What once looked like a stable platform for prototype sportscar racing has been plunged into uncertainty due to the changing winds in the automotive industry.
It seems a little moot to talk solely about the racing in FIA World Endurance Championship does it not? With Porsche’s announcement of it departing the LMP1 class at the end of this season, the main hook of the WEC looks decidedly flimsy.
All the talk of the LMP1 class, and LMP1-Hybrid especially, being the most technologically advanced racing in the world was valid while Porsche battled Audi, Toyota and even Nissan for a brief moment at the WEC’s peak in 2015. But the paradigm shift to electric vehicles, the fallout of Dieselgate and general cost-cutting saw the smallest representation in the LMP1 class in a while at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Mechanical gremlins for both Toyota and Porsche saw the overall win almost go to an LMP2 car until a factory Porsche 919 Hybrid came roaring back to show just how big the performance gap between the two categories is.
Not to mention how Porsche have outclassed their Japanese rivals this year. After conceding two wins in the first two rounds this year – to run their Le Mans-spec aero package – Porsche has won every round since Le Mans with its team of Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber.
It’s second crew of Neel Jani, Nick Tandy and Andre Lotterer have taken three straight second places – in accordance to team orders – at the Nurburgring, Mexico City and Circuit of The Americas round. A third straight drivers’ and constructors’ championship double looks inevitable. But the bigger question is what will become of the WEC’s blue-riband category now?
The GTE-Pro class is pulling its own weight by attracting manufacturers at the moment. Ferrari, Aston Martin, Porsche and Ford are battling hammer-and-tongs for drivers’ and constructors’ honours and BMW is set to join the party with its M8 GTE from next year too.
But in the larger automotive scheme of things, the GTE class is on its way to be a dinosaur. Particularly with Germany, UK, India and even China declaring a shift to only electric and electrified vehicles from periods ranging from 2025 to 2040. It spells the end for purely internal combustion engines, which is what the GTE class currently caters to.
In fact, Porsche declared its participation in the FIA Formula E Championship from its sixth season that will be held in 2019/20. Mercedes-Benz will make its Formula E debut that year too and Audi has already increased its involvement in the series since it left the WEC, giving a further push to Lucas Di Grassi’s successful title bid this year.
But it seems like it isn’t just the purely electric Formula E that WEC’s prototype class has to contend with. Mercedes is expected to continue its involvement in Formula 1 even after it enters Formula E and Porsche is also looking at becoming an F1 engine supplier from 2021.
That is the year when F1 is expected to undergo a massive technical, sporting and even commercial overhaul under the leadership of Liberty Media who are keen to run it as a viable racing championship rather than a cash-cow when Bernie Ecclestone was in charge.
The current engine formula is expected to change – to make it more cost-effective and increase fan appeal too – and likely to be enticing to manufacturers as electric-hybridization is expected to stay. Not to mention F1’s far broader appeal to fans and the general public as compared to Formula E and the WEC.
So what can the WEC expect to pull out of the hat in the face of such an attack? Well, it has announced a ‘super season’ that will start next May and will end at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June 2019. Yes, that means there will be two editions of Le Mans featuring on the calendar. Cost-cutting measures have been put into place but no-one is biting as yet. They better do so fast before Toyota also call it quits rather than race against themselves and LMP2 cars.