With four poles and a win this season, the No. 23 The Heart of Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R run by Alex Job Racing has been the standard bearer for Porsche’s success within the GT Daytona category in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship this season.
But at this weekend’s Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway, the car driven by Alex Riberas and Mario Farnbacher will be under the microscope for a different reason: it’s the lone Porsche entered in the GTD class.
The sister AJR entry, the WeatherTech-backed No. 22 car driven by Cooper MacNeil and, until Road America, Leh Keen, pulled the plug on its entry for the rest of the season citing Balance of Performance (BOP) concerns. A day later, Park Place Motorsports pulled its entry for VIR only for the same reasons. That follows on from Black Swan Racing pulling out of the championship after Lime Rock Park, before Road America, with team principal/driver Tim Pappas mourning the shock loss of his father and tending to family business commitments.
Porsche declined comment on the WeatherTech AJR and Park Place withdrawals, saying both were team decisions.
“To Porsche, BoP conversations are internal between the manufacturers and the sanctioning body. Therefore, it would be inappropriate for us to make any public declaration on the process or where it currently stands in regards to the GTD class,” a statement from the manufacturer supplied to NBC Sports read.
Incidentally, Porsche wasn’t actually assessed any BOP changes for VIR in GTD. Per IMSA’s latest technical bulletin (16-37), dated August 17, changes occurred to Audi, Dodge, Ferrari and Lamborghini. Audi’s refueling restrictor was increased while the other three manufacturer’s restrictors were all decreased.
Farnbacher and Ian James finished third at VIR last year in the previous generation Porsche 911 GT America.
Farnbacher, who has track experience while Riberas doesn’t, says he thinks it will be an uphill battle this weekend.
“I like VIR a lot,” Farnbacher said in a team advance. “It’s a very technical track where you have to be very precise. In terms of BOP (Balance of Performance) we will again have a lot of hard work to do behind the wheel as well as get a few lucky breaks. The entire track is important as far as set-up of The Heart of Racing Porsche goes. There is a mix of tight corners, with the fast esses and turns where you have to use a lot of curb. We try to make everything work the best and maximize the performance of our 911 GT3 R.”
Team principal Job added, without making any mention of BOP, “We will have our work cut out for us this weekend. Alex and Mario have done a great job all season working together to get Alex up to speed on all these tracks that are new to him. There are a couple of long straights at VIR where we will be a bit behind with the GT3 R in top speed compared to the competition, so we will be focusing our set-up on the twisty sections.”
Riberas has three poles, Farnbacher one this season and the two combined to win at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca back in May. The pair sit fifth in points, 36 back of class leaders Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan (No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3). Porsche enters the weekend second in the GTD Manufacturer’s Championship, seven back of Audi for the class lead (248-241).
This will likely be the car to watch in GTD this weekend because if they perform well enough on outright pace, it will make the BOP argument look a silly one.
Both Farnbacher and Riberas are top-level drivers though, so if they aren’t on pace, that could validate the concerns expressed elsewhere, or it could lead to that other less-than-favorable word emerging in the paddock: sandbagging.
Of course, the potential always remains there could be a further BOP adjustment in GTD after VIR.