THE USUAL SUS­PECTS

The times they are cer­tainly a-chang­ing. Ben­nett pon­ders Porsche’s move from the World En­durance Cham­pi­onship to For­mula E, and why by 2040 we’ll be en­joy­ing our fos­sil fuel-pow­ered ma­chines recre­ation­ally, plus front-en­gined Porsches on the up

911 Porsche World - - Contents -

Steve Ben­nett has his say

So the shock news from Porsche isn't so much that it's quit­ting the World En­durance Cham­pi­onship, from the end of this sea­son, but more thats it's go­ing to en­ter the For­mula E Cham­pi­onship from 2019.

With­out wish­ing to sound too smug, we pre­dicted that 2017 would be Porsche's last in the WEC. Why? Well, the LMP1 class for hugely ex­pen­sive hy­brid pro­to­types is dy­ing on its wheels and Audi had al­ready started scrib­bling on the wall of its demise, by pulling out at the end of the 2016 sea­son, leav­ing Porsche with just Toy­ota to play with.

Audi's de­ci­sion was no great sur­prise. Since 1999, it had pretty much dom­i­nated WEC and Le Mans, in­tro­duc­ing new tech like its FSI (di­rect fuel in­jec­tion) en­gines and, of course, diesel. It was the diesel that spelt the end, has­tened by the VW 'diesel­gate' scan­dal, in which Audi was equally com­plicit. Now, rac­ing a diesel pow­ered LMP1 car didn't seem quite so green, hy­brid as­sisted or not. Audi jumped and ran straight to For­mula E, with a semi-works ef­fort, with long time Audi tuners ABT. And Audi isn't alone. Mercedes has just an­nounced that it will leave the DTM (Ger­man Tour­ing Cars) cham­pi­onship in favour of For­mula E, along­side just about every other ma­jor man­u­fac­turer (Jaguar, Honda, Re­nault, Toy­ota, Ford) it would ap­pear. Call it mo­tor­sport virtue sig­nalling.

Of course this is very much as sign of the times. Mo­tor­sport is mar­ket­ing as far as man­u­fac­tur­ers are con­cerned and they will stick around as long as it suits them, al­though in the case of Porsche a lack of com­pe­ti­tion is a pretty valid ex­cuse to get out, al­beit a pretty con­ve­nient one, too. It's highly un­likely that Toy­ota will hang about ei­ther. After all what's the point. Sure there are new LMP1 regs around the cor­ner, de­signed to en­cour­age in­creased man­u­fac­turer in­volve­ment, but it's all a bit late now. For­mula E is the new big thing, it's fully green and it's a damn sight cheaper than de­vel­op­ing a hugely com­plex hy­brid power train.

So what does Porsche leave be­hind as a legacy from its four years back at the cut­tingedge coal face of WEC, Le Mans and LMP1? Well, three fur­ther Le Mans vic­to­ries and two over­all WEC wins. That's not bad go­ing, plus the V4 turbo, hy­brid 919 was a pretty in­ter­est­ing piece of kit that res­onated with Porsche's hy­brid road car am­bi­tions. In the great pan­theon of Porsche's en­durance he­roes, it's no 917, but it was/is still a proper Porsche fac­tory racer.

But hy­brid is no longer the big new thing. Porsche is paving the way for the Mis­sion E

PORSCHE TO EN­TER FOR­MULA E? SHOULD HAVE SEEN THAT ONE COM­ING

con­cept and For­mula E fits in with that strat­egy. For the time be­ing, it's the fu­ture. And what ex­actly is For­mula E? Well, it's ef­fec­tively a spec sin­gle seater for­mula, where the chas­sis is pretty much iden­ti­cal, but the elec­tric power trains are free, or at least free within a set of regs. In­sti­gated by the FIA just three years ago, For­mula E was look­ing dis­tinctly shaky, un­til Re­nault and Jaguar climbed on board, which prompted a stam­pede from fel­low man­u­fac­tur­ers that didn't want to get left be­hind.

The cars are pure elec­tric. They rely on battery power, but there's no means of top­ping up the bat­ter­ies by con­vert­ing brak­ing en­ergy etc. So, half­way through a race, driv­ers pit to change cars. Races take place al­most en­tirely on city cen­tre tracks all over the world, which is clever, be­cause there's a cap­tive au­di­ence. It's easy to jump through the var­i­ous plan­ning hoops, too, be­cause there's no noise or emis­sions to get hung up about. Hav­ing said that, the Bri­tish round, which was held in Bat­tersea Park, was scup­pered by a protest from lo­cal res­i­dents, leav­ing the UK cur­rently with­out a race. Why not go to a pur­pose built track, like Sil­ver­stone? Well that de­feats the ob­ject of tak­ing For­mula E to the peo­ple. Or to put it an­other way, how many folk would ac­tu­ally go out of their way to watch silent rac­ing cars, that are not ac­tu­ally that fast? Not many, and the or­gan­is­ers and man­u­fac­tur­ers know that.

Sounds like I'm moan­ing doesn't it? Well, yes and no. I'm all for dif­fer­ent forms of mo­tor­sport, but when it comes to the re­ally big stuff, which re­lies on man­u­fac­tur­ers get­ting in­volved, I'm less than en­thu­si­as­tic. It's all su­per-duper when they're in spend, spend, spend mode, but soon the ob­jec­tives will be met and they will move on to the next big thing, which right now is the man­u­fac­tur­ers’ race to dis­tance them­selves from pol­lut­ing fos­sil fu­els. For­mula E is the per­fect, fairly low-cost plat­form.

The prob­lem, though, is that For­mula E's mas­sive man­u­fac­turer take up rate could be its un­do­ing in the long run. Right now it’s early days and man­u­fac­tur­ers will give the series and its works teams a chance to find their feet. It's when they need to start win­ning that it be­comes an is­sue, be­cause eight into one podium does not go and even­tu­ally CEOS will start to look at the bot­tom line and pull the plug, or the next big thing will come along, like au­ton­o­mous rac­ing, or some such, and the whole process will start again. Sorry to sound neg­a­tive, but his­tory will back me up on this one time and time again.

So how will Porsche fair in For­mula E come 2019? Pretty well I should think. It mas­tered LMP1 pretty quickly, which is rather more com­plex than de­vel­op­ing an elec­tric mo­tor, which is not ex­actly cut­ting-edge. After all Porsche mas­tered elec­tric tech with the Fer­di­nand Porsche de­signed Lohner of 117years ago, and that was ac­tu­ally a hy­brid!

And, is Porsche's in­volve­ment in For­mula E some­thing to get ex­cited about? Hmm, not for me I'm afraid. For all the above rea­sons it smacks too much of sim­ply get­ting on the band­wagon. LMP1 is a busted flush, what else can we do that will look good and meet our mar­ket­ing aims? Maybe I'll be proved wrong, but elec­tric rac­ing cars? I mean it's just a gi­ant Scalex­tric re­ally.

Porsche’s re­turn to sports car rac­ing can only be con­sid­ered a qual­i­fied suc­cess, with two WEC ti­tles and three Le Mans wins in four years. The right time to leave then? Yes, but would they if it wasn’t for Audi jump­ing first and For­mula E serv­ing Porsche’s mar­ket­ing aims rather bet­ter?

STEVEBENNETT Edi­tor, 911& Porscheworld

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