As if 2017 couldn’t get any worse, one of the precious few joys in life—top-class Le Mans prototype racing—may lose one of its biggest names. Porsche denied ongoing rumors that they may drop their 919 Hybrid program at the end of this year to Sportscar365, however, industry sources told them that Porsche may reevaluate their involvement this summer.
The Porsche 919 Hybrid runs in the top LMP1 class of the year-round World Endurance Championship, where it hasn’t been as dominant this year as it has in years past. The 919 is the older of the two LMP1s running this year, and keeps getting beaten by the Toyota TS050. The first two races ahead of Le Mans were won by Toyota. Porsche set the fastest time during today’s first Le Mans free practice session, but that’s after Toyota’s three cars were the three fastest at the Le Mans test day earlier this month.
The rub is rumored to come down to this: Porsche may need to build a new car in order to remain competitive, and agreements made to keep Toyota around and hopefully attract more than the two existing manufacturers to LMP1 prevent them from doing that. Sportscar365 writes:
German motorsports publication Motorsport Aktuell reported last week that Porsche’s current commitment through the end of the 2018 season may be cut short by a year, citing recent struggles with its 919 Hybrid and the inability to roll out with an all-new car for next year.
A freeze of the current LMP1 regulations, and agreement with Toyota to remain with the same monocoque designs through the end of 2019, has reportedly placed the short-term future of the program in jeopardy, with multiple industry sources indicating it could be up for re-evaluation this summer.
More damningly, the Motorsport Aktuell report casting doubt on the Porsche LMP1 program’s future comes from Marcus Schurig, who was the reporter widely credited for outing Audi’s withdrawal from LMP1 two weeks before Audi confirmed it.
Worse yet, Sportscar365 understands that building an all-new car has been ruled out by Porsche due to financial reasons as well as the timing of it. After all, we’re still talking about the Volkswagen group of companies that had to nix one LMP1 program already in the wake of Dieselgate.
That being said, there is a sliver of hope in the fact that no decision has been made for Porsche’s future in the top class of Le Mans prototype racing, according to Sportscar365:
“I hear these rumors from time to time, but I have nothing to comment on,” [Porsche team principal Andreas Seidl] told Sportscar365. “All I know is it’s confirmed for 2018. We’re fully into the development of the ’18 car also.”
Seidl said he expects to begin discussion on the “next period” of the project in the second half of this year, once the 2020 LMP1 regulations are defined.
“That’s the situation right now,” he said. “We wait now for the announcement of the 2020 regulations and I think later in the year we will make a decision about the future.”
In other words, LMP1 fans are stuck in the world’s most nervous holding pattern until the class regulations for 2020 and beyond come out. A new set of LMP1 regulations are expected to drop Friday, just before this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.
If Porsche bows out, it’s uncertain what will happen to the LMP1 class as a whole. The WEC’s contract with the FIA requires at least two teams in its top manufacturer-supported LMP1 class. If only Toyota is left, that requirement goes unfulfilled. The series hasn’t been able to woo any of the rumored marques like Peugeot or BMW into LMP1 due to the high costs of competing there.
Either way, Porsche withdrawing would be catastrophic for the series, and would further prove that everything is trash.
Jalopnik has reached out to Porsche for comment on these reports as well, and will update this piece as soon as we hear back.