Porsche quits top Le Mans class to join Formula E

Published: 28 July 2017

► Le Mans champs quit top LMP1 class
► Withdrawal to fund Formula E entry
► 911 will continue at LM in GT category

Porsche has announced it will pull out of the top LMP1 class in the FIA World Endurance Championship at the end of the 2017 season.

It’s a move that has surprised the championship’s organisers, as the Stuttgart manufacturer had previously indicated it would compete at least up to the end of 2018.

Porsche is the reigning World Endurance Championship manufacturers’ champion, and its LMP1 cars have won the last three Le Mans 24hr races – the blue-ribbon event in the WEC calendar.

Porsche LMP1

Porsche to enter Formula E in 2019

Porsche says it plans to enter a works team in Formula E from 2019, and is ending its involvement in LMP1 as a result at the end of the 2017 season.

The company’s ‘Strategy 2025’ product plans includes developing electric vehicles, including the battery-electric Mission E road car currently in development (pictured below as a concept car).  

Porsche Mission E

‘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’, says Michael Steiner, Porsche’s board member in charge of R&D.

Work has already begun on designing Porsche’s first Formula E car – or, more accurately, its powertrain, as F.E. is a ‘spec’ chassis formula, with the cars’ carbon tubs all built by Italian manufacturer Dallara.

Formula E

Porsche will continue to compete in the WEC, in the road-based GT category

This isn’t a total pull-out from the WEC for Porsche – it plans to continue to compete in the GT class using its 911 RSR, including the Le Mans 24hrs.

It will increase its investment in the 911 RSR programme as a result: ‘We want to be number one’, Steiner has said. ‘To do that, we must invest accordingly.’

BMW will join the GT category next year with a works entry based upon its upoming M8 road car.

What does this mean for the future of LMP1?

Porsche’s exit comes in the wake of multiple-Le Mans winner Audi’s decision to leave the championship at the end of 2016.

This has called into question the future of the technologically advanced, hybrid-based top-tier sportscar racing class.

The World Endurance Championship’s promotors have commented:

‘The Automobile Club de l’Ouest, promoter of the WEC and organiser of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, regrets this precipitous departure, as it does the abruptness of the decision from one of endurance racing’s most successful and lauded manufacturers.’

Porsche celebrates 2017 LM win

Porsche and Audi’s withdrawals leaves Toyota as the sole works manufacturer team – should they win Le Mans next year, it could be seen as an open goal, and should they lose it, it could be perceived in the wider world as a failure. Will the company be able to justify continuing to spend the budget to remain as the only mainstream manufacturer in the playground?

And should Toyota choose to leave, or their cars hit problems, could that open the door for a smaller manufacturer – such as British firm Ginetta, which is building an LMP1 car of its own for 2018 – to score a surprise victory?

On a similar note: Mercedes quits DTM, joins Formula E

Only days before Porsche’s announcement, Mercedes-Benz has announced it is leaving the DTM German touring car championship at the end of the 2018 season in order to fund an entry in Formula E from 2019 onwards.

It will be the first time Mercedes has been absent from the championship since 1987, and leaves BMW and Audi as the only two manufacturers in the series, putting it in a similarly choppy boat to that of the WEC. 

By James Taylor

CAR's deputy features editor, occasional racer