2016 WeatherTech USCC: Petit Le Mans race report
After four seasons of competition, the Porsche 911 RSR bowed out of factory action this weekend, with the US works squad, Porsche North America Racing unable to give the 991-generation racer a successful send-off at the season closing Petit Le Mans.
The final round of the 2016 WeatherTech United SportsCar Championship saw the IMSA circus once again arrive at Road Atlanta near Braselton, Georgia for a ten-hour spectacular into the night.
One year on from a sensational overall triumph at Petit Le Mans, the factory Porsche 911 RSRs were unable to repeat their 2015 success as the no. 912 machine of Earl Bamber, Frédéric Makowiecki and Michael Christensen came home fifth after the sister no. 911 RSR was knocked out of podium contention.
The four free practice sessions at Road Atlanta suggested it would be a difficult final weekend for the factory Porsche 911 RSRs as both cars struggled in the bottom half of the GTLM time sheets, unable to match the pace-setting Ferrari 488 GTB and the championship-leading Corvette C7.Rs.
Qualifying only compounded Porsche’s woes, the no. 912 entry setting the eighth fastest time while the no. 912 machine could only bring up the rear of the class in tenth, 0.7 seconds away from the pole-sitting Ford GT in a tight session where the top four were separated by under two tenths of a second.
As has become common this season, the two Porsche 911 RSRs showed better in the race, working their way into fifth and sixth by the end of the third hour, the no. 912 entry (an outside bet for retaining Porsche’s trio of IMSA titles) ahead of the no. 911 RSR.
In the fourth hour, the no. 912 Porsche 911 RSR was delayed by a 60-second penalty for the crew working on the car in a closed pitlane however, by the fifth hour, slick pitwork and strategy for the no. 911 had moved Richard Lietz into third, just a few seconds behind the leading Ferrari and Corvette.
An extended safety car period to repair the track at Turn Three kept last year’s GTLM champions in the podium places when disaster struck in the sixth hour. Exiting the pits, Nick Tandy (back at the wheel) was nerfed into the barriers by a prototype, the no. 911 entry suffering heavy rear end damage.
The sister car’s demise elevated the no. 912 Porsche 911 RSR into sixth as the crew fought back from their earlier penalty. However, combined with the 911’s lack of pace, Bamber, Makowiecki and Christensen would only be able to rise as high as fifth as the no. 4 Corvette C7.R finished third to secure all three USCC titles.
Behind the pit wall though, the Porsche North America Racing squad was working frantically to repair the no. 911, loathe to let one of the 991 RSRs finish its last factory race on the sidelines.
After an incredible effort repairing the suspension, replacing the rear windscreen and fitting new bodywork (among a litany of other jobs), Tandy was able to fire up the no. 911 entry once darkness had enveloped Road Atlanta, the Briton completing the final few laps of the race and taking the chequered flag.
“It is simply part of the sporting spirit to repair the car,” explained Porsche’s Head of GT Motorsport, Marco Ujhasi. “The season was not easy for us but we’ll be back next year with our new car to take up the challenge.”
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