After a handful of outings in the #9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 991.2 GT3R in 2019, Dennis Olsen returns to the Canadian team for the full IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. While the young Norwegian won the Intercontinental GT Challenge championship last year, he missed out on promotion from Porsche Junior to factory driver and has now set his sights on proving his former employer wrong. This weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona is Olsen’s first race in GT3 trying to make it on his own.
DAYTONA 24 HOURS | DPI PREVIEW | LMP2 PREVIEW | GTLM PREVIEW | GTD PREVIEW | CORVETTE C8.R TECH ANALYSIS | INTERVIEW NICK CATSBURG | PRE-RACE NOTEBOOK | RACE UPDATE 1: SATURDAY AFTERNOON | RACE UPDATE 2: SATURDAY EVENING | RACE UPDATE 3: SUNDAY NIGHT | RACE UPDATE 4: SUNDAY MORNING | RACE UPDATE 5: SUNDAY FINISH | SATURDAY GALLERY | INTERVIEW KAMUI KOBAYASHI | INTERVIEW JESSE KROHN
Watching teammate Zach Robichon go fastest during GTD qualifying on Thursday afternoon, the Daytona 24 Hours couldn’t have started any better for the Porsche squad. Although pole for a 24-hour race is never crucial, it is a clear indication of where the team stands.
“It means that you have a good speed, but at the end of the day we are focusing a lot on the race to try to find a good race balance to make sure the car is reliable for the 24 hours – that’s the main thing. We’ve been working hard over the Roar and during the practice sessions to get a good balance and I think we’ve found it,” Dennis Olsen says.
“We’re doing night practice now, just settling in and seeing how it is during the night with different temperatures and pressure in the air. I think it’s going to be alright – we are looking good.”
Last year Olsen found his way to the four big 24-hour races: Daytona, Nürburgring, Le Mans and Spa. How does the Daytona 24 Hours compare to the other races?
“It’s pretty different because the track is really different. If you compare it to the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring, it’s a completely different track. But we have different challenges here: we have this oval and you need top speed but then you have to be quick on the infield as well and the Bus Stop is pretty challenging with low downforce. It’s definitely a different type of 24-hours but at the end of the day it’s always challenging to race the ‘24’ and with these yellow cautions everything can happen until the last lap. We have to be awake and aware all the time.”
Adding to Daytona’s challenges is the track’s most iconic feature, the 31-degree banked turns of the oval – a tougher challenge for drivers and engineers as they work to set-up the car for the ‘roval’ than one would initially think.
“We have to watch out for punctures, for tyre failures,” the 23-year-old explains. “On other racetracks we would run lower tyre pressures and more camber, but we can’t do that here because the inside structure of the tyre would break. This is something to manage and of course this affects the balance of the car. It’s always about finding that balance, it’s always between good and bad. There are of course both positives and negatives to running low camber, but eventually you will have to find a good balance between managing the tyres and also having a good car balance.”
In stark contrast to the other 24-hours races where large parts of the racetrack are plunged in total darkness after sunset, the Daytona 24 Hours is run under a fully lit track at night.
“I’ve never been bothered with the darkness, really,” Olsen shrugs off. “The Nürburgring is extremely dark but we have great headlights on the car so it’s not really an issue. Sometimes the lights around the track can distract you more than anything else. I don’t really think about it.”
At 5.72 kilometres, Daytona International Speedway is the shortest of the four tracks hosting the 24-hour races, making traffic management more of a factor for the slower class GTD cars.
“What is positive here is that you have a spotter. This is something we don’t have in Europe – we never use it. You don’t have to look in your mirrors that much – they always check, they always give you information on how far [other cars] are behind. But you do have to look and be aware of the situation and always look because a spotter can make a mistake as well, so it’s important to be aware.”
Over the last two years the former Porsche Carrera Cup Germany champ has made a handful of starts in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. This year Olsen is set for a full season with Pfaff Motorsports racing alongside Zach Robichon with Lars Kern coming in for the Michelin Endurance Cup and Patrick Pilet completing the four-man crew for Daytona.
Although now also with a championship to think about, this weekend is first and foremost about winning the Rolex 24 Watch.
“It all comes down to the whole team to win this race – it’s not only about me. Making no mistakes, setting quick lap times, and from my side keeping the car in a good shape towards the end of the race, that’s the main thing.
“I wouldn’t say [my approach to the race is different from last year]. Last year I just did this race with Pfaff, that was planned in the beginning, but then I did some more afterwards. It doesn’t really change my mindset or my goals; we’re here to try to win and do the best result possible.”
What is different from last year is Olsen’s status at Porsche. To many people’s surprise, Olsen wasn’t promoted to Porsche factory driver during the winter despite a history of success as a Porsche Junior and a breakout season in 2019 where he won the Bathurst 12 Hour and Kyalami 9 Hours en route to the Intercontinental GT Challenge championship title.
Asked why Porsche let him go, Olsen struggles to explain.
“It’s hard – I’m not fully sure myself. For sure, there are probably more factors from my side that have to be even better, improve it even more. Looking at the results and the performance last year it was pretty strong. At the end of the day, this is the situation and it happened, and I am where I am now. I’m lucky to be still racing, for sure, but my goal is to prove them wrong and do even better this year.”
The ties with Porsche haven’t been completely severed, however, as he’s still involved with Porsche through customer team Pfaff Motorsports, making the transition quite seamless.
“Until this moment I’m not feeling any different from the situation last year. It’s just a little different in terms of some inside things but altogether it’s been similar. I race a good championship here in IMSA and hopefully there will be some more races coming in Europe as well.”
Those races in Europe could include a return to the Nürburgring 24 Hours, a race he competed in for the last two years with a privately entered Manthey Racing-run Porsche 991.2 GT3R alongside Pfaff co-driver Lars Kern, while not ruling out another go at the Intercontinental GT Challenge and GT World Challenge Europe either.
“I hope, I hope! I’m not doing Bathurst. It’s not confirmed yet, but I’m waiting for the answers and it should be confirmed soon.”
Christian Rodriguez contributed additional reporting.