the middle of the season, hamstrung by changes to the Balance of Performance and a general lack of pace compared to the newly developed Fords and Ferraris.
At ‘The Glen’ the two RSRs brought up the tail end of the GTLM pack, improving slightly during the trip north of the border to Mosport. Lime Rock Park – a new addition to the USCC calendar – was similar fruitless before Bamber and Makowiecki managed to salvage a little bit of honour with fourth at Road America.
It wouldn’t be until round nine at Virginia International Raceway that one of the works Porsche 911 RSRs would be back on the podium, Bamber and Makowiecki battling hard in extreme heat to finish third (while Tandy and Pilet came home sixth after an off-track excursion).
With some momentum behind them, Porsche enjoyed its most competitive outing of the year at Circuit of the Americas. The two works 911 RSRs were the class of the field during the Lone Star Le Mans event, taking a much-needed one-two.
Tandy and Pilet in the no. 911 car were originally on course for victory but, with a slim chance of retaining their trio of titles, Porsche choose to swap the two cars’ positions, handing the lead to the no. 912 RSR, a move that gave Bamber his first USCC win.
At Petit Le Mans neither Porsche 911 was ever really in contention though. The no. 911 car again suffered with reliability issues while Bamber and Makowiecki struggled for pace on the way to fifth, a result that saw Porsche finish third in the final manufacturers’ standings.
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