Porsche’s LMP1 chapter comes to an end

Words by Ajinkya Nair

With the Bahrain round of the WEC drawing to a close yesterday, it marked the official end of Porsche’s involvement in the LMP1 class. Back in July 2017, Porsche announced that they would withdraw from the FIA WEC’s LMP1 division this season and commit themselves to a Formula E entry from the 2019/2020 season.

This comes a year after Audi withdrew from the sport – it just wasn’t viable as the costs of running a full-fledged LMP1 programme are too high. The Volkswagen Group has been cutting back on motorsport activity hugely after the dieselgate scandal. VW’s WRC programme, Audi’s LMP1 and now Porsche’s LMP1 programme have all faced the axe. WEC faced a big blow due to that, as Toyota is the only manufacturer left in the class. “This leaves a huge hole in motorsports” says Porsche driver Andre Lotterer.

With only privateers in the LMP1-L category (non-hybrid), Toyota is left with no real competition. They hinted that even they would review their involvement if Porsche left. Add to that the huge budget border lining into F1 territory, and the lower exposure, this could be the end of LMP1 as we know it.

Porsche LMP1 vice president Fritz Enzinger, who was the driving force behind the LMP1 project was in a flurry of emotions. “It was a feeling of sadness on the one hand,” he said, “But on the other hand, I felt a great sense of relief that the project was so successful.”

From 2015 to date, the LMP1 team took three straight Le Mans victories plus three successive manufacturers’ world championship titles while Porsche 919 Hybrid drivers won the drivers’ world championship title on three occasions. Since the 919’s debut in 2014, out of 34 races, 17 have been won with seven of them being one-two victories. Furthermore 13 fastest race laps and 20 pole positions were achieved.

The incredible 919 hybrid project which made approximately 900hp is going to have its curtains pulled, since the season is now over. The research and development behind the V4 turbocharged engine with a lithium-ion battery for energy recovery would definitely help Porsche in their quest for Formula E.

In an emotional last race, the Porsche LMP1 team bid a fond farewell to three time Le Mans winners Earl Bamber, Timo Bernhard, and Brendon Hartley. “No other Porsche team has ever managed three Le Mans outright victories in a row but this squad achieved it,” proudly says Oliver Blume (Chairman of the Executive Board of Porsche AG). “To me this represents the Porsche spirit that our brand stands for spanning almost 70 years.”

The race in Bahrain was eventful. Toyota won the race overall, however the Porsche team did take home the second and third place, along with the overall title for the season. Porsche #1 shared by Neel Jani, André Lotterer , and Nick Tandy started out from the pole position, but the team got ambitious after a gamble to triple-stint its Michelin tires even after 147 laps, and contact with a GTE-Am car derailed their bid, causing a front-left puncture. Pascal Vasselon (Toyota Motorsports GmbH) admitted that the triple stint felt very “dangerous” to him, from Porsche’s part.

Meanwhile, in Porsche #2, Timo Bernhard ran over a bollard, which got stuck under the car in just lap 3. It cost him almost one lap to get the bollard removed and the nose changed. “I had a good start, got past one Toyota and kept up with Neel.” Said Timo “But then unfortunately I picked up that bollard and the extra stop dropped us far behind. That was a real shame.” Porsche finished with two podiums at the last round in Bahrain.

Nevertheless, there was plenty of admiration between the teams. “Over the past four seasons, Toyota has been an incredible competitor” says Andreas Seidl, Porsche Team Principal, “and I congratulate them on today’s victory.”

The future of the LMP1 programme does not look too bright, however, it does shine a ray of hope on the competitive (but recently sidelined) GTE class. Formula E also promises to be interesting with the likes of Mercedes, Audi, Nissan, and now Porsche lining up at the grid.

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