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Porsche Exiting WEC, Switching To Batteries

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, July 28 2017

Porsche will end its LMP1 WEC program after the 2017 season. (Photo courtesy of Porsche North America)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Porsche, the world’s most successful endurance sports car racing nameplate, will exit the LMP1 class of the FIA’s World Endurance Championship at the end of the 2017 season and transition into competition in the Formula E Championship with a factory team beginning in 2019.

Porsche confirmed “with great regret” the end of its involvement in the LMP1 class of the WEC at the end of the 2017 schedule in separate news releases from Stuttgart, Germany, and Atlanta, Ga. Porsche AG is headquartered in Stuttgart; Atlanta has been home to Porsche Cars North America, Inc., since 1998 and is an indirect wholly-owned subsidiary of Porsche AG.

At the same time, Porsche confirmed it will continue to focus attention on international GT racing, campaigning the 911 RSR in the GT class of the WEC.

The highlight of the World Endurance Championship is the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in addition to North America’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and other long-distance endurance classics. Porsche’s decision comes on the heels of four highly successful years, including three consecutive victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France and World Championships in both the team and driver classifications in 2015 and 2016. Nevertheless, the works team from Weissach wants to defend the back-to-back World Championship titles one more time. The 2017 season ends on Nov. 18 in Bahrain.

Earl Bamber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley drove the No. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid to the marque’s 19th victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 18. Porsche will keep the successful LMP1 team intact, including the factory drivers. Alongside ventures in other racing series and the intensive preparation for Formula E, Porsche is examining other fields of application and development areas.

The motorsports realignment is derived from the direction set out for the company in “Porsche Strategy 2025,” which will see Porsche develop a combination of pure GT vehicles and fully-electric sports cars, such as the first fully battery-powered Mission E road car.

“Entering Formula E and achieving success in this category are the logical outcomes of our Mission E. The growing freedom for in-house technology developments makes Formula E attractive to us,” said Michael Steiner, member of the Executive Board for Research and Development at Porsche AG. “Porsche is working with alternative, innovative drive concepts. For us, Formula E is the ultimate competitive environment for driving forward the development of high-performance vehicles in areas such as environmental friendliness, efficiency and sustainability.”

Porsche confirmed it already has taken the first steps towards developing its own Formula E racing car. At the same time, Porsche is increasing its commitment in the ever-popular GT class.

“A diversity of manufacturers and the quality of both WEC and IMSA have led us to strengthen our commitment and concentrate our energies on using the 911 RSR,” Steiner said. “We want to be No. 1. To do that, we must invest accordingly.”

The brainchild of Spanish businessman Alejandro Agag, Formula E _ the world’s first purely electric, open-wheel racing series _ was launched on Sept. 13, 2014. Ten teams from eight countries currently compete in the series. The most prominent American involved is former Championship Auto Racing Teams and Formula One driver Michael Andretti, the founder/owner of Andretti Autosport in the Verizon IndyCar Series and son of 1969 Indianapolis 500 champion Mario Andretti. Mikey’s Formula E team competes with BMW power.

The International Automobile Federation (FIA), which also governs Formula One, has organized the series to make a statement in favor of electromobility and to get more young people excited about motorsport. Electromobility already is playing an important role in the mobility of urban environments popular with a younger demographic.

Formula E cars can reach a top speed of 150 mph, compared to 231 mph in Formula One. Formula E cars weigh 1,940 pounds including driver, compared to 1,591 pounds in F1 without fuel but including driver. A Formula E car costs between $500,000 to $600,000, compared to $5-million in F1.

The 2017 Formula E schedule features 12 races that began in October 2016 and run through July in cities including Hong Kong, Marrakech, Berlin and the famed F1 Monaco Grand Prix course. Race venues specifically are designed street courses in the heart of major cities worldwide, meaning the sport travels to the spectators and not the other way around.

The series conducted its first race in the New York City Metropolitan market in mid-July, when Brooklyn played host to the FIA Qualcomm New York City ePrix on a 1.2-mile layout on the Red Hook waterfront. Race lengths vary, with the two conducted in Brooklyn contested at 43 laps/51.6 miles and 40 laps/48 miles. Races are run with one mandatory pit stop during which drivers change cars because their batteries last for only half the event. Only 2.5-sets of tires (10 tires) can be used per race in a bid to reduce the sport’s carbon footprint.

“Building up the Le Mans team from scratch was a huge challenge,” said Fritz Enzinger, vice president in charge of LMP1 and a central figure in the return of Porsche to top-level motorsport in 2014.Over the years, we have developed an incredibly successful and professional team. This will be our basis going forward. I am certain that we will maintain our high level in Formula E. Confidence is high, and we are excited to get started.”

Porsche’s move to Formula E comes one week after Mercedes announced it would field a Formula E operation. BMW, Renault and Jaguar are among the manufacturers already participating in Formula E.

“I’m delighted to welcome Porsche to the FIA Formula E Championship,” said Agag, founder/CEO of the series. “If somebody told me when we started this project five years ago that we’d be announcing a partnership with a brand like Porsche, I wouldn’t have believed it. To have a name like Porsche in Formula E, with all it represents in terms of racing and heritage _ and in terms of sport cars _ is an inflexion point in our quest to change the public perception about electric cars. The electric revolution continues, and Formula E remains the championship for that revolution.”

Porsche scored its most recent victory at the Circuit de la Sarthe after overcoming issues in the third hour of the twice-around-the-clock enduro. The No. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid shared by Bernhard, Bamber and Hartley rallied from 52nd to challenge for the victory after front-axle drive issues sent the car to the garage for extensive repairs.

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International Motor Sports Association racing will return to the historic 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car course in Lexington on the weekend of May 4-6, 2018. IMSA President Scott Atherton and Mid-Ohio President Craig Rust jointly announced the deal Friday during a news conference.

The event weekend will be headlined by the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, which will compete at Mid-Ohio for the first time. In addition, the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge will return for the first time since 2013.

As part of the announcement, IMSA confirmed it will not be returning to Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, in 2018. IMSA and Circuit of The Americas officials mutually agreed on the decision and “are open to working together again in the future,” according to a series news release.

“Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course has a long and storied history of hosting world-class sports car races in front of a loyal and knowledgeable fan base,” Atherton said in a statement. “We will build on that legacy next May with a field of Prototype and GT race cars that represent the pinnacle of the sport. Many of our stakeholders have long been supportive and quite vocal regarding a return to Mid-Ohio and we are pleased that we can finally say, ‘We’re back!’^”

The most recent top-level IMSA race held at Mid-Ohio was a GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series event on June 15, 2013 won overall by Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi, who went on to win back-to-back WeatherTech Championship Prototype titles in 2014 and 2015. The American Le Mans Series (ALMS) raced at Mid-Ohio for the final time on Aug. 5, 2012, won overall by co-drivers Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf.

A total of 13 GRAND-AM races and 11 ALMS events were contested at Mid-Ohio. GRAND-AM and the ALMS merged following the 2013 season to form the WeatherTech Championship, which began operation in 2014.

“We are thrilled to announce that the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will be joining our schedule in 2018. It‘s a great way to kick off our season,” Rust said.  “We have a tremendous following of sports car fans, and they ask us every year when we might be able to bring the IMSA series to Mid-Ohio.  We are very proud that we were able to work with Scott Atherton and his team to get this done for them, for us _ and most importantly _ for our fans.”

Entire 2018 schedules for the WeatherTech Championship and Continental Tire Challenge will be announced on Friday, Aug. 4, at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, July 28 2017
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