There are moments when time stands still. Moments where you find yourself on the verge of greatness. Moments that stand the test of time. The Edge is a series of conversations where extraordinary people tell intimate stories of one moment that changed everything for them. A world record, a world championship, an epiphany, a life-changing decision. They relive their moments, minute by minute. How they overcame pressure, fear, pain and pushed themselves to the limit. To The Edge.
Our guest this time is Urs Kuratle, Director of Porsche Motorsport LMDh Factory Racing. Urs ties the Porsche team together and ensures that they stay ahead of the competition. Live from the landmark 100th 24 Hours of Le Mans, he walks us through the development of Porsche’s endurance racing car, the 963. He talks about the magic of Le Mans and the future of motorsport. Urs also reveals how the two components of his team, in Germany and the USA, coordinate and collaborate in preparation for two different championships with different rules and challenges. Presented by your host Teo Van Den Broeke, this is The Edge, a podcast by TAG Heuer.
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It all started in Le Mans
I actually started in sports cars in 1989, 1990. I was here in Le Mans with Sauber Mercedes at the time, and there was sports car racing in the endurance world. We were in Le Mans a lot, many, many years ago. That’s how I started my motorsport career.
Real motorsport enthusiasts
It’s really nice to be here in Le Mans. These are different fans. These are real motorsport enthusiasts. It’s a different crowd. Here in Le Mans you meet people, if you walk inside the paddock in the morning…these people have been coming here for ten, twenty, thirty years.
Porsche is a great company and I’m not saying that because I’m wearing this shirt today! It’s Porsche! If you’re a car enthusiast, and also a motorsport enthusiast, Porsche is one of the few brands you have to work for because it has so much history. Especially if you work with Porsche Motorsport.
Preparing for a big race weekend
It [the 24 Hours of Le Mans] is one of the biggest races, if not the biggest race, in the program. Slowly, slowly, it’s building up, all the tension in Le Mans. If you compete with Porsche, in a race like Le Mans, or any race actually, you have to win or you have to have a really, really good result. That brings up a lot of pressure.
Porsche 963: the smooth car
We tried to have what we call ‘a smooth car’, so we do not have a lot of small wings and things around the car that can break. Because in sports car racing, you have a lot of contact with competitors. So we tried to have a very smooth car from the outside. That’s the first visual point.
Designing the Porsche 963
There’s a technical rule we have in sportscar racing: the car has to look like a Porsche. And the same goes for the other brands, obviously. And so that was quite interesting. There was also a close relationship with our design people from Porsche. The guys who usually design road cars. They were also involved in the outside shape of the car. That’s an unusual process because usually a race car’s shape follows the function. You create the most aerodynamic form you can have. But we have a lot of components on the car, like the Porsche-specific headlights for example, with the four. The tail. A lot of components, which remind you of a Porsche road car. It’s a highly sophisticated car. Technically we try to go to the maximum within the rules, to be as competitive as possible.
On the future of motorsport
The future of the sport is a lot about sustainability. Eracing is a transition in the sport, maybe in motorsport more than in traditional sports. But there’s a lot of discussion within Porsche Motorsport about which direction to go. What do we have to invest in and where we have to be first in line. It’s an interesting discussion but there’s not a very, very clear path or way right now, in my opinion. But one thing is for sure, that within Porsche Motorsport, we are discussing those topics a lot and we have intensive discussions. I’m sure that we will find the right path.
Motorsport will survive
You have to rethink the way you do things. We have to reconsider how we do things differently to the past because it’s simply not good [enough] anymore. We‘ve changed a lot of our thinking. We take more care of the environment but that’s not just for motorsport, I think it’s people changing their mindset.
It [Motorsport] will change. It will also survive, I’m really sure about it. I don’t think we know exactly the path or the road we are taking, but it’s interesting to be part of it and also be able to steer it a little bit.
The differences between Formula 1 and sports car racing
It is a lot more different, to be honest. In Formula 1 you have to make fewer compromises because I think the races are shorter and there are many more races. And in sports car racing, whatever you do has to last 24 hours. It’s actually not only 24 hours, the whole preparation week is 36 hours. And the car has to last. So they are completely different challenges. Technically, you have to be aware of it. They are two different worlds. It’s hard to compare.
On overseeing a big team
We’ve built up two teams, one in the United States and one in Europe, for the WRC Championship. So they are different…cultures, you can say, of doing motorsport. We have the American side of it. We have the European side of it, and then we have a lot of different partners due to the nature of the whole program. So there are a lot of partners to integrate into one big team. There’s a lot of communication amongst the teams, so we have to make sure the information flow is correct. And this is, I believe, the most challenging part of it. And then if it works, because nobody has actually done it, but we are doing it with the Porsche Penske Motorsport team, so if there’s success is coming, or if we start winning races, if you can see how that all goes together, that’s also at the same time the most rewarding thing.
On team politics
The good thing in motorsport is that there’s not a lot of politics. I’m not saying there’s no politics involved, but there’s not a lot of politics because the question, or the answer to a question, is black or white. A zero or a one. You’re either fast or not fast on the clock.