August 1, 2021

Porsche’s Estre “can’t remember such a close” GTE Pro fight

Estre and Neel Jani scored their second win of the 2021 season in the #92 Porsche 911 RSR-19, defeating Ferrari in front of its home crowd as the #51 488 GTE Evo of James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi finished second.

Although Porsche took the chequered flag with a winning margin of over 30 seconds, that didn’t reflect how closely matched the two manufacturers were in Italy, with the race ebbing and flowing between Porsche and Ferrari as three full-course yellows and a safety car period shook up the order.

Estre and Pier Guidi traded places during the opening two stints, before Porsche surged clear of the Ferrari as they swapped their drivers for the first time.

The race started coming back towards the Italian marque after the mid-race safety car period, with Calado barging past Jani at the exit of the first chicane – with the Swiss driver running wide over the kerbs and also losing a place to the sister #91 Porsche.

A faster pitstop propelled the #92 car back into the lead, but Estre was chased hard by Pier Guidi in the final hour, the gap between the two cars remaining under a second for the duration.

Ultimately, Ferrari was forced to bring in Pier Guidi with five minutes to run for a splash-and-dash, giving Estre some breathing space after a fierce battle for much of the six-hour race.

The result elevated Estre and Jani to the top of the GTE Pro drivers’ standings, two points clear of Ferrari duo Pier Guidi and Calado.

Speaking after his eighth career win in the category, Estre felt Porsche was made to work hard to clinch an unlikely win at Monza, even if it was fighting only a single manufacturer following Aston Martin’s withdrawal from the series over the winter.

“Pole position is always good but at the end of the day you have a six hour race and that’s the one you want to win,” said Estre, who has been a permanent member of Porsche’s GT efforts in WEC since 2017.

“But to be honest even if we had pole position we were the challenger there because Ferrari was a little better than us the whole weekend until that point. 

“But I think we took it perfectly, we did the perfect race in the pitstop, in the strategy, in the car, no mistakes on pitstops or strategy, that’s how we won. 

“Very, very pleased with that one because it was a very very tough one. I can’t remember the last four years having such a tight fight  the whole race in GTE Pro. [It] doesn’t matter how many cars you have if you win with that small margin, this feeling is always a great feeling.”

Jani said he was fearing the fight between Ferrari and Porsche would go down the last lap, having not expected the Italian manufacturer to make a late pitstop for fuel.

“That was a big relief,” he said of Ferrari’s late stop. “We didn’t know he had to take a pitstop, it didn’t look like it and he was very quick at the end and pushing hard, so it was kind of nail biting there. 

“But what a great race, six hours of straight out qualifying laps. I hadn’t had such a tight race for such a long time in the WEC.”

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Porsche endured a forgettable Le Mans last year on the debut of its latest-generation 911 model, with the two factory cars finishing a distant fifth and sixth in class – behind some GTE Am runners.

However, Estre is hopeful of a better showing from the German manufacturer in this year’s rescheduled event in August, as it takes on Ferrari and the returning Corvette in a three-way fight for GTE Pro honours.

“We had a tough Le Mans last year, the first time with the [new] car,” he said. “This year we have a bit more experience, FIA and ACO also have a bit more experience with our car, so hopefully everything goes good together, that we have good performance, that we can fight against Ferrari, the other Porsches and Corvette.”

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