It’s a story that gets more intriguing by the minute. First Porsche announced that it was ditching the world’s premier sports car class – LMP1 – for a mix of GT class and the burgeoning Formula E single-seater category. Then, just when you thought that the company’s legendary racing department had been hijacked by a posse of boffins and cost-accountants came news linking the famous German sports car manufacturer with an engine supply/eventual buyout deal with F1 powerhouse Red Bull.
In the middle of it are Kiwi drivers Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber, both now Le Mans winners with the marque and both now – in theory at least – out of a job. Porsche, however, has been at pains to say that they are not disbanding the LMP1 team, rather they are keeping them on the payroll – drivers included – so they can be deployed “on other tasks”.
What, exactly, these tasks are has yet to be ascertained; however, the official word from Porsche leaves out as much as it left in.
To whit: “From 2019, a Porsche works team will compete in Formula E. As a result, the company will be ending its involvement in the LMP1 class of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) at the end of the 2017 season.
“Porsche (however) will maintain its focus on international GT racing, and will also concentrate its motorsport strategy on using the 911 RSR in the GT class of the FIA World Endurance Championship, the highlight of which is the 24 Hours of Le Mans, as well as the American IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and other long-distance classics.”
So far, so good. But why the dual move to the hitherto unloved Formula E series?
According to Porsche: “This realignment of motorsport is derived from the direction set out for the company in Porsche Strategy 2025, which will see Porsche develop a combination of pure GT vehicles and fully electric sports cars, such as the first fully battery-powered Mission E road car.
“Entering Formula E and achieving success in this category are the logical outcomes of our Mission E. The growing freedom for in-house technology developments makes Formula E attractive to us,” says Michael Steiner, Member of the Executive Board for Research and Development at Porsche AG.
It’s not just Porsche either. In a similar “bombshelllike” announcement in July, Mercedes-Benz confirmed rumours that it was pulling out of the German domestic touring car championship, the DTM, (which it has supported in its current form since 2000) at the end of 2018 to concentrate on Formula E from 2019.
For those readers who don’t know, Formula E is the world’s first purely electric racing series and was launched on September 13, 2014. The International Automobile Federation, or FIA, which is also responsible for Formula 1, has organised the series to make a statement in favour of electromobility and to get more young people excited about motorsport.
Like the ultimately ill-fated A1GP series the Formula E one begins in the (Northern Hemisphere) autumn and ends in summer, and has a deliberate focus on temporary race venues in the heart of major cities, meaning the sport comes to the spectators – and not the other way around.
Jaguar was one of the first major car makers to enter a team in the series (with Kiwi Mitch Evans one of its works drivers) and next season strengthens that commitment with a one-make support series for its all-electric E-Pace SUV!
This year will be the last in a Porsche LMP1 car for Kiwi pair Nelson Hartley and Earl Bamber.
Next year’s Porsche’s sport car focus will move to the GT class with its production-based RSR models.