From Risk to Reward, Long Beach Win Sent Penske Porsches on Upward Trajectory

By Jeff Olson

IMSA Wire Service

One race in 2023 will always hold significance for Porsche Penske Motorsport. With the added challenge of a new, hybrid-based car, the season hadn’t started the way the team had planned.

Then came Long Beach.

An unlikely yet timely victory by Nick Tandy and Mathieu Jaminet in the No. 6 PPM Porsche 963 was the team’s first in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class and its complicated new vehicle. What was considered an improbable win sent the team on a mission for more.

“The season hadn’t started out so great,” Tandy recalled. “We were still having issues with the car and some of the teamwork together, but (Long Beach) was a boost to team morale and the hope and realization that even if the car isn’t on point and we’re not the fastest one out there, we do always still have the chance. We showed we have the ability to produce a result.”

Foregoing fresh tires on the final pit stop, the No. 6 car found its way to the lead and held it to the finish. The team’s sister car – the No. 7 co-driven by Felipe Nasr and Matt Campbell – finished third.

From there, Porsche Penske Motorsport honed the new technology and got a handle on how it races. The team recorded two wins and four podium finishes in the following five races, and the No. 6 car went into the season-ending Motul Petit Le Mans thick in the hunt for the GTP championship – just five points from the lead.

The journey began with one difficult but successful race on an 11-turn, 1.968-mile circuit through the streets of Long Beach.

“It had a huge significance,” Tandy said. “It was a win, obviously, but we had two cars on the podium. It wasn’t the fact that we dominated the weekend. We really struggled for pace. It was not our best weekend by a long shot. To get two cars on the podium and our first win was a huge shot in the arm for the whole operation and everybody working there.”

When the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship returns this week for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, the event once again will serve as a touchstone for Porsche Penske Motorsport’s continuing development of the 963. One of just two street circuits on the 2024 schedule, Long Beach is known for its unforgiving nature.

“It is the place where the smallest mistake can have the biggest consequence,” Tandy said. “With that in mind, that challenge is what excites a lot of people – us as drivers, especially. You know that you have to be right up to the limit to not give away anything, but any tenth of a percent over that limit could be race-ending.”

Despite the difficulty, Long Beach holds appeal for Tandy and his teammates. It’s a rare opportunity in which Roger Penske’s IMSA and IndyCar operations are together outside team headquarters in Mooresville, North Carolina. Tandy relishes the opportunity to point Team Penske’s IndyCar fans toward the sports car side.

“I’m hoping when they watch the IndyCar race that they’ll support our cars, and vice versa,” he said. “We see people from other parts of the workshop when we’re in Mooresville, but it’s nice to see everybody at the racetrack again.”

That’s where the personal aspect of Long Beach comes into play. Last year at this time, Porsche Penske Motorsport had no wins and just one podium finish – Tandy, Jaminet and Dane Cameron’s third in the No. 6 car at Sebring – to its credit. Then came an unexpected win that set everything straight.

Starting with Long Beach, the two Penske Porsches scored more points than every other GTP car but one the rest of the season and wound up deadlocked in points, with the No. 6 finishing fourth in the standings by virtue of more race wins and the No. 7 taking fifth.

“Obviously when you have bad results, not a lot of people are happy,” Tandy said. “We’re competitive people, everybody on the team. On the other side of that, when we win, it’s a huge morale booster. … You never give up. If everybody does their best work, anything can happen.”

The bid for a Long Beach repeat begins Friday with practice and qualifying. The 100-minute race airs live at 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday on USA Network, Peacock and IMSA Radio.