The Porsche 963 built to the common LMDh formula for IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and FIA World Endurance Championshp Competition is a hugely significant car on many levels.
It puts Porsche back in position to compete for overall wins at Le Mans, Daytona, Sebring, and all the other important sports car races around the world.
It re-establishes the successful working relationship between Porsche and Team Penske that has produced sports car championships spanning four decades in SCCA Can-Am and American Le Mans Series competition.
It continues and renews Porsche’s commitment to supplying prototypes to customer teams, even if it means the factory effort occasionally gets beaten.
It provides an ultimate destination for young drivers on the Porsche Motorsports Pyramid: a factory Porsche prototype drive.
Perhaps most importantly, it’s just a damn fine looking sportscar, for now or any era. And that’s an important factor given that Porsche freely admits that the car’s ‘963’ nomenclature is very much intended to evoke memories of the Porsche 962, which is arguably the most successful prototype racing car ever made available to customer teams.
The 962 was created for the IMSA GTP class as an updated version of the Le Mans-winning Type 956 with a longer wheelbase and other safety improvements. The 962 won consecutive IMSA championships from 1985-88 and remained competitive against stout opposition from Nissan/Electramotive and Toyota/All American Racers into the ‘90s through the end of the original GTP era.
With IMSA reviving ‘GTP’ as the moniker for its top category, 962 to 963 makes for a logical and orderly transition.
“The naming of the car as 963 is significant,” confirms Volker Holzmeyer, CEO of Porsche Motorsport North America. “There is obviously a huge push by Porsche to make this a significant era in motorsports for the company, and it’s a privilege to be part of it. Of course, to get a new customer racing car developed is a bumpy road, but I am happy we stayed so committed.”
Porsche doesn’t expect to make any money selling 963s, even with an asking price of $2.9 million – which admittedly includes full factory engineering support in addition to a car that will ultimately appreciate in value and likely end up in the hands of a wealthy collector.
But it does expect to make a statement with what is currently the only customer car option for teams that want to go top-tier prototype racing. Like JDC-Miller Motorsport, which placed its deposit and signed on the dotted line to become the first organization to commit to the 963 program.
“We’re here because I believe in our program and our team, and we want to continue to compete in IMSA at the highest level,” JDC Miller Motorsport team principal John Church says. “At some point, we talked to everybody and there was one clear option that was the only option. That’s what led us to Porsche, ultimately.
“This is obviously a dream come true in terms of the level of support and what-not we will receive. We’re very excited about this next chapter. For us to know we have the same basic package as the factory team checks a lot of boxes, to start with.”
Holzmeyer explained that in simplistic terms, a customer team will operate its 963 in a manner similar to teams competing in Porsche’s established one-make series, including the regional Carrera Cup championships.
“If we find something on the factory car on the hardware side or the software side, that will be shared,” he notes. “Maybe we don’t share the final setups on the track, because that’s engineer-specific and has to work with the package and the drivers. That’s too deep and that stays with the teams.
“We will work with the teams to determine what is needed, but that service is always there and is always for free. That’s the way Porsche approaches it, because that’s the way we can guarantee the highest level of quality. In the end, everyone is racing each other, but as a manufacturer, we want to make sure we are at the top of the grid. If we are in positions 1-2-3, the teams can fight it out.”
Porsche/Penske plans to field two factory cars in both IMSA and WEC in 2023, and Holzmeyer revealed that Porsche’s ramp-up plans include a second customer car for 2023 and two additional in 2024. Due to supply chain constraints, there is a strong probability that the customer cars will not join the grid until mid-season, a sacrifice Church said JDC-Miller is willing to make.
Perhaps the biggest beneficiaries of the 963 program so far are Matt Campbell and Mathieu Jaminet, the pair of 27-year-olds who have climbed the Porsche Motorsports Pyramid from the national Carrera Cup level. They currently drive a factory-supported 911 GT3 for Pfaff Motorsports and lead the IMSA GTD PRO standings, coming off a win at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park – their third of the 2022 season.
Campbell and Jaminet don’t know which championship they will be assigned to in 2023 (it’s highly likely to be IMSA), but they know they will be a part of the Porsche Penske Motorsport factory effort – the ultimate prize for a young sports car driver. They’ve already participated in a testing program that has racked up nearly 5,000 miles of developmental running.
“For us to represent these two big brands, it’s an honor and a privilege to be here,” says Jaminet. “Especially for us, coming from the bottom of the Porsche Pyramid, it’s a dream come true in the end. This why we went into Cup cars in the very beginning.
“I believe it’s the biggest step we’ve ever done in our career, switching to this car,” he adds. “For such a program it’s difficult to take on very young people, so I’m glad that Porsche trusts us to show that the Pyramid is working and will be successful in the future. We have arrived at age 27-28 and we feel ready for it.”