Porsche is set to announce its departure from the FIA World Endurance Championship and move to the all-electric FIA Formula E championship.
RoadandTrack.com has learned Porsche’s exit from the LMP1-Hybrid class, where the German brand has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the LMP1-Hybrid class three times since 2015, will be confirmed on Friday, as will its new Formula E program for 2019. Porsche’s LMP1-to-Formula E move, which has been rumored for weeks, follows the same switch made by sister brand Audi at the end of 2016.
Faced with a reduction from three manufacturers to two for 2017 where Toyota serves as its sole rival, and the ongoing, runaway costs to compete in LMP1-H with powerful hybrid-assisted prototypes, the Volkswagen Audi Group voted to withdraw altogether from the immensely popular LMP1 class.
Although LMP1 will move forward after losing two manufacturers in less than 12 months, the days of $300 million budgets, 1000- horsepower cars, and record-setting speeds are clearly in jeopardy. The ACO, organizers of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and its partners at the FIA went through a similar situation at the beginning of 2012 when Peugeot cancelled its LMP1-H program shortly before the start of the WEC season. In that instance, the ACO/FIA were fortunate to have Toyota, which had announced a Le Mans effort for 2012, in a position to accelerate its planned debut to fill the gap left by the French marque.
With no new LMP1-H programs expected to appear in 2018, Toyota would find itself in the awkward position of racing against non-factory, non-hybrid teams competing in the second-tier LMP1 for privateers. After two consecutive and crushing losses at Le Mans, the path to victory—a hollow achievement, without Audi or Porsche—would be wide open for Toyota in 2018, provided it continues in the wake of Porsche’s departure.
Trading its presence at the pinnacle of speed and innovation for the slower and comparatively unloved world of electrified open-wheel competition will require a bit of recalibration for Porsche’s immense LMP1 race team. Its abundance of factory prototype drivers, who’ve won multiple FIA WEC championships with the Porsche 919 Hybrid, will no longer be required. The massive design and manufacturing staff that produce the 919 will also face widespread redundancies due to Formula E’s usage of a spec chassis.
Heavy investment in new electric powertrains will become the primary focus for Porsche, and its extensive aerodynamic and chassis tuning knowledge will be put to use to learn the new Spark Racing chassis, but the outlay of cash and resources could come at a 90 percent annual savings compared to its LMP1-H budget.
Sports car fans will have five remaining chances to see the 919 Hybrids in action before their V4 turbo engines fall silent. If the end of the LMP1-H era is near, be sure to book a trip to Mexico (Sept. 3), Circuit of The Americas in Texas (Sept. 16), Japan (Oct. 15), China (Nov. 5) or Bahrain (Nov. 18) to see one of the all-time great racecars before it’s too late.