Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser, head of Porsche’s GT program, has confirmed plans to place 2017 Porsche LMP1 drivers Earl Bamber – now confirmed as 2017 FIA WEC drivers champion – and Nick Tandy as full-time drivers in next year’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in the GTLM class. The pair return to the North American team they drove for in the 2015 and 2016 seasons (pictured above) in which both scored wins, including an historic overall race win at at a rain-drenched 2015 Petit Le Mans for Tandy.
“It sounds logical – most things we are doing like this is intentional,” he said when asked by the media at Shanghai about Bamber and Tandy’s chances of racing in IMSA in 2018, following their return to GTLM at Petit Le Mans this year (below). “Yes (they will do a full season). It isn’t final, as the drivers’ calendars are really complex, but this is the direction we are going.”
The move will likely see two drivers move from full-season IMSA seats next year. This year, Laurens Vanthoor, Patrick Pilet and Dirk Werner competed full-time with Porsche in IMSA, the other seats in the No. 912 Porsche being filled by a combination of Richard Lietz, Kevin Estre, Wolf Henzler and later Gianmaria Bruni.
The Bruni/Vanthoor combination has been widely tipped as a likely 2018/19 FIA WEC pairing.
Walliser, while not confirming who Bamber and Tandy would replace, did state that there would not be a third car for the Stuttgart-based brand in IMSA or the WEC next year. At Le Mans, he had hinted at a chance of additional entries.
“There’s no intention to run more than two cars, (in IMSA and WEC). At Le Mans, it’s the decision of the ACO and the committee, there’s nothing quite decided yet.”
All the current LMP1 Porsche drivers are set to stay under contract when the 919 Hybrid program finishes at the end of this year, meaning Brendon Hartley – who is on the verge of a full-time F1 seat with Toro Rosso – may still have the chance to continue racing in Porsche GT cars in 2018 should the opportunity arise.
“With the calendar it’s not so easy – if there’s a chance then why not? Most of them (Porsche’s LMP1 drivers) have experience in GT cars and are keen on driving,” Walliser continued. “(Hartley) told me he wanted to be a real Porsche driver, and drive an 911, so we sent him to Dubai (for the 24 Hours this year) and he won the race.
“We don’t know what he (Hartley) will do exactly next year, (but if he’s available) that would be cool. If it fits, great; he showed in Dubai he can handle it. It’s not easy for a driver coming from LMP1 to join a small private team. But we are not through the details – it’s not public what he can do next year.”