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Porsche takes a clean sweep in WEC Hypercar at Qatar as Penske and Hertz Team JOTA lock out podium

(Photo: Ian Chicken)

The opening round of the 2024 FIA World Endurance Championship, the Qatar Airways Qatar 1812 KM, finished with a thrilling battle between the front runners in the Hypercar class.

As the chequered flag fell, Porsche Penske Motorsport finished first and third with Kévin Estre bringing the #6 Porsche 963 home for the race victory in the car he shared with André Lotterer and Laurens Vanthoor. Callum Ilott took second place in the #12 Hertz Team JOTA he drove with teammates Norman Nato and Will Stevens while Matt Campbell in the #5 Porsche Penske Motorsport entry took the final podium place, a little over a second behind the Jota entry.

(Photo: Ian Chicken)

As the race entered the final ten minutes Jean-Eric Vergne, at the wheel of the #93 Peugeot TotalEnergies Peugeot 963, held on to a solid second place before a fuel issue caused the #93 to slow and eventually stop out on circuit. This allowed Ilott and Campbell to move into second and third respectively and despite Campbell pushing as hard as he could, the Australian pilot could not get past the privateer Porsche entry.

(Photo: Ian Chicken)

In the LMGT3 class, the first race for the new category that replaced LMGTE following the 2023 season, victory went to the #92 Manthey Purerxcing Porsche 911 GT3 R LMGT3 as Klaus Bachler took the chequered flag in the car he shared with Aliaksandr Malykhin and Joel Sturm. Second in LMGT3 was the #27 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage AMR LMGT3 with the driver line-up of Ian James, Daniel Mancinelli and, driving the final stint, Alex Riberas.

Completing the LMGT3 podium was the #777 D’Station Aston Martin piloted by Clément Mateu, Erwan Bastard and Marco Sorensen, the Danish driver crossing the line to secure third place.

Porsche was the manufacturer to beat in the Hyperclass after topping the time sheets over the course of the Prologue and two of the the three practice sessions preceding qualifying.

Michael Christensen, at the wheel of the pole-sitting #5 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963, led the field away from the grid but lost the lead to the #50 Ferrari AF Corse Ferrari 499P driven by Miguel Molina. However 90 minutes later it was the #6 Porsche in the lead, Kévin Estre pulling out an advantage from Callum Ilott in the #12 Hertz Tean JOTA 963.

The #6 car was rarely headed over the remaining six and a half hour despite Estre having to make an unscheduled stop in the final hour to replace a light panel.

For the #5 car driven by Matt Campbell, Christensen and Frédéric Makowiecki, two stops for tyre damage meant that the Campbell, driving the final stint, was racing the #12 Porsche for the final podium place for the final two hours of the eight-hour contest. The Australian pilot was pushing hard over the final laps but could not find a way past Ilott in the JOTA car. However, the bad luck of Jean-Eric Vergne in the #93 Peugeot moved Ilott and Campbell up one place to give Porsche Penske Motorsport a double podium finish in the senior class.

Team founder and chairman of Penske Corporation Roger Penske was delighted to see the fruits of his team’s hard work.

“Today we achieved another milestone within our Porsche Penske Motorsport team,” said Roger Penske. “This is a long-term project which started a long time ago. Experiencing our first overall victory in the FIA WEC at the start of the 2024 season is an exceptionally nice feeling. It’s the result of the tireless efforts of everyone in the team.”

Jonathan Diuguid, Managing Director Porsche Penske Motorsport reflected that the team had now begun seasons in both IMSA competition and the FIA WEC with overall victories.

“Our Porsche Penske Motorsport team has now enjoyed the perfect start to the new season on both sides of the Atlantic,” said Jonathan Diuguid. “After our victory in Daytona, we were extremely fast with both cars in Qatar today and were rewarded with a victory and a podium finish.

“This success was the result of hard work. We gave everything we had over the entire distance. It was tough until the last lap. Now we’re looking forward to the rest of the season.”

For 2023 FIA WEC champions Toyota Gazoo Racing, the season opener in Qatar showed that the level of competition in the Hypercar class has moved on considerably over the last 12 months.

Mike Conway started the #7 Toyota GR010 – Hybrid from the front row but oversteer in T1 saw him drop down to 7th. Sébastien Buemi in the sister #8 car also dropped back from 11th to 14th.

Nyck de Vries took over the #7 car from Conway and moved into the top six before handing over to Kamui Kobayashi. De Vries was back in the #7 car for the final stint and was looking at a 7th place finish before the #93 Peugeot encountered problems, moving the ex-Formula 1 pilot into 6th. Ryo Hirakawa brought the #8 car home in 10th place to make it a double points-paying finish. The 10th place was amended to 9th after the #93 Peugeot was disqualified.

“Unfortunately for the first race of the season we struggled all the way through the race to find strong performance,” said Team Principal and Driver Kamui Kobayashi. “Finishing sixth was the best we could realistically achieve today and this isn’t what we hoped for coming here.

“Obviously our car was not well suited to this circuit; it is very surprising how challenging this event has been for us. But, despite the difficulties, all team members worked very hard to score points with both cars. The drivers didn’t make any mistakes and the engineers and mechanics performed great too. We will look at everything from this race and work hard to come back stronger at Imola.”

For Nick de Dries, the GR010’s pace was the limiting factor at Qatar.

“After 10 hours of battling, it was a hard-fought result,” said de Vries. “We were lacking pace compared to the leading cars so we have to be happy with sixth, although we definitely needed a little bit of lick to finish there because on merit the top six was probably just out of reach.

“We have scored good points and I think that was the best we could do today. We had to maximise and we did that.”

In LMGT3 category, Qatar saw the first victory for a Lithuanian-flagged team when Klaus Bachler brought the #92 Manthey Purerxcing Porsche home for the class victory. The crew of the #92 were punt under pressure throughout the race by the #27 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin. A spin when Alex Riberas was at the wheel meant that the #92 car could pull out a slight advantage but Bachler had to work hard in his final stint to take the win with a gap of just under five seconds to Riberas in the Aston Martin.

Porsche now lead the Manufacturers Championship on 39 points, 16 points ahead of Cadillac with Toyota in third on 18 points. Hertz Team JOTA lead the FIA World Cup for Hypercar Teams on 38 points with AF Corse in second on 27 points.

The FIA World Endurance Champion grid next convenes at Imola on April 21st for the 6 Hours of Imola.