Porsche will announce the shutdown of its top-class 919 Hybrid Le Mans Prototype program in the next 24 hours, according to multiple publications and industry sources cited by Sportscar365. This will leave the World Endurance Championship’s top LMP1 class with only one team and an uncertain future. [Update: Porsche confirmed they would continue competing at Le Mans somehow, but declined to comment on the LMP1 withdrawal rumors. See below.]
A board meeting Wednesday decided the fate of the LMP1 program, which was originally set to continue through 2018 but will be ended one year early, Sportscar365 reports. The Porsche 919 Hybrid Le Mans program has not been cheap, with an estimated budget of over $200 million a year.
Porsche is also expected to announce their entry into Formula E as soon as the 2019-2020 season, reports Auto Hebdo. This news would echo both Audi’s withdrawal from LMP1 at the end of last year to go into the more cost-efficient playground of Formula E instead as well as Mercedes’ announcement this week that they will leave DTM to refocus on Formula E.
That’s exactly what has even Porsche’s LMP1 drivers worried, as driver André Lotterer told DH.be, as translated by Sportscar365:
I expect the worst.
They are not going to make a statement to say that we are continuing the program. After Audi last year, [we] are fed up … What happens to sports car [racing]?
Yesterday Mercedes made official that they was leaving DTM. Tomorrow we fear the withdrawal of Porsche from WEC …. What will we do?
Lotterer came to Porsche this year after the shutdown of Audi’s LMP1 program.
Porsche LMP1 team principal Andreas Seidl confirmed at the Nürburgring that a decision would be made by the end of this month regarding the LMP1 program’s future, Sportscar365 notes, so sadly, the timing is right.
Porsche’s withdrawal would be disastrous for the LMP1 class, leaving Toyota as the only confirmed competitor in the class and no one coming forth to fill their void. The WEC’s own contract with the FIA requires two competitors in LMP1 as well, leaving the future of the class itself in limbo.
The WEC released a new set of regulations for the LMP1 class ahead of Le Mans aimed at using quick-charging plug-in hybrids in the class from 2020 onwards, but that may be too little too late. The costs in the meantime are still so high that even Porsche, a brand synonymous with Le Mans domination, apparently can’t justify staying in the WEC’s top class.
UPDATE [11:04 a.m. ET]: A Porsche representative confirmed to Jalopnik that the marque plans to continue competing at Le Mans in some form, but declined to comment on the LMP1 rumors:
For the time being, there is no comment on the LMP1 topic from our side. What I can state is, that we will definitely continue to compete in Le Mans.
There will be further official notice within the next days.
Porsche also has a works GT team that competes with the 911 RSR at Le Mans, so even if the LMP1 team withdraws, the marque is not out of the World Endurance Championship entirely. However, we’ll be keeping an eye out for news on the LMP1 program over the next several days.