Autosport (UK)

RETURN OF THE DAYTONA PROTOTYPE KING

Dane Cameron has conquered IMSA’S top class for Acura and Corvette. Now he’s back with Porsche, teaming up with Felipe Nasr

- CHARLES BRADLEY

“It’s nice to be back in IMSA, somewhere I’ve spent a lot of time and had a good bit of success”

Porsche’s inaugural campaign with its 963 in the

IMSA Sportscar Championsh­ip last year took a while to get into its stride, so the Penske-run operation made a big call to retrieve Dane Cameron from its World Endurance Championsh­ip line-up to bolster its American efforts.

The softly spoken 35-year-old California­n, a former rising star in open-wheel racing, has become renowned as one of the world’s finest sportscar racers. After falling from the ladder to Indycar, despite winning the Star Mazda crown in 2007, he became something of a sportscar racing nomad. It was an IMSA GTD class championsh­ip in 2014, driving a Turner Motorsport BMW Z4, that propelled him to a seat with Action Express Racing in its top-class Corvette Daytona Prototype for 2015, and he took the overall title at the second attempt with team-mate Eric Curran.

Cameron then moved to Penske’s factory Acura programme in 2018 and claimed his second DPI title alongside Juan Pablo Montoya a year later. His vast experience made him one of Penske’s first hires for its Porsche 963 project, and he warmed up for his WEC campaign with some LMP2 outings for the team in 2022, sharing with ex-formula 1 racer Felipe Nasr. They are now reunited in Porsche’s #7 IMSA GTP 963, after Cameron contested last year’s Daytona 24 Hours and Sebring in the sister car. Australian young gun Matt Campbell switches places with him to race in the WEC.

“It feels like coming home, for sure,” reckons Cameron. “Doing WEC was something that I really wanted to try, especially to do it with Porsche and Penske in the overall category – that was really a personal goal of mine. That said, it’s nice to be back in IMSA, somewhere I’ve spent a lot of time and had a good bit of success. It’s a bit of a change, but it’s a great calendar with lots of classic American race tracks, so I’m looking forward to it nonetheles­s.”

So why the switch? “Ultimately the team decides who goes where and does what, but I put my hand up for WEC, to give it a shot,” he replies. “It was an opportunit­y that doesn’t come around a lot in motor racing, and I enjoyed the experience of doing it. What was disappoint­ing about it was to miss out on a couple of podiums here and there, because we were close at Spa and Monza. At the end they said ‘maybe come back here’ – so it’s fine. They place us where they think it’s the best fit. I’m happy that I got to do it with this group, just like I’m happy to be back here now.”

Cameron claims he’s benefited from the experience of racing in the global series and is ready to reacclimat­ise to American prototype competitio­n. “It’s a different format and a different style,” he admits. “There’s things that I’ve learned [in WEC];

I’m better for it as a driver, that’s for sure. And it also checked off a lot of tracks from my list, so that’s nice to have in my pocket as well. Things are naturally a little different between the two groups that are running the cars, so I can lean into that.

I think it’s good to have both perspectiv­es.”

He’s frank about the struggles the team encountere­d last year,

but is encouraged by the progress made, which included three races wins on the IMSA side, although he didn’t get to taste any success personally.

“It definitely was a big learning curve,” reflects Cameron.

“To build the structure of both [WEC and IMSA] teams and how to run a race weekend, divvying up things, I think there were some growing pains at the start of the year, but we really made some good strides. I think the team is set up in a much better place. Hopefully that can give us another step forwards now that the dust has settled. The cars are running much more like normal now, far fewer stoppages, and it’s feeling like a normal race team again – that’s a great step.”

One aspect he won’t have to worry about this year is the performanc­e balancing act between Le Mans Hypercars and LMDH racers that WEC must deal with. It will be a straight fight between all-lmdh machinery from Acura, BMW, Cadillac,

Porsche and, for most of the longer-distance races, Lamborghin­i.

“By the way the results went, it was clear that it was difficult if you were in the other [LMDH] category,” says Cameron, once reminded that in IMSA there’s no restrictio­n on voicing an opinion about BOP. “Having a year’s worth of informatio­n, I hope things can go easier on that side this year. It seems, from the distance I was at, that it went pretty well in IMSA. I think the sanctionin­g bodies always feel happier after having the cars on track for a year and they can have more confidence in that type of thing.

“But it’s just simpler if you don’t have the two different categories. I think it’s fair to say that the two [types of cars] were more different than people expected, I believe that will continue to improve on the WEC side. On the IMSA side, it all seemed very calm – like it did at the end of DPI. Just small adjustment­s.

“As you learn the car, and slight difference­s emerge, I think that’s OK. If you’re constantly trying to micro-manage those little difference­s, then you can get out of synch. In DPI, you just knew one car would be strong here, and another would be strong there. You’d go about your weekend, and if the track didn’t favour you, you’d go about getting all the points you could. If it favoured you, you’d do everything to win to benefit from your package.”

Cameron teams up with Nasr for 2024, and the pairing has some history together. “He was my replacemen­t!” laughs Cameron. “When I came to Penske the first time, he took the [Action Express] seat that I vacated. We first drove together in Penske’s P2 car and we spent a lot of time together through the 963’s developmen­t phase and we get on really, really well. Looking forward to having him through this season, because he was always one of the biggest pain in the asses to race against when we were in different cars! We have good respect for each other.”

He’ll be pleased to hear that the feeling is mutual from Nasr’s side, too… “It’s great to have Dane back,” enthuses the Brazilian, who got 39 F1 starts under his belt with Sauber. “A great guy to have in the team, super-easy to work with. He has a lot of experience in IMSA and knows all the tracks pretty well. I’m pretty sure we can work well together and be fighting for the

“Having Dane coming across from WEC, we’re going to be in contention right away”

championsh­ip. With the team running in two championsh­ips, the informatio­n flow is always quicker, so having Dane coming across from WEC, we’re going to be in contention right away.”

Nasr is also honest about what the 963 lacked compared to its IMSA rivals last year. “We scratched our heads at some times, and at others we’d roll out of the truck and it was great!” he recalls. “With our car, due to reliabilit­y problems, we only really started our season at halfway. Then the podiums came, and the win at Road America was really cool. At times, though, we felt completely lost. We were out of the window with the car, we didn’t know how to operate to get into it, but then it felt like we got closer and closer since halfway. It’s been quite a year for the project – new car, new team, new regulation­s – and we have so much more experience under our belts now after many ups and downs. We’re better in every way, certainly in terms of how to optimise our car.”

The season starts with America’s biggest sportscar race – it’s one that Nasr has won in GTD with Porsche, but victory has always eluded Cameron at the Daytona 24 Hours. “We feel well prepared,” declares Nasr. “Constant running is the only way you can really optimise everything for this race. You have to understand the tyre warm-up, degradatio­n and the balance shift between stints, especially if you’re double-stinting the tyres, or changing left-sides or right-sides only. All of that is so valuable, which is what we focused on in testing.

“It’s kind of a locked homologati­on – it puts much more focus on your systems, your electronic­s, set-up philosophi­es – so we have to run through all of this now, because when we hit the race weekends, there’s not so much time to try things. If we can get it right now, so the car is operating inside the window of where we want to run, it makes our lives easier as drivers. Then it’s just a case of being consistent and staying on top of everything.”

Make no mistake, after a first season that missed the target of ‘Penske perfection with German efficiency’ – especially in the longer races – the expectatio­n level here is amped for 2024.

 ?? ??
 ?? ?? First IMSA title came in 2016 with Action Express Coyote Corvette…
First IMSA title came in 2016 with Action Express Coyote Corvette…
 ?? ?? …and second in 2019 with Montoya and Penske Acura
…and second in 2019 with Montoya and Penske Acura
 ?? ??
 ?? ?? JEP
Cameron and Nasr part of Penske’s WEC ‘recce’ in 2022 LMP2 division
JEP Cameron and Nasr part of Penske’s WEC ‘recce’ in 2022 LMP2 division
 ?? ?? Nasr is happy to be paired with Cameron again
Nasr is happy to be paired with Cameron again
 ?? ?? Monza was one of Cameron’s two fourth places in 2023 WEC
Monza was one of Cameron’s two fourth places in 2023 WEC

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