RACER's Marshall Pruett speaks with PMNA CEO Jens Walther (LEFT) about the manufacturer's decision to sign a new team to represent the brand in the USCC, possible drivers for the car and whether customer versions of the 991 RSR will be made available in the USA.
MARSHALL PRUETT: The decision to sign a new works deal with the CORE autosport team caught more than a few people by surprise last weekend. It had been rumored for months, but I think for those outside the paddock, there was an expectation for Porsche to resume its factory relationship with Flying Lizard Motorsports (BELOW). Why didn't that happen?
JENS WALTHER: That's a difficult question because I was only partly involved in the decision. I think that the decision was based on a number of criteria and one certainly being having a fresh start. It's a good fit people believe because there's a strong engineering focus on CORE with their manufacturing business adjacent to the race team. So I think that's basically some of the element I can see.
I think the relationship with Flying Lizard, it's still a very current one with Porsche, a very strong relationship still in GTC, and I think they've shown GTC how professional they can run a race team. They are one of the leading teams in GTC. And moving forward, we hope we can continue the relationship with Flying Lizard, which is more than 10 years now, going into GT Daytona.
MP: CORE has set a rather high standard so far – both in presentation and their on-track performances. It's a very crisp and clean operation. Did that enter into the decision-making process?
JW: Yeah, we share the view you just mentioned. The team is very young, very dynamic. Yet very professional with a strong leadership. I think the decision why Porsche has chosen CORE versus other teams, again, it's something where I can only say it's probably because of the leadership and engineering. And shared values as well. The high level of professionalism and also the way they worked with GT3 RSR this year in the ALMS. Jumping into the season and the way the approached the team, the program was very professional. Very dedicated, very focused. It had an impact on the decision.
MP: How will the CORE and Porsche relationship play out with the running of the program? Will CORE simply house and transport the Porsche factory cars and personnel, or will the team actually run the GT Le Mans effort akin to what Flying Lizard did for many years?
JW: I think the easiest description of it or the clearest description is that Porsche has selected the team to run the entire operation, to run the race program. And all engineering is going to be based in Weissach. So there's a strong relationship, an operation in the U.S.; engineering and development in Germany, and obviously there will be a small group of people flying over to the events in the U.S. Actually, I think it's best to compare this program with the RS Spyder program we had with Penske Racing in 2005 to 2008.
MP: The CORE announcement included a line that both factory cars will be driven by works Porsche drivers. Should we expect to see familiar faces in the cars – guys competing in the ALMS and Grand-Am right now on behalf of Porsche, or could we also see a new face or two next year?
JW: It's early days at the moment because we don't know the calendars in Europe and the programs Porsche supports and Porsche runs worldwide. But definitely we will see more factory drivers and we will certainly see some drivers we've seen before.
MP: A colleague had an interesting view on Porsche's selection for the factory USCC team. He reckoned doing a deal with Patrick Dempsey, who you've partnered with this year, would actually have the biggest PR impact, despite the team's inexperience in full-bore GT Le Mans racing. Did you consider going with Pat's team, even if it required building up some of its infrastructure?
JW: Absolutely. I think from a PR point, Dempsey's program has benefited racing in general. I see people watch races and watch his documentaries who have never been involved with racing before and maybe they stay with racing and become fans. That's a great program.
However, if we go into racing with the factory program, it's really about having no compromise. The competition is very strong; we race against other factory programs and want to make sure that we have top drivers, professional drivers with experience but also who can concentrate fully on their driving combined with top cars and a top team. Otherwise it's hard to succeed in this very competitive GTLM category. And that includes obviously having a top tire manufacturer as well.
We hope that the relationship with Patrick Dempsey as a customer team continues and there's potential for the team actually to do more for other customers in different categories. And we hope that Patrick stays with Porsche because we believe it's a great partnership with him and a brand fit, but more on a pro-am level than a pro-pro-level.
MP: Falken Racing team boss Derrick Walker has said he anticipates receiving a customer-affiliated 991 chassis for GT Le Mans, and Brumos Racing boss Hurley Haywood has also expressed an interest in receiving one of the 991s. Do you foresee the factory letting one or more RSRs go to privateers in the USCC next year?
JW: We have quite some interest both in Europe and the U.S. for the RSR as a customer program. Obviously, winning Le Mans this year helped a lot with that. The customers look at the 991 as an option to race next year. At the moment, the focus of our stuff is really on making sure that we develop the 2014 spec, because in order to run next year (per the ACO), we have to run it at the final race in Bahrain. And also build the cars for the program in the U.S. and only then it will decide whether it's possible to support… it's not only about building and supplying cars but it's also necessary over the season we are able to support the program. It's quite likely that we will see one customer RSR in the U.S. but it's very early days for that.
MP: Sounds like Derrick, or Hurley could have their wishes granted.
JW: I think it would also be great for the series to have more cars, each manufacturer, not only the factory cars but also customer cars to support it because pro-am or customer racing is the backbone of American sports car racing and we shouldn't neglect that.