Where, oh where, will six highly talented top-class Le Mans prototype drivers go now that Audi withdrew from LMP1? By the looks of things, at least one may land at Porsche. Not one, but three seats are now open for the taking over at the lone remaining Volkswagen Group LMP1 effort.
In addition to Mark Webber’s retirement from the No. 1 Porsche 919, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas will be leaving the No. 2 Porsche 919, Porsche announced this weekend.
Both drivers will remain under contract with Porsche, but in different roles. Lieb, who also holds a degree in automotive engineering, will now work with customer racing. Dumas’ new duties with the brand weren’t specified, however, he also rallies Porsche cars, and won the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb overall this year in a Norma. I don’t think he’ll be out of the drivers’ seat any time soon, either—it just won’t be in the 919.
Fortunately for Lieb and Dumas, they’re leaving on an incredibly high note. Not only did they win the World Endurance Championship’s drivers’ title for this year, but they also won the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
As for who might take their place, ex-Audi R18 driver André Lotterer has reportedly signed on to take one seat, according to Motorsport.com. Curiously, Lotterer will remain teammates with Toyota LMP1 driver Kazuki Nakajima on the TOM’S Super Formula team. TOM’S is a company that specializes in aftermarket Toyota parts, and their Super Formula team uses Toyota power, so the Toyota vibes are strong there.
Current Porsche Motorsport North America works driver Nick Tandy will reportedly take one seat with the Porsche 919 team, reports Motorsport.com. His WeatherTech Sports Car Championship teammate Earl Bamber has also been under consideration for a step up, which makes him a contender for that third seat.
Still, it’s sad to see the immense talent left in the wake of Audi’s withdrawal sitting around with a big question mark over their heads. Toyota is believed to have their 2017 line-up nailed down, per Motorsport.com, which leaves several ex-Audi drivers—plus any existing Porsche works drivers looking for the promotion of a lifetime—fighting for what looks to be one empty seat.
Lucas di Grassi is currently paired with Daniel Abt on Audi’s Formula E team, and has told Motorsport.com that it will be his main focus for 2017. Loïc Duval also competes in Formula E, with Faraday Future Dragon Racing, so he at least has that. Marcel Fässler may end up doing more with Corvette Racing, as he competed with them for most of the North American Endurance Championship races this year.
That still leaves Oliver Jarvis and Benoît Treluyer looking for rides, and it’s insane to think they’ll be left without a full-time drive somewhere.
The glut of talent and lack of cars in the series may sway Toyota and Porsche into running three cars at Le Mans next year, so perhaps we’ll see some of Audi’s old drivers back then. If all else fails, I’m always looking for 24 Hours of LeMons teammates. (I’m just saying.)