With last month’s testing out-of-the-way, Porsche teams head to the Paul Ricard in Le Castellet this weekend well prepared. Drivers we’re impressed with the new 911 GT3 RSR changes and will bring the fight to Ferrari and Aston Martin. Tomorrow will kick off practice sessions, with qualifying on Saturday and racing on Sunday.
The Circuit Paul Ricard has hosted the season-opener of the LMS since 2010. For 2011, the race duration has been shortened from eight hours to six.
The race track
Because of the almost two kilometer long Mistral straight, the 5.791 kilometer former Grand Prix circuit, located on a high plateau about 40 kilometers northeast of Marseille, is often used to prepare for the Le Mans 24 hour race. A key passage of the track is the long, fast right-hander at the end of the straight, with a typical feature of Paul Ricard the wide, brightly painted run-off areas.
The Porsche drivers
Five Porsche factory drivers compete in Le Castellet. Reigning champions Marc Lieb (Germany) and Richard Lietz (Austria) take up the race for the Felbermayr-Proton squad. Patrick Pilet (France) shares driving duties in IMSA Performance Matmut’s 911 GT3 RSR for the first time with Wolf Henzler (Germany), the Le Mans winner from 2010. Like last year, former Porsche-junior and now works driver, Marco Holzer (Germany), drives for ProSpeed Competition. Joining him as a new teammate is seasoned campaigner Marc Goossens (Belgium). Whilst these pairings contest the GTE-Pro category with the improved 2011-version of the 911 GT3 RSR, two 2010-spec 911 will contend the GTE-Am class. In this class, only one professional race driver per vehicle is permitted to compete. At Felbermayr-Proton, team owner Christian Ried (Germany) joins forces with Horst Felbermayr senior and junior from Austria. Raymond Narac, team owner of the IMSA Performance Matmut squad, starts with his French compatriot Nicolas Armindo, who has switched to the LMS after winning last year’s Porsche Carrera Cup Deutschland.
Comments from Porsche works drivers prior to the race
Marc Lieb: “After testing mid-March we can say we’re well sorted. My first impression of the improved 911 GT3 RSR is very good. Most of all, the turn-in is noticeably better. The car now seems more agile. During the tests, we worked on finding a basic set-up for the race distance – after all, this is essential for a good performance. But our opponents are also competing with much improved cars. To some extent the rule-makers have allowed our rivals a technical advantage. It certainly won’t be easy to repeat our performance from last year.”
Richard Lietz: “Our lap times during the tests were okay. This, in principle, is a good sign, even if you never know just what cards the competition is holding. I felt very good in the 2011 car right from the get-go.”
Patrick Pilet: “I immediately noticed that the 911 GT3 RSR is more stable in its handling, which is good, especially on circuits that are not as smooth as Le Castellet. I’m thrilled to have a strong and experienced teammate like Wolf Henzler. In this field, every championship point is extremely important.”
Wolf Henzler: “I’m very pleased that I can contest the entire Le Mans Series in conjunction with my American Le Mans Series commitments. I have a strong teammate in Patrick. The Paul Ricard circuit is demanding, especially with the long right-hander at the end of the straight. That takes guts.”
Marco Holzer: “The new aerodynamics at the front of the 911 GT3 RSR provides more grip at the front axle and that suits me perfectly. I’m particularly looking forward to round one. I very much like the Le Castellet circuit.”
The Porsche 911 GT3 RSR
The most successful GT race car of 2010 heads into the new season with some improvements. The output of the four-litre, six-cylinder boxer engine has increased to 455 hp (335 kW). Priority in the further developments was given predominantly to the newly-designed aerodynamics at the front and rear.
When the race in Le Castellet was run for the first time last year as the season-opener of the Le Mans Series, Marc Lieb and Richard Lietz won in the Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. This success laid the foundation for their title victory. In the 2010 Le Mans Series, Porsche clinched all three GT2 class titles for drivers, teams and manufacturers.
The six-hour race kicks off at midday on Sunday, 3 April. Qualifying for the GTE classes takes place on Saturday from 13.45 to 14.05 hours.