Porsche an­nounces plans to pull out of top-flight en­durance rac­ing in favour of pure-elec­tric series

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Good­bye Le Mans. Hello Fo­rumla E. Porsche has an­nounced a ma­jor over­haul of its mo­tor­sport ac­tiv­i­ties and the big news is an end to its out­ra­geously suc­cess­ful LMP1 WEC and Le Mans pro­gramme in favour of par­tic­i­pa­tion in the pure-elec­tric For­mula E series. That's right, the 919 Hy­brid is hang­ing up its slicks and it will not be re­placed.

The de­ci­sion is ef­fec­tive from the end of the cur­rent 2017 World En­durance Cham­pi­onship sea­son, though Porsche will not en­ter For­mula E un­til 2019. Just in time for the launch of Mis­sion E, in other words, its first pure-elec­tric road car. How­ever, the de­ci­sion does not spell the end of Porsche's WEC and Le Mans com­pe­ti­tion ac­tiv­i­ties. In­stead, the fo­cus will now be on the GT class and the 911 RSR racer, which has re­cently been sub­ject to a mas­sive over­haul and a shift to mid-en­gine con­fig­u­ra­tion for the first time in the 911's his­tory.

Porsche says the de­ci­sion re­flects the broader di­rec­tion dic­tated by the of­fi­cial 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. Porsche says its own For­mula E racer is al­ready in devel­op­ment.

“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. Porsche is work­ing with al­ter­na­tive, in­no­va­tive drive con­cepts. For us, For­mula E is the ul­ti­mate com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment for driv­ing for­ward the devel­op­ment of high­per­for­mance ve­hi­cles in ar­eas such as en­vi­ron­men­tal friend­li­ness, ef­fi­ciency and sus­tain­abil­ity”, reck­ons Michael Steiner, Mem­ber of the Ex­ec­u­tive Board for Re­search and Devel­op­ment at Porsche AG.

For the unini­ti­ated, Fo­rumla E is the world's first pure-elec­tric race series and was launched in September 2014. The FIA, which is also the gov­ern­ing body of For­mula 1, says it cre­ated the series to make a state­ment in favour of

elec­tro­mo­bil­ity and to get more young peo­ple ex­cited about mo­tor­sport. Race venues cen­tre on street cour­ses in ma­jor world cities. Cur­rently, For­mula E be­gins in au­tumn and ends in the sum­mer, ef­fec­tively fill­ing the gap be­tween most tra­di­tional race series in­clud­ing both the WEC and F1. Even­tu­ally, that may change as the cat­e­gory gains in stature.

In­deed, gain­ing stature is pre­cisely what For­mula E is do­ing right now in spades. In the weeks be­fore Porsche's an­nounce­ment, Audi, BMW and Mercedes all re­vealed plans to par­tic­i­pate in For­mula E. If there is a catch to all this, it's the lim­ited im­pact man­u­fac­tur­ers can make on the series in tech­ni­cal terms. For­mula E is ef­fec­tively a sin­gle-chas­sis series. For the 2018 and 2019 series, for in­stance, the chas­sis will be made by spe­cial­ist com­pe­ti­tion out­fit Spark while Mclaren's en­gi­neer­ing wing has man­aged to pinch the con­tract for the battery from the equiv­a­lent divi­sion at Wil­liams. In ef­fect, it's just the elec­tric mo­tor that Porsche will be able to do in-house. For 2019 and 2020, how­ever, it's ex­pected that teams will be free to en­gi­neer their own bat­ter­ies.

Quite what the im­pact the an­nounce­ment will have on the WEC, Le Mans and the LMP1 class in par­tic­u­lar is un­clear. Porsche's exit from LMP1 comes a year after sis­ter brand Audi's de­par­ture, leav­ing Toy­ota as the only ma­jor man­u­fac­turer in the class. More­over, Toy­ota has said its com­mit­ment for 2018 was made un­der the as­sump­tion that Porsche would also be com­pet­ing. One could also ar­gue that Porsche's shift in di­rec­tion is sim­ply symp­to­matic of a rapidly chang­ing mo­tor­sport scene. For­mula 1 has an on­go­ing bat­tle main­tain­ing its rel­e­vance with­out los­ing its unique char­ac­ter, mean­while Mercedes is pulling out of the showpiece DTM series and even Aus­tralia's V8 Su­per­car series is now test­ing V6s.

That said, while the end of the LMP1 pro­gramme and with it the demise of the 919 as a front-line racer may be a pity, the shift in fo­cus does has an up­side when it comes to tra­di­tional com­bus­tion-car rac­ing. “A diver­sity of man­u­fac­tur­ers and the qual­ity of both WEC and IMSA have led us to strengthen our com­mit­ment and con­cen­trate our en­er­gies on us­ing the 911 RSR”, says Steiner. “We want to be num­ber one. To do that, we must in­vest ac­cord­ingly”.

Above: While this isn’t ac­tu­ally Porsche’s For­mula E ma­chine for 2019, this is the fu­ture look for FE in line with new regs re­leased by the series or­gan­is­ers. Above right: Porsche will con­tinue to race the 911 RSR in the WEC and other series as a...

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