Last month, Porsche used the Goodwood Festival of Speed in the UK to formally debut its newest model. It’s not another 911, nor a new SUV; it’s a hybrid sports prototype designed to win on the track here in the US and at Le Mans. You can tell the car has big shoes to fill just by looking at its name—Porsche is calling the new racing car the 963 because it’s the spiritual successor to the legendary 962 that dominated sports car racing in the 1980s.
Unfortunately, Goodwood took place at the same time as my vacation at Watkins Glen in New York for IMSA’s six-hour race, so Ars wasn’t able to see the 963 run in person. But I was able to sit down with a pair of Porsche’s factory racing drivers to find out a bit more about the new car.
Mathieu Jaminet and Matt Campbell are currently contesting the IMSA WeatherTech championship in a GT car—a Porsche 911 GT3R that started life on the same production line as the road-going 911s. But next year, the pair will be among the Porsche factory drivers who have been chosen to campaign the faster, more complex 963 here in the US or in the World Endurance Championship (WEC).
“For sure, it’s different,” Jaminet explained. “It’s faster, it’s got some power and some downforce, but in the end, I always believe it’s easier to make the step to something [that is] quicker with more downforce and better braking performance and more power than going to something slower and with less grip, less downforce. It’s always more difficult to downgrade than upgrade, for drivers.”
Unlike the mighty 962 (or the 956 from which it evolved), the 963 is not entirely Porsche’s own work, as it’s built to conform to a set of rules known as LMDh (for Le Mans Daytona hybrid). At the core of the car is a central carbon-fiber chassis or spine built by the Canadian company Multimatic (the LMDh rules require an OEM to partner with one of four approved spine manufacturers: Multimatic, Dallara, Ligier, or Oreca).
Most of the rest is Porsche’s work, including the engine—a twin-turbocharged 4.6 L V8 that is related to the engine in the 918 Spyder road car and the RS Spyder race car before it—as well as the bodywork and the car’s electronics. But all LMDh cars have to use the same standardized gearbox, high-voltage traction battery, and hybrid electric motor/generator, supplied by Xtrac, Williams Advanced Engineering, and Bosch, respectively.
From inside the cockpit, things will be reassuringly familiar to those who have been in the hot seat of a 911 GT3R or the faster 911 RSR (now retired from IMSA and in its last year in the WEC).
“One of the really nice points is that the ergonomics and a lot of the systems and characteristics are actually transferring across from the RSR to this one. The display and everything is very similar in many ways,” Campbell said. “For sure, we have a lot more buttons and switches and toggles and everything like this, but the processes and the way we do things on the system side and the [steering] wheel is actually carrying across exactly the same. We just have a lot more to do.”
“As Matt said, there is really a crossover from GT3R, RSR, to this car, where the dash, the rotaries [multifunction controllers]—it’s all on the same basis,” Jaminet added. “Also, where we put the radio button… all these things, we try to make it simple that it’s always on the same position so when we jump from car to car, we’re not lost.”
The organizers of the 24 Hours of Le Mans are once again trying to slow the cars down in the name of safety, so the LMDh rules limit a car’s downforce-to-drag ratio to just 4-to-1. And that’s evident from inside the cockpit.
“It’s definitely different than what we know from GT,” said Jaminet. “Even if we have very little LMP2 experience, it’s also way different than the LMP2 car. [LMP2 is another category for more standardized, slightly slower sports prototypes from which LMDh evolved.] So I think it’s really a mix between the LMP2 and the GT—and an RSR, let’s say. From the first impression, it didn’t feel like a complete new experience.”