Why We Race: Five Questions with Klaus Zellmer, President and CEO of Porsche Cars North America
Thursday, May 19, 2016

With more than 40 cars spread across five races during the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix earlier this month, Klaus Zellmer picked a busy weekend to attend his first IMSA event as president and CEO of Porsche Cars North America.

Last November, Zellmer took over the top North American job for Porsche from Detlev von Platen – who was promoted to the role of executive board member responsible for global sales and marketing back at Porsche world headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany.

Before his latest promotion, Zellmer was head of Overseas and Emerging Markets, responsible for Porsche subsidiaries in Australia, Japan and Korea, and regional offices in Asia-Pacific, South America, the Middle East and Africa. Previously, from 2010 until early 2015, Zellmer was Managing Director of Porsche Germany and grew sales from 13,000 units to 24,000 units in Porsche's home market.

Given the responsibilities of assuming his new role as Porsche’s North American head, Zellmer had not had a chance to attend an IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race until the beginning of May at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. In addition to a pair of WeatherTech Championship races, the weekend also featured a Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race, as well as the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama series.

He had plenty to celebrate, including the WeatherTech Championship GT Daytona victory by the No. 23 Heart of Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R for Team Seattle/Alex Job Racing, which also qualified on the pole. It was the 559th victory in major U.S. sports car competition (IMSA GT, USRRC, GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series, American Le Mans Series) for Porsche. In the Continental Tire Challenge race, the Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport swept the Grand Sport podium.

We had a few questions for Zellmer after his first IMSA race, which he insists won’t be his last:

Question: Why is IMSA racing important to Porsche in the U.S.?

Zellmer:  IMSA has been the mainstay of Porsche Motorsport efforts in North America since the very early 1970s, and is the only endurance championship in North America. To be able to compete, at the highest level with our 911, against the best endurance racing teams in the world, is why we are here, and have been, consistently, since the beginning.

Question: Can we expect equal or increased participation in the future?

Zellmer: Just like on our new car side, we do not talk or speculate about future plans. We have a great team here in the U.S. in the third year of a three-year program. Of course, discussions are underway for the future, not only for North America but globally. With the teaser press release of the new 2017 911 RSR earlier this week, and the commitment for it to be ready for the 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona, it shows we are certainly not resting on any past successes.

Question: Can you directly trace success on the track to sales of the cars, or is it just to bolster image?

Zellmer: On-track competition is different for us at Porsche. It may be a bit cliché to say it these days, but motorsports is truly in our DNA and has been long before our first 356 in 1948. As our worldwide motorsport efforts originate in our R&D Engineering center in Weissach (Germany), our streetcars and our race cars are fundamentally linked. On-track success helps every facet of our company.

Question: Is it important to race Porsche models like the Cayman and Boxster, or is it just beneficial to race the traditional 911?

Zellmer: The 911 has been the main focus of our motorsport efforts, at least since the mid-1990s. However, we recently introduced the Cayman GT4 Clubsport to support drivers and race teams looking to make the move from club racing – that usually involves modifying a street car – to professional competition. In the not-to-distant past we have competed with LM P2 RS Spyders, and the Cayenne in the Transsyberia Rally. And of course, we currently have the 919 Hybrid in LM P1 in the WEC series.

Question: Do customer teams add to Porsche’s bottom line?

Zellmer: Customer teams have a long history with Porsche, and we are currently the largest manufacturer for racecars in the world. Our success has been shared with ‘privateers’ ever since Porsche No. 1 – when it won its hill climb class just weeks after assembly in 1948, at the hands of our first customer. Over the years, many of our greatest victories and championships have come by way of our customer programs, so profit is not always strictly about monetary value.