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Porsche’s Newest Magic Number? 963 Will be GTP Prototype

The LMDh Is Unveiled in Traditional Porsche Colors at the Goodwood Festival of Speed

By John Oreovicz

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – For Porsche enthusiasts, status is often measured in numerical nomenclature.

908. 917. 956. 962. All iconic racing car model numbers.

Prepare to add “963” to that legendary list.

Porsche revealed Friday at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England that its future challenger for the top categories of international sports car endurance racing has been designated Type 963.

The Porsche 963 is a prototype sports car designed to LMDh regulations for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. LMDh cars like the Porsche, as well as competing designs from BMW, Acura, Cadillac and Lamborghini, will be able to vie with prototypes built to Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) Le Mans Hypercar (LMH) specifications for overall honors in IMSA’s new top class beginning in 2023 called Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) – a name that revives memories of a glorious period for IMSA in the 1980s and ‘90s. Likewise, LMDh and LMH prototypes will be eligible to compete in the WEC as well.

Remember those evocative Lowenbrau-sponsored Porsche 962s driven by the likes of Al Holbert, Derek Bell, and Chip Robinson to so many amazing IMSA race wins and championships? That’s the legacy that the new 963 and the revived GTP class is poised to build upon.

Not to mention the significant Porsche prototypes that preceded the 962. The preceding 956, made famous in Rothmans colors by Jacky Ickx, Hans Stuck and Stefan Bellof, was the symbolic sports car of the ‘80s. A decade earlier, the 917 was a legend unto itself, as the winner of all the key international endurance races (Rolex 24 At Daytona, Twelve Hours of Sebring, 24 Hours of Le Mans as well as Watkins Glen and Spa), but also in sprint race configuration as the 917-10 and 917-30 that claimed consecutive SCCA Can-Am championships for Porsche and Team Penske and drivers George Follmer and Mark Donohue. In the ‘60s, the 908 started it all.

Porsche and Penske have teamed up again, as Porsche Penske Motorsport will field a pair of 963s in the 2023 WeatherTech Championship and two entries in the WEC. The new design features a 4.6-liter, twin-turbo V-8 based on the engine that powered the Porsche RS Spyder Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) contender to multiple victories around the world between 2005 and 2010, but otherwise is all new. Like all GTP competitors, the 963 is based on a homologated LMP2-specification central section, in this case produced by Multimatic – one of four approved chassis suppliers.

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The 963 has served as the test car for the standardized hybrid powertrain system being developed for all LMDh cars. Porsche has completed nearly 8,000 kilometers of testing over the last several months.

The Friday demonstration run at Goodwood unveiled a traditional Porsche white, red and black livery that will likely be carried over into the 2023 racing season.

“We’re on a very good path, but there is still work to be done before the start of next season,” said Thomas Laudenbach, Porsche vice president of Motorsport.

“I’m positive we will be well-positioned when it comes to technology, and we’ve also created the relevant team structures to set us up for wins in the thrilling competition between many manufacturers and different concepts.”

Porsche has not announced specific driver assignments for the IMSA and WEC endeavors, but former WeatherTech Championship champions Dane Cameron and Felipe Nasr are among a talented group of Porsche works drivers.

Other confirmed 2023 drivers for the worldwide 963 program include other names familiar to the WeatherTech Championship –Kevin Estre, Laurens Vanthoor, Matt Campbell and Mathieu Jaminet – along with Andre Lotterer and Michael Christensen. Specific driver assignments, along with the nomination of additional endurance race drivers, will follow at a later date.

Porsche and the Penske organization have an extensive history of collaboration that covers more than half a century, from their domination of the SCCA Can-Am Championship that resulted in consecutive titles for Follmer and Donohue in 1972 and ’73 to the success of the RS Spyder program in more recent times.

“Expectations are extremely high, not only from the public, but from Porsche and Team Penske, who have written great motorsports chapters together in the past,” said Jonathan Diuguid, director of Porsche Penske Motorsport.

Here’s a snapshot of prior Porsche prototype success:

  • 908: The 908 prototype debuted in 1968 as Porsche’s most serious attempt to date at winning Daytona, Le Mans and the other top sports car races around the world. Over the next four years, it would be used as a development tool to create the crushing 917.
  • 917: With an air-cooled flat 12-cylinder engine replacing the 908’s flat-8, the 917 lifted Porsche to the peak of worldwide sports car racing, memorably dominating the sport in 1970-71 with that legendary Gulf livery. When the 917 was outlawed from Le Mans and the WEC, Porsche cut open the cockpit and turbocharged the flat-12 engine to turn it into a sprint racer that swept through the Can-Am series.
  • 962: Continuing on the successful 917 theme which begat the Le Mans-winning 936 and 956, the 962 was a mildly reworked version of the ultra-successful 956 that racked up many significant race wins in WEC competition, with the changes made in the interest of safety. Porsche 962s won the top category of the IMSA championship from 1985-88.
  • RS Spyder: The RS Spyder claimed 25 class victories in IMSA competition between 2005-10, including three overall race wins when the car defeated theoretically faster LMP1 class competition.

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