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Return Of Porsche Giving Sports Cars A Major Buzz

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, June 25 2013

The Porsche LMP1 car was rolled out recently in Germany. It's headed to Le Mans and beyond. (Photo courtesy of Porsche Motorsports North America)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

You probably need cut some slack to those who have expressed disappointment with the quality of racing in the LMP1 class at Le Mans the last two years: Even though the Toyota TS030 hybrids made things surprisingly interesting in last weekend’s race, and even though the Audi R18 hybrids are just so dang cool, the big boy division has been kind of drab.

How drab? The decision by Peugeot to withdraw from racing after the 2011 season left the LMP1 class so hollow that some observers have viewed LMP1 as Audi shadow boxing with itself.

But relief for the disaffected is in sight. In fact, at Le Mans last weekend, it was not just in sight, it was omnipresent as signage about Porsche’s return to LMP1 wallpapered the Circuit de la Sarthe.

So much so that it intruded upon virtually every extended camera angle. Even interviews with Audi and Toyota folks were beset with backdrops of signs about  “Mission 2014. Our Return”; the return of the iconic Stuttgart car company to the event and WEC series that it played such a major part in nurturing.

The new Porsche, the first factory-effort car the company has fielded in the top prototype class since 1996, was rolled out recently in Germany.

Porsche, which has won Le Mans a record 16 times, has not released details about its 2014 Le Mans car. When it was rolled out, it was wearing black-and-white camouflage.

But the car is very likely to utilize some hybrid technology the company has been running at Le Mans in lower-tier GT classes. In fact, it is the continued rise of green technology on the European sports car scene that is playing a big part in Porsche’s decision to return to the top tier of racing over there.

And that decision is certain to give race fans – of the marque and beyond – a major buzz.

“I think it’s huge for certainly the Porschephiles of the world and people who are so passionate about the brand and sports car racing in general,” Patrick Long, America’s only Porsche factory driver, said prior to this year’s 24-hour race at Le Mans. “It’s been since 1998 that we competed for an overall win here at Le Mans, so this has been long anticipated, and in some people’s minds overdue.”

This year, ahead of the return to LMP1, Porsche entered a couple of factory-backed 911 RSRs at Le Mans. The performance of those cars, which were tracked by Porsche AG Team Manthey, had to give Porschephiles warm thoughts. The cars finished first and second in the GTE pro class, which has been ruled by Astin Martin, Corvette, Mazda and Ferrari in recent years.

Few seem to think the return of Porsche to LMP1 will quickly yield similar success.

Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, the head of Audi’s Le Mans team, wouldn’t comment on that when interviewed by reporters but said, “Porsche is a name with a very special history.”

Long, who co-drove an RSR at Le Mans last weekend as part of the Proton Racing-backed Dempsey/Del Piero Racing effort, cautioned that success takes time – and dough. Even for Porsche.

“What it takes to go up against the Audis, the Toyotas, is a huge, huge amount of money, much different than when they last competed here,” Long said.

But, he said, “I think it’s great. It’s very important for the sport. The rules and the technologies, everything has changed so much. These cars are much more sophisticated with alternative energy, different types of fuel, hybrid mixes. And so it’s a much different game. But I can rest assured that they’ll be prepared when they come back in 2014.”

And, no doubt, welcomed by a whole lot of people from around the world.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, June 25 2013
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