Potential Daytona, Le Mans 24-Hour Sweep Beckons for Porsche Penske Motorsport

By Tony DiZinno

IMSA Wire Service

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Rarified air. That’s what Porsche Penske Motorsport seeks if it can pull off a unique, calendar year double dip of iconic 24-hour race victories.

Thanks to convergence of top-class regulations starting in 2023 allowing both LMDh- and LMH-specification prototypes to compete in both the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and FIA World Endurance Championship, teams can run their same prototype cars in the marquee races in both Florida and France, the Rolex 24 At Daytona and 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Porsche has a chance this weekend to achieve something it hasn’t done in nearly 40 years, and something no manufacturer has done in 34.

Jaguar (1990) and Porsche (1987) are the two most recent manufacturers to win overall at both Daytona and Le Mans in the same year, with the Jaguar XJR-12 and Porsche 962, respectively. Tom Walkinshaw Racing operated the Jaguar programs, with the Castrol Jaguar Racing entry capturing Daytona and the Silk Cut Jaguar entry delivering the win at Le Mans. Porsche’s most recent yearly overall double saw Lowenbrau Holbert Racing take Daytona and the Rothmans Porsche take Le Mans.

Porsche’s more recent top-level prototype efforts also yielded success at Le Mans and left the legacy it works to uphold now with the new 963, in its second season of competition.

Roughly a decade ago, Porsche fielded the 919 Hybrid in LMP1 specifications. After a trying first attempt in 2014, the 919 swept to the first of three consecutive Le Mans wins a year later in 2015 (the first came with car No. 19). That run of three victories took the number of overall Le Mans wins to 19. A 963 win would mark Porsche’s 20th in the event.

Team Penske Seeking to Add to Momentous Year

Just as 6 and 7 have been important numbers for Penske sports car programs, 19 and 20 are important for Penske and Porsche heading to this year’s Le Mans.

On May 26, Josef Newgarden captured Team Penske’s 20th win at the Indianapolis 500, two days after his No. 2 IndyCar crew secured Team Penske’s 19th win in the Pit Stop Challenge.

So, on the heels of that win, plus the season-opening Rolex 24 triumph with Newgarden, Felipe Nasr, Dane Cameron and Matt Campbell aboard the No. 7 Porsche 963, the potential Daytona-Le Mans double could also include a triple set of marquee wins in the same calendar year.

“I think this year is probably going to go down as a dream year,” admitted Jonathan Diuguid, Porsche Penske Motorsport managing director, who served as Newgarden’s interim strategist along with Raul Prados, the No. 7 Porsche 963 engineer, as Newgarden’s interim engineer at the Indianapolis 500.

“This group also was part of the Daytona 24-hour win. I talked a little about feeling guilty (after the Indy 500), and I think Josef said the same thing after the Daytona 24 Hours. He kind of rocked up and we got the first win after many, many decades.”

Porsche has six total cars going for overall victory at Le Mans. Porsche Penske Motorsport has three of them, which may provide them the best odds – and historical similarity to 2015 – in its favor if the third car wins. Jota Sport’s two cars and Proton Competition’s one brings the total of Porsches in the Hypercar class to six.

With Penske himself laser-focused on victory and having prioritized attending sports car over IndyCar races when 2024 weekend conflicts have presented themselves, it’s natural to think there is pressure.

Travis Law, competition director at Porsche Penske Motorsport, pushed back on the pressure idea.

“We’re looking forward to Le Mans. We want to achieve a similar result as Daytona,” Law said. “We’re not gonna speculate too much (about what it would mean). We can’t get caught up in press clippings. … Le Mans, we’ll try to win. I’ll tell you afterwards how it goes.”

Pressure Is Inherent in Porsche, Penske Camps

Urs Kuratle, Porsche Penske Motorsport’s LMDh director of factory racing, explained pressure comes with the territory.

“It’s not only me, it’s all the drivers, the engineers, mechanics,” Kuratle said. “We’d like to say there is no pressure. But when you race for Porsche, you have to perform. That’s the pressure. For sure there’s a lot of pressure, although we’d like to say there’s no pressure.”

There is, however, respect from Penske for the other Porsche teams. Jota Sport achieved a milestone victory in WEC’s most recent race at Spa-Francorchamps, having scored the first win for a privateer team with the Porsche 963.

“Roger (Penske) was the first guy to congratulate those guys in Spa before he jumped into the plane to go to Laguna Seca and watch the (WeatherTech Championship) race!” Kuratle said.

Mathieu Jaminet, Nick Tandy and Nasr – three of the four Porsche Penske Motorsport full-season drivers in the WeatherTech Championship, will share the Le Mans-only No. 4 Porsche. The trio was kept together for a second year despite a high-profile test by four-time Formula 1 champion Sebastian Vettel, which piqued interest in his potential Le Mans debut.

“We had a good pairing last year, being the first Porsche in qualifying,” Jaminet said. “Even though we had some issues, it shows the combination works. Felipe won Daytona, and with Nick we do the full season together in IMSA. I’ve got two of the best teammates there are.”

The team’s WEC full-season lineups of Campbell, Michael Christensen and Fred Makowiecki (No. 5) and Laurens Vanthoor, Kevin Estre and Andre Lotterer (No. 6) remain unchanged, with Cameron on standby as the Le Mans reserve driver. It means that Nasr or Campbell could complete the Daytona-Le Mans double, but not both since they’ll be in different cars this week. Should Cameron get into a car in the race, he too could be a winner in both races.

Kuratle has been asked frequently about what it would mean to win both Daytona and Le Mans in the same year. He relayed familiar commentary that long-time Penske aficionados will appreciate.

“It’s all about the people. Last year we all know the results,” he said, referring to finishes of ninth and 11th in class, plus one early retirement.

“We’ve done the work on both sides of the Atlantic to improve,” Kuratle added. “The reliability is the biggest change from last year to this year. We worked on all those areas. Being with Porsche and Penske, either IMSA or WEC, you’re there to win. You have to win.”