By IMSA Wire Service
If you were watching the 57th Rolex 24 At Daytona, you may have seen a red and black, buffalo plaid Porsche out there mixing it up in the GT Daytona (GTD) class.
You may have said to yourself, “Now, that’s an interesting livery. Is it one of those historic IMSA liveries?”
It wasn’t, but it definitely was unique.
And it made total sense, especially when you consider that the No. 9 Porsche 911 GT3 R was fielded by Toronto-based Pfaff Motorsports. And two of the four drivers in the lineup – in fact, the car’s full-time co-drivers for the 2019 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship – are Canadians Scott Hargrove and Zacharie Robichon. The other two drivers were Porsche test driver Lars Kern, from Germany, and Norwegian driver Dennis Olsen, a Porsche Young Professional.
Heck, the car even had sponsorship from a poutine restaurant. The only thing that might have made it more Canadian would have been if it had a giant maple leaf on the side of the car (that was another GTD car – the No. 88 Audi).
But Hargrove, Robichon and the Pfaff team are more than just from Canada. They’re champions from Canada and they just kicked off their first full season in the WeatherTech Championship.
Robichon is the 2018 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama Platinum Cup champion. He dominated the proceedings last year, winning 11 of 12 series races en route to the title aboard the No. 98 Mark Motors Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup machine.
And just for good measure, Robichon also raced half of the 2018 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama as a stand-in for the sidelined Will Hardeman in the No. 19 Moorespeed Porsche. He won seven of eight races in that series.
Hargrove, meanwhile, won the 2017 GT3 Cup Challenge Canada title with Pfaff Motorsports, turning in a similarly dominant season with 10 wins in 12 races (Robichon won the other two). Last year, Pfaff and Hargrove took their talents to World Challenge, where they won the GT Sprint championship.
This year, they’ve moved up to the WeatherTech Championship, and Hargrove couldn’t be happier.
“I’m most looking forward to the fan turnout and the atmosphere around the races,” he said. “The TV package and everything that is built around the WeatherTech [Championship] is just a level up from everything I’ve done in the past. I’m really looking forward to that.”
Robichon is looking forward to it also. Especially considering that when the program was initially announced during the 2018 Motul Petit Le Mans weekend at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, it was going to be for the new-for-2019 WeatherTech Sprint Cup (GTD) competition encompassing the seven sprint races of two hours, 40 minutes in length or less.
“It’s going to be a fantastic year, coming out of the GT3 Cup last year,” Robichon said. “Pfaff has put together a fantastic program. Originally, we were just going to run the sprint series, but a couple of things came together – as they normally do – at the last minute, and to be able to run the whole season is going to be a fantastic opportunity.”
And for a team and drivers accustomed to winning championships, they now have a shot at three different ones: the season-long WeatherTech Championship GTD title, the seven-race WeatherTech Sprint Cup and the four-race IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup. But, as Robichon quickly pointed out, “We have our work cut out for us, to say the least.”
At last month’s Rolex 24, as will likely be the case everywhere else this season, the GTD field was the largest WeatherTech Championship class. There were 23 cars from eight different manufacturers in the mix.
The “Plaid Porsche” was right there, comfortably running inside the top 10 and even in podium position around midnight when it ran third in class. But as can happen in endurance racing, there were issues.
Electrical problems wreaked havoc on the car’s headlights and dash lights, bringing about an unscheduled trip to the garage for repairs. That ended the team’s hopes for victory, but they got the car back on track and were aiming for a top-10 result.
Sadly, rainy conditions contributed to the car’s early retirement as Robichon collected a spinning Lamborghini and the crash left the No. 9 with insurmountable suspension damage. They wound up 16th in the GTD class.
But the good news is, they’ve got 10 more chances to deliver on the promise they showed in the Rolex 24. With their pedigree, this team and these drivers have plenty of promise. After all, look where they came from and what they’ve already achieved.
“The Porsche GT3 Cup Canada platform has been really good in that the drivers – especially me and Zach – have actually had a place to go and progress after that,” Hargrove said. “I think it’s just a testament to how much IMSA has really put an emphasis on the series and really made it a premier series in Canada.
“With that attracts attention and you get these opportunities that stem from it. That’s been amazing, especially with the support from Porsche. Recently being announced as a Porsche-Selected Driver, I think that’s really due to what was showcased in Porsche GT3 Cup Canada.”
And that goes for everybody in the program.
“The GT3 Cup platform is a fantastic one to learn,” Robichon said. “A lot of people say it’s one of the hardest cars to drive, and because of that, the skills you learn there are transferable to anything else you’ll drive. I’m hoping that it will transfer well to the GT3 R.
“Scott won the championship in 2017 and then I won it last year. The progression that a lot of the people that have won in that series, they go on to be successful everywhere they race. We know that the competition is good there. If you can win there, you can really take those skills and apply them.
“Just look at Daniel Morad as well in 2016. [Morad won the 2016 GT3 Cup Challenge Canada title and went on to win the 2017 Rolex 24 in the GTD class. He raced the No. 29 Montaplast by Land Audi in this year’s race.] The last three champions were all racing this year at Daytona and that’s not random. That’s for a reason.”