Race Weekend Central

Porsche Penske Motorsport Dominates in Qatar

In an extension of the time sheet dominance shown by the Porsche 963 dating back to the Prologue on Monday (Feb. 26), Porsche Penske Motorsport’s No. 6 shared by Kevin Estre, Andre Lotterer and Laurens Vanthoor blitzed the field Saturday (March 2) to win the Qatar 1812km. It is Porsche Penske Motorsport’s first overall win in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

“Thanks to [Porsche Penske Motorsport],” Estre said after the race. “They made a heck of a car. No issues, great balance. I was really, really pleased with where we ended up today compared to how we started last year. It’s quite an amazing jump.”

The win is the first-ever overall victory for an LMDh prototype in the Hypercar class. Hypercars won all seven races last year and 11 of the 13 since the class was introduced in 2022. The other two were won by Signatech Alpine with a grandfathered LMP1 car.

The race did reach the scheduled distance of 335 laps. At the time of the finish, there were just over four minutes remaining on the clock.

The margin of victory was 33.297 seconds over Hertz Team JOTA’s Callum Ilott, Norman Nato and Will Stevens. Porsche Penske Motorsport’s No. 5 for Matt Campbell, Michael Christensen and Frederic Makowiecki completed a Porsche sweep of the podium. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Earl Bamber, Sebastien Bourdais and Alex Lynn finished a lap down in fourth, while the customer AF Corse Ferrari of Robert Kubica, Robert Shwartzman and Yifei Ye were fifth.

The No. 5 Porsche of Michael Christensen started from the overall pole but lost his advantage almost immediately to Ferrari AF Corse’s Miguel Molina. Meanwhile, Toyota GAZOO Racing’s Mike Conway, who started second, dropped back quickly.

Worse off were Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Lynn and Peuegot TotalEnergies’ Paul di Resta. The two drivers had contact in the first corner, resulting in di Resta spinning out. Lynn’s Cadillac had damage and was forced to pit for repairs.

In the bright midday sunshine, Christensen got loose, allowing Peugeot TotalEnergies’ Nico Mueller to get by for second. Mueller then ran down and took the overall lead in his Peugeot 9X8.

Vanthoor started fifth and actually slipped back early as far as eighth. However, he quickly found the pace in his Porsche 963 and moved forward. Ninety minutes into the race, Vanthoor was able to get past Mueller to take the overall lead.

Once out front, Vanthoor was able to pull away from the field. Peugeot’s No. 93 was the only team that was able to keep up. With essentially no interruptions in the action due to incidents, the lead was able to expand.

A rather unusual instance drew a caution in the third hour. Ferrari AF Corse’s James Calado had his rear bodywork come off after contact with a McLaren.

There were no safety car periods in the nearly 10-hour race, but there were off-course excursions. Gravel was swept onto the track around the halfway point in turn 9, but the lack of safety car periods meant that no one could do anything about it. A number of drivers were caught out, such as Signatech Alpine’s Mick Schumacher.

Later on, Campbell got caught out by the small loose stones and went off the road. He also avoided hitting anything.

In the final 90 minutes of the race, trouble struck. Estre made contact with the Akkodis ASP Lexus driven by Takeshi Kimura. The contact ultimately led to the left-side number board falling off of the leading Porsche. Normally, that would require a fix in the pits, but since the race started in broad daylight, officials didn’t declare the race to be a night race even though the incident happened at night.

“It was a bit crazy, to be honest,” Estre continued. “I didn’t think I was taking risks in traffic, but somehow, we didn’t understand each other and I had a massive hit with the Lexus. After that, we had a lot of vibration and lost some grip.”

Despite the ruling, Penske Porsche Motorsport chose to bring in Estre with less than 10 laps to go to stick a number panel onto the car to ward off any kind of protest. At the time, Estre had an 85-second lead, so it was relatively simple to clean off a spot to put the sticker on and get back out without losing the lead.

Further back, a three-way duel for second broke out between Peugeot TotalEnergies’ Jean-Eric Vergne, Ilott and Campbell. Vergne appeared to have it made until his Peugeot briefly lost power with two laps to go.

Ilott, running on tires with more than 85 laps on them, inherited second with Campbell hot on his tail with fresh tires. Another appointment with the loose stones in turn 9 hurt Campbell’s challenge.

Estre easily took the victory in front of Roger Penske, who made the trip to Qatar to watch the race. Meanwhile, Ilott held off Campbell to put the customer Porsche on the podium ahead of the second factory entry.

Vergne was able to get back underway and just barely nursed his Peugeot to the finish. The trio of Vergne, Mueller and Mikkel Jensen would have to settle for seventh on the road.

UPDATE: The No. 93 Peugeot of Jensen, Mueller and Vergne has been disqualified from the race. The issue that resulted in Vergne slowing in the final couple of laps resulted in Vergne being forced to use the MGU-K to limp back around the 3.367-mile course. That, in and of itself, is against the rules. Vergne was then unable to get back around the track to parc ferme (impound) under his own power.

In LMGT3, TF Sport’s Tom van Rompuy started from the pole in his Chevrolet Corvette Z06 GT3.R. Manthey PureRxcing’s Alex Malykhin started alongside in his Porsche and pressured van Rompuy early on.

Thirty minutes into the race, Malykhin took the class lead and it was off to the races from there. In the past few months, PureRxcing has won the GT class championship in the Asian Le Mans Series and Malykhin won the Bronze Cup in Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS. Those championships, plus the team’s full-time status in the WEC, meant that PureRxcing would technically be allowed three entries in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, but it chose not to use its extra automatic bids.

Ultimately, the only team that was able to keep pace with Manthey PureRxcing was The Heart of Racing. Daniel Mancinelli ran down Malykhin and took the class lead in the fifth hour.

In the final hours, Manthey PureRxcing’s Klaus Bachler regained the lead and stretched out the advantage to 20 seconds. The margin was slimmed down over the final laps, but the trio of Bachler, Malykhin and Joel Sturm held on to win on debut in the WEC.

The margin of victory was 4.866 seconds over Mancinelli, Ian James and Alex Riberas. D’Station Racing’s Erwan Bastard, Clement Mateu and Marco Sorensen were a lap down in third, followed by Team WRT’s Ahmad Al Harthy, Maxime Martin and Valentino Rossi. Vista AF Corse’s Francesco Castellacci, Thomas Flohr and Davide Rigon ended up fifth after dominating the time sheets for most of the week in class.

FIA World Endurance Championship Qatar 1812km Unofficial Results

After an airlift back to Europe, teams will be back at their shops for the next few weeks. The second race of the season will be the 6 Hours of Imola at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari on April 21.

About the author

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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Murphy

Qatar’s commitment to excellence is on full display as Porsche Penske Motorsport clinches a historic win in the Qatar 1812km. Their success is a testament to the nation’s thriving sports culture and its capacity to host top-tier international events that excite and inspire.

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