SPORT In it for the Long Haul

7 min

We hit the pits with the Porsche Motorsport GT Team and WEC crews for a behind-the-scenes look at long-distance competition. At the end of the day (literally), it’s a true team effort.

Aragon Practice Garage

Endurance racing as a form of motorsport extends back over a century. Today, its most famous events constitute what’s known in the endurance racing world as “The Triple Crown”, made up of three courses that range from 12 to 24 hours in Daytona, Florida; Sebring, Florida; and Le Mans, France.

Races of such arduous length put the durability of cars (as well as their drivers) to the test, requiring sustained performance over many hours; but the work begins long before each pilot turns on the ignition. As proud sponsor and partner of the Porsche GT Team, TAG Heuer gained exclusive access to their drivers and their engineers. And we learned firsthand about the kind of planning, preparation and precision – not to mention teamwork – that go into such a gruelling race. 

This intricate web of collaboration extends not only among the drivers who make up the team for a single car, but well beyond the track to the engineers, pit crew, and even spectators! A dozen of skilled technicians will perform multiple tests in conjunction with drivers, long before the starting gun fires. These tests will allow the team to tweak details and optimise performance to the last half-millimeter – which could, even in a race lasting a full day, make the difference between victory and disappointment. 

The 2021 Dream Teams

Two expert teams of international racing professionals will fly the Porsche flag this year in various endurance races around the world. In car 91: Gianmaria Bruni, Richard Lietz and Frédéric Makowiecki; and in car 92: Kévin Estre, Neel Jani and Michael Christensen. Putting their formidable knowledge and experience behind the success of both cars is a dozen top-notch engineers and mechanics. We caught up with the crew in Aragon, Spain, where the Porsche teams come to test their vehicles on a course with a long straight similar to the one they’ll face in France.

The Devil is in the Details

In the words of pilot Kévin Estre, “Motorsport is all about details.” And that means everything from track temperature to tyre pressure, weather conditions, the tightness of a single screw, and everything in between. Refining those details requires a huge amount of data, analysis and continuous improvement to an exacting standard. At the garage in Aragon, Danny, one of the race mechanics, explained that in the work that they do, they may be “talking about millimeters or half millimeters,” an incredible level of precision when you consider that each car weighs over 1,200 kilo. What’s more, the teams will test up to a dozen sets of tyres per day, in order to achieve the best results on the track. Kevin explains that “every mechanic, every engineer, every data engineer […] is important. Every small detail makes us fast, makes the car reliable and in the end, allows us to win races.” And when you look behind the barriers, there’s no doubt you get a true sense of “how much work, how many hours, go into winning a race.” 

« Motorsport is all about details. »

Kévin Estre Porsche Driver

At the Speed of Light

In races that can last up to 24 hours, conditions vary so broadly over the course of the competition that some say they’re really like two separate races: one by day and one by night. Such vast differences in temperature, visibility, and also engine performance make seemingly simple operations like tyre testing essential. In endurance racing, pilots drive in predetermined shifts – while teams of mechanics and engineers must be available around the clock to be able to change tyres or fix any problems that arise. And they have to be able to do so at speed – during a pit stop, a team of four should be able to change all four tyres in a matter of seconds!

Not So Solo

While piloting in an endurance race may look like a lonely pursuit, the drivers are in fact far from alone in their efforts. As Fréd Makowiecki, Porsche Works Driver, explained, “Even if at the end it’s only the drivers who are going to the podium, we need everybody to be competitive — from the mechanics, the tyre guys, to the engineers and management. Each person has a role which allows us to give 100%.” 

It’s a feeling echoed by Kévin Estre, Porsche Driver, “Ultimately, we sit in the car alone, but there are many, many people in the background making sure that we are safe and fast.” In fact, according to the drivers, this extends even beyond the mechanics, and engineers who support them; it includes those who organise the events, the testing, travel planning — even the catering!

Aragon Practice Garage

Friends You Can Count On

Building a successful team means knowing your teammates inside and out – and even more so in the world of endurance racing. According to Michael Chirstensen, Porsche Driver, “we work very hard together, to build trust, to build relationships, to understand each other. And in that way we push each other to new levels; it’s all about communication and trust.”

Aragon Practice Garage

And even when the drivers are out on the track, they’re connected at all times to their teams through the radio. Alexander Stehlig, Head of Operations Porsche GT Team underscores the intricacy of the integrated teamwork required: “Everybody knows what to do and everybody relies on one another. Everyone has this responsibility, and together we are strong. That’s what makes us work.”

All for One, and One for All

Victory in a 24-hour race takes discipline, hard work, and long hours. But we can often do together what we cannot do alone – and a big, strong support network of trusted copilots, skilled mechanics, and detail-oriented engineers can make the seemingly impossible, possible. The finishing touch? A crowd of cheering spectators along the way doesn’t hurt – in fact, it might well be the unsung member of the team!

Best of luck to cars 91 and 92 – at TAG Heuer, as partners and sponsors of the Porsche GT Team, we’ll be cheering you on every step of the way!