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 customer car