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Everything you need to know about the elite car Porsche is taking to Le Mans

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Porsche 963
The #5 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963 at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps

Learn more about the Porsche 963 and how it was designed from Jonathan Diuguid, Managing Director at Porsche Penske Motorsport

The Porsche 963 is one of the most sophisticated cars the Weissach marque has ever built.

Competing in both the World Endurance Championship and the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship, the car was introduced for the 2023 season and has already gone on to achieve success on both sides of the Atlantic.

We’ve gone behind the scenes to reveal everything you need to know about the 963, its design and features, why it was built this way, where it can improve during the season, where it races and more!

What is hypercar, GTP and LMDh?

That’s a lot of acronyms!

Hypercar is a catch-all term for the cars that race at the pinnacle of sportscar racing, the biggest championships and races in the world.

Put simply, there are two sets of rules you can build your top-level sportscar to. LMH (Le Mans hybrid) belongs to the World Endurance Championship (WEC), which has the 24 Hours of Le Mans included.

The LMDh (Le Mans Daytona hybrid) rules originate in the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship, which competes exclusively in North America.

There currently aren’t any LMH cars competing in IMSA, although IMSA hopes that will happen in the future. But, including the Porsche 963, there are cars built to LMDh regulations competing in the WEC.

While LMDh and LMH are different rules, they are kept on an equal playing field by something called Balance of Performance. This uses different measures, like weight and power, to make sure any car competing in the top sportscar races in the world can fight against each other and no-one is able to dominate to an unhealthy level.

Why did Porsche build the 963 to LMDh regulations?

Porsche competes in the WEC and IMSA, so why did it choose IMSA regulations and not LMH?

There are a few main reasons for this. IMSA has stricter cost control mechanisms and uses a number of spec parts which are the same across all cars, and these parts are also eligible in the World Endurance Championship.

If you build an LMH car without these parts, your car could then be ineligible for LMDh.

Porsche knew building an LMDh car would mean its car would also be eligible for both championships right away at the start of 2023.

This was also crucial as Porsche always planned to sell its cars to customers, so it needed to make sure the people buying the 963 for over €2 million would be able to use it in either championship.

Who built the car?

Porsche developed the 963 in conjunction with a number of partners. North American squad Team Penske helped design and develop and run the car in IMSA between Mannheim and its North Carolina base.

It has a chassis developed by Multimatic, and Mobil 1 and Michelin have also helped with development. Tag Heuer, Ansys, Heller, Snap-On and Boss also support the project.

How does ‘Balance of Performance work’?

Each sportscar governing body has a formula for limiting each car in certain areas to make sure they are equal, and that’s called balance of performance.

“The series and the sanctioning bodies have a difficult task to make cars with V8s and V6s and turbos and everything, match each other,” says Jonathan Diuguid, Managing Director Porsche Penske Motorsport.

“So they can adjust the power levels of the engine, and they can adjust what the car weighs as it goes around the racetrack. And so those two things are their primary tuning tools.”

Those aren’t the only areas BoP can impact, but those are the main ones.

It might seem counter-productive to slow or limit certain cars in certain areas, but there are still so many aspects of the car and the race that the teams have control over and must be perfect to win races over two, 12 and 24 hours.

“It's called the balance of performance, not the balance of opportunities,” Diuguid adds.

“So it's up to the teams, they're given the performance to compete, it's up to the teams to execute. And that's where the racing side comes.”

How do aerodynamics work on the 963?

Racing cars have two main areas that impact how quickly they go around corners. There’s aerodynamics, like a spoiler and diffuser that you might find on your road car, combined with ride height, and then there’s mechanical grip created by weight distribution and suspension.

With aerodynamics, Formula 1 teams spend millions developing the absolute optimum in downforce created, but in sportscars, it’s not as important. Because of the Balance of Performance the car is going to be limited anyway, and because of the variety of tracks the 963 goes to, it has to be able to perform at lots of different ride heights and on different tracks.

From the super smooth Qatar to the extra-bumpy Grand Prix of Long Beach, the 963 has to be fast in all conditions and over long periods of time.

“It's not so much peak performance with a sports car,” explains Diuguid.

“It's equal and stable and steady performance over a large ride height window, and to be able to deal with the different types of tracks and different types of speeds that we see. So it's kind of a different problem, but it's a unique challenge.”

The rules also govern the amount of aerodynamic force created by the car, so even if the manufacturers did want to develop it further, it often isn’t able to.

One thing you will notice on the sports prototypes is the bodywork and aero can be linked to the equivalent road cars.

Formula 1 cars can’t have road car headlights, but sportscars can, making them identifiable with the Porsche you can drive at home.

What were some of the challenges of this new car?

The biggest challenge of designing an LMDh car is taking a number of parts that are decided by the rule makers, and trying to marry those together with your own parts of the car.

“Just designing a sports racing prototype by itself is a large undertaking,” says Diuguid.

“The complexity and technology involved in the powertrain, even though some parts of it are coming from common suppliers, the integration of that and making sure all this stuff works seamlessly is a difficult task.

“To be honest, it's taken us almost three years to get it to the point that it is today. I think that's probably the biggest thing, and all the electronics.”

Simulation must be important?

It’s vital in any motorsport programme. While testing is expensive to hire out a track and get to it, there’s the danger of breaking equipment and the number of people involved, simulation can be run 24 hours a day via a computer with no risk of damage.

It’s quicker and cheaper than hiring real tracks to do this on. And all series limit the amount of real-life testing that can be done anyway.

On the other side, simulation will never be quite as effective as real-life testing as a simulation tool can never be 100% accurate.

So race teams use a mixture of both. They test and narrow down thousands of ideas in the sim to a handful, and then test that handful when they go to a track. It’s the best of both worlds.

“I think it's thousands of hours of simulation,” says Diuguid on the 963, which he describes as “a computer on wheels”.

“Because we simulate everything, everything has a simulation model.”

Are the electronics on the car complicated?

In short, yes!

Like a hybrid in a road car, there’s a host of important software governing the performance of your car. But while your road car will consider comfort and efficiency heavily, a racing car still has to be as fast as possible.

The only electronics the driver has no control over is the traction control, which limits the power going to the wheels so they don’t spin and waste any of the power sent to them.

The traction control is something referred to as an open development; there aren’t too many major rules saying what you can and can’t do with it, and that means the manufacturers have a lot of freedom and spend a lot of time trying to maximising it.

“I think that's where a lot of manufacturers focus on its software and open development,” Diuguid adds.

In terms of what the driver controls, a lot of the electronics are linked to the brakes. There’s the hybrid electric motor, engine braking and the brakes themselves, which are electronic via a brake-by-wire system that uses a pump to generate braking pressure.

There’s a lot of variables, but the driver has to have some control so that they are able to predict how the car is going to brake, and be able to adjust it so that the car doesn’t become undrivable or out of control when braking.

Then there’s the differential, which is the mechanical device which controls how much power is set to each wheel.

All the electronics are designed to help the driver extract the maximum out of the car for the longest-time possible.

One thing in this area is air-conditioning, one of Diuguid’s favourite innovations in the 963.

Racing teams rarely bother with air conditioning because racing cars get incredibly hot and the systems are heavy and expensive. But because of the long period drivers spend in the car, Porsche has added it to the 963.

“I know it’s a silly thing to bring up,” laughs Diuguid. “But lasting two or three stints at Le Mans is a serious effort.”

It does take power away from the motor, add weight and decrease fuel-efficiency, but Porsche wants its drivers to be comfortable and safe in long, hot stints in long sportscar races. So they prioritise the driver performance over the car performance in this instance.

Where is Porsche able to make the 963 better?

Once Porsche builds the 963, most of its components and the positioning of them is set in what is called a homologation, and you can only make so many changes to key items like the engine, the weight distribution, things like that.

It means a lot of the fundamental parts of the car have to stay the same. But of course, there are plenty of areas to tweak.

“You can still run whatever springs you want to run, you can still adjust the camber, toes, ride height, things like that,” Diuguid says.

“So when we go testing, we're looking maximising the mechanical packages of the car and the software side, are the two biggest areas we focus on.

“At the end of the day, there's still a human behind the wheel so it's about training the drivers and trying to maximise what they get, how they get through the stints.

“So those are the three main areas that we focus on during the season.”

Don‘t forget to watch the 963 in action the next chance you get. Porsche Penske Motorsport’s next race is the 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 12-16.

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