Porsche Dominate WEC Season Opener In Qatar

7 Mins read
Credit: Marius Hecker / DPPI

The 2024 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) kicked off in superb style with a brilliant victory for Porsche Penske Motorsport. The #6 car looked masterful throughout the race, as indeed it did throughout the weekend. Callum Ilott claimed a magnificent second place in his debut with Hertz Team JOTA, with the #5 Porsche Penske making it an astonishing all-Porsche podium.

If that wasn’t enough, the first ever LMGT3 victory went Porsche’s way as well. Manthay PureRxing claimed victory in their Porsche 911 GT3 R LMGT3, leading home the two Aston Martins of Heart of Racing Team and D’Station Racing.

The #27 Aston Martin on its way to second in the LMGT3 class. Credit: Julien Delfosse / DPPI

Speaking after the race, Kevin Estre of the #6 Porsche said “thanks a lot to the whole team. They made an amazing car for the weekend with great balance and no issues. I’m really pleased and happy where we end up today compared to last year! It feels great to be on the top of the podium and we’ll definitely enjoy it!

The inaugural Qatar 1812km delivered a superb endurance race, with the action ebbing and flowing throughout, countless battles and changes for position, soaring excitement and genuine heartbreak. It was a fascinating race from start to finish.

Race Report

Molina in the #50 Ferrari sweeping round the outside of turn 1 to take an early lead. Credit: Julien Delfosse / DPPI

It was a great start by Miguel Molina in the #50 Ferrari AF Corse, swinging round the outside of turn one ahead of the #7 Toyota and the pole position #5 Porsche Penske Motorsport. On the opening laps, Toyota dropped to 8th, continuing a disappointing week for the Japanese team.

In LMGT3, there was a great battle between the TF Sport Corvette and the #92 Manthay PureRXcing Porsche, Tom van Rompuy making his debut in WEC put in an astonishing qualifying time and then was under pressure from the Porsche, eventually lost out. Turned into a battle through the field as the Corvette dropped down the order. Meanwhile, the #92 Porsche 911 GT3 R LMGT3 was able to extend a comfortable lead.

The first journey the leaders made through traffic compressed the first group of Hypercars even more. Nico Müller in the #93 Peugeot took the opportunity to pounce on the #5 Porsche and claim second place. A few laps later on lap 16, he went one step further and made a beautiful move around the outside of turn one and put his Peugeot 9X8 into first position. He stayed in that position throughout the first phase of the race. At the end of the first hour, the Peugeot led from a gaggle of four Porsches.

The #93 Peugeot under wraps on the start line, unaware of how competitive it would be in the race. Credit: Julien Delfosse / DPPI

After the first round of pitstops, it was the #6 Porsche Penske Motorsport car in second hunting down the leading Peugeot. On lap 45, Laurens Vanthoor attempted a move around the outside of turn 1, couldn’t quite make it stick and there was a little contact between the two. The lead eventually changed on lap 54, when Müller ran wide into turn 1 while trying to lap one of the United Autosports McLarens.

Drama on lap 56 for the #51 Ferrari, also involving United Autosports. James Calado was lapping the #59 McLaren at the penultimate corner and the two came together, causing a rear right puncture for the Ferrari and the rear end to fall off, triggering the first full course yellow of the season.

The #51 Ferrari 499P endured a miserable season opener. Credit: Julien Delfosse / DPPI

At the end of the second hour, the #6 Porsche Penske Motorsport led the way, 10 seconds ahead of the #12 Hertz Team JOTA Porsche, with the #93 Peugeot in third. Over the course of the pit stops, the Peugeot made it back up to second and stayed there behind the #6 cars for a large chunk of the race.

With Sebastian Bourdais at the helm, the Cadillac was making moves back up the field past the two BMWs. As part of that battle, at 2 hours and 26 minutes in, the lead Porsche lapped the Cadillac and astonishingly the next car to be lapped was the reigning champion #8 Toyota. The difference in performance level in the Hypercar class is really invigorating this championship. The thundering V8 Cadillac, however, struggled to overtake the very same Toyota, creating a scintillating multi-lap battle between Bourdais and Brendon Hartley.

Meanwhile, heartbreak for the #81 Corvette, the pole position LMGT3 car, suffered some sort of transmission issue on the way into the pits and was sat at the entrance to the pit lane for some considerable time before being pushed to his pit box, dropping them right the way to the back of the field. Eventually, as night fell, they were forced to retire, a sad end to a promising weekend.

The TF Sport Corvette sadly retired having qualified on pole. Credit: Javier Jiminez / DPPI

The Cadillac vs Toyota battle continued as both cars came into the pits nose to tail on lap 99. The American team opted for a fuel only stop, giving them seven second advantage.

Around lap 114, the #51 Ferrari was locked in a battle with the brand new Lamborghini Iron Lynx car. After their earlier bodywork issues, the Ferrari was stuck down in 18th place at the back of the pack, a disappointing season opener for the 2023 Le Mans winners. Eventually Alessandro Pier Guidi in the Ferrari made the move stick on lap 116, but Lamborghini will be thrilled with how difficult it was for the Ferrari to get past.

Al Harthy helping teammate Valentino Rossi into the car for his first ever WEC racing stint. Credit: Julien Delfosse / DPPI

World Superbike legend Valentino Rossi took over for his first ever WEC racing stint after an incredible opening stint from Ahmed Al Harthy. The Omani driver spent the opening 3 hours and 22 minutes in the heat of the day in the desert, bringing his Team WRT BMW in in 6th position. Rossi showed his class over the next few laps, getting his car from 8th up to fourth in the space of just under 40 minutes.

At 130 laps, the Porsche Penske Motorsport #6 looked comfortable in the lead ahead of the #93 Peugeot. The French car performed very well at the fast and flowing Lusail International Circuit, a track very suited to how the car was designed, closing the gap to 23 seconds by lap 145. The most competitive Ferrari in the first third was undoubtedly the privately entered #83 Ferrari. The distinctive bright yellow car made a superb move on the #7 Toyota for 5th position on lap 134 up the inside of turn 1, skilfully negotiating lapping a LMGT3 Porsche at the same time.

The #83 Ferrari racing in the golden hour. Credit: Marius Hecker / DPPI

In LMGT3, the lead changed on lap 155. The Manthay PureRXcing Porsche 911 GT3 R LMGT3 had held onto the lead for almost the entire race up to the 4.5 hour mark, until the Heart of Racing Aston Martin slithered down the inside of the final corner. The battles in LMGT3 continued throughout the field, with the two Vista AF Corse Ferraris holding third and fourth, ahead of a very impressive Rossi and an intriguing battle between the D’Station Aston Martin and Team WRT BMW. The BMW, a very different beast to the sleek Aston Martin, nonetheless made the move stick on lap 159.

At the halfway mark, the gaps at the top continued to be enticingly close. The #6 Porsche sustained a gap of just under 30 seconds to the #93 Peugeot, with battles within a second or two between the following few cars down to sixth. After five hours of racing, to have battles this close and showing no signs of giving up is a sign of how exciting WEC is in 2024.

The #54 Vista AF Corse Ferrari was very rapid, despite not quite making the podium. Credit: Julien Delfosse / DPPI

At lap 195, the Porsche came out with Laurens Vanthoor back at the wheel. Having completed their pit stop a few laps earlier, the #93 Peugeot with the very rapid Nico Müller at the helm managed to drop that gap down to fifteen seconds. Jean-Eric Vergne admitted in the pitlane that the Porsche was definitely faster than they were, but they were enjoying keeping on terms with them. Meanwhile, the #54 Vista AF Corse Ferrari took the lead of the LMGT3 class earlier in the race with Thomas Flohr at the helm before Heart Of Racing took the lead back in their Aston Martin. After almost 6 hours, the top two cars were separated less than a second.

The Manthay PureRXcing car which had led for so long dropped back to third due to throttle problems. However, on lap 217 that all changed. Riberas in the Aston Martin span towards the end of his stint, allowing the Manthay PureRXcing Porsche to close the gap and take the class lead.

A close up of the #12 Hertz Team JOTA Porsche. Credit: Julien Delfosse / DPPI

As night fell, the top of the Hypercar class seemed fairly settled, the #6 Porsche around 35 seconds ahead of the #93 Peugeot at the 235 laps mark with the #12 Hertz Team JOTA Porsche in third. The biggest surprise of the race came from the shocking race endured by the works Ferrari AF Corse team. Due to a combination of mechanical issues and penalties, they found themselves in 15th and 16th at the 280 lap mark, behind the brand new BMW and Alpine Hypercars.

Drama started to unfold on lap 290. One of the Akkodis ASP Team Lexuses was fired off into the gravel trap following contact with the race leading #6 Porsche Penske car. However, the stewards awarded a penalty to the LMGT3 car, meaning the position at the top of the standings remained unchanged. It was a sign that, going into the last hour of the race, anything could still happen.

A stunning shot of the remarkable #93 Peugeot 9X8 in its final outing without a wing. Credit: Julien Delfosse / DPPI

At the start of the last hour, 305 laps down, the #12 Hertz Team JOTA Porsche with Callum Ilott at the wheel was all over the back of the second place #93 Peugeot being driver by Jean-Eric Vergne. After nine hours of racing, the action between the two was intense. Matt Campbell, the man who set the Hypercar pole position time on Friday in the #5 Porsche, was absolutely flying. After the pit stops played out on 325, he was in fourth place, a mere ten seconds behind the #93 Peugeot. The stage was set for a ten lap three-way battle for the final two podium positions.

With three laps to go, 9 hours and 50 minutes raced, three seconds separated the three of them. And then, on lap 334 out of 335, disaster. Vergne lost all power in his Peugeot and dropped down to fourth position. The scenes in the Peugeot garage were heart-breaking with the mechanics looking understandably devasted. The car managed to limp across the line but cruelly had dropped to 7th position. The glorious farewell to the beautiful Peugeot 9X8 ended in tragedy for the team, who deserved so much more from an absolutely stunning race.

Back out front, while Kevin Estre in the #6 Porsche was already home and dry, Ilott held off a charging Matt Campbell to finish, after 10 hours of racing, just 1.1 seconds ahead of the factory Porsche car.

The untouchable #6 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963. Credit: Porsche AG

In some ways, I’m relieved that the next race isn’t for 50 days; it may take that long to fully digest all the scintillating action we’ve seen here in Qatar. Can Porsche continue this extraordinary run of form? We’ll have to wait until WEC heads to Imola, Italy, to find out.

One thing is for sure. The Golden Age of Endurance Racing has absolutely arrived.

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Lifelong fan of motor sport, covering the FIA World Rallycross Championship and the FIA WEC, the shortest and longest races covered by the FIA!
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