How coronavirus has paralysed motorsport: Porsche's racing chief reveals extent of the damage

Published: 02 April 2020

► Porsche motorsport takes a sabbatical 
► We interview race chief Pascal Zurlinden
► Return to top tier at Le Mans still possible

Motorsport has been hit hard by the spread of coronavirus and most race series around the world have ground to a halt. We spoke to Pascal Zurlinden, the director of factory motorsport at Porsche AG, to find out what it means to one of the brands most closely associated with racing.

Porsche’s motorsport division is having to adapt suddenly to a race-free season. It's particularly galling for Zuffenhausen in its first season competing in Formula E, the all-electric race series - Zurlinden admitted that they're not seeing the benefit of investment in what was supposed to be their learning season learning not a lot.

But he pledged Porsche's continuing focus on racing - 'there is no risk of Porsche leaving motorsport' - and acknowledged that Porsche is still analysing a return to the top LMP1 Le Mans class. Read on for more from Pascal Zurlinden.

All the race series cancelled or postponed by coronavirus

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Porsche race chief Pascal Zurlinden pledges the company won't turn its back on motorsport

How is the current virus crisis affecting Porsche motorsport activity?

Pascal Zurlinden: ‘Covid-19 is affecting our operation in different ways. I am working from home, making this call from my home office, and most of the guys in the operation are the same. Every second day they call and go through priorities. Keeping together as a family is very important. We have found that working from home is sometimes quite efficient and we may adapt some of these working methods in the future.'

Are different series affected in different ways? 

‘On the Works Racing side, we always have a lot of development going on. So we are still working flat-out for when we are back. On the Customer Racing side, it is not so busy - cars don’t break when you are not driving them! So the Customer Racing staff are working part-time [and remunerated by some money from the state].’

When do you expect to get back on the track? 

'In terms of when racing may start again, everything is unknown. We are in constant contact with the organisers. We are all passengers. We cannot predict how long this will last for.'

Do you expect investment in motorsport at Porsche to be sacrificed if there's a major economic downturn as a result of the coronavirus?

‘Motorsport is part of the DNA for Porsche. Since 1951, Porsche is the only manufacturer who has competed at every Le Mans 24hr race. So I’m not worried about Porsche leaving motorsport.' 

How are you adapting to the growing popularity of eSports?

‘Starting the Mobil 1 Porsche Supercup with virtual events was a last-minute decision for us. We always wanted to be in eSports with specific eSports drivers for Porsche, but then we decided to include all of the existing Supercup teams and drivers. It’s been really positive. We are starting a competition to look for the fastest eSports drivers.'

A guide to eSports

We're guessing you're not able to test at this time?

'At the moment we are limiting our activities at Weissach. We will see from next week.'

Some football teams are limiting the salaries of players. Will you consider the same option for your drivers?

'At the moment, drivers will have a very busy second half of the the year with as many races as last year - so no. The drivers have to stay fit. We organised a training camp last week.' 

This is a real blow to your maiden season in Formula E?

Porsche's Formula E racer, unveiled in Germany by Pascal Zurlinden (third from right)

‘We are in close contact with the organisers to see if the season can extend beyond September 2020. This is the championship we suffer the most in because of this break. This year was supposed to be a learning year, and in our second season we will still be a rookie at most tracks. We are pushing with the simulator [to try and make up for this].'

Formula E season preview

Could a big economic turndown affect Porsche’s plans to return to the pinnacle class at Le Mans?

‘We are still looking at it. We have not made a decision. We are making a study to see what is possible. The regulations are not out - they are delayed by a few days, I think. We really hope to receive them soon so we can make a study as planned.' 

With suppliers and smaller businesses affected in all areas of motorsport, could there be far-reaching effects for the sport as a whole that could have ramifications for its short- to mid-term health?

'Being only one month in this situation, it’s hard to tell. There could be some impact.'

Worst-case scenario, there could be no racing at all in 2020. Do you have any contingency plan for that?

'At the end of the day, we are only a passenger [in this situation]. There is still a lot of homework in racing. Don’t forget, Porsche is building road cars too and there are some race people also working on the road car side. We just adapt to the situation.'

Further reading about coronavirus and the car industry

Details of every motor event and race cancelled or delayed by Covid-19

MoT tests suspended for six months in the UK

UK car sales collapse 97% in coronavirus pandemic

How the car industry has been struck by factory shutdowns

Guide to taking a car finance holiday if you can't afford your repayments

By James Taylor

CAR's deputy features editor, occasional racer

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