Porsche evaluating LMDh program

Image by Ebrey/LAT

Porsche evaluating LMDh program

Le Mans/WEC

Porsche evaluating LMDh program

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Porsche GT Factory Motorsport boss Pascal Zurlinden has confirmed that Porsche is evaluating an LMDh program in the wake of the convergence announcement at Daytona in January.

The brand’s evaluation is being made specifically by Porsche, and not as part of a wider VAG group evaluation.

“We are one of the manufacturers looking at LMDh for the future,” Zurlinden said. “We will take a good look at the rules as soon as they come out to check if they are fully viable for Porsche.”

The regulations were set to be revealed at the Super Sebring WEC/IMSA double-header earlier this month, but the postponement of the IMSA race and cancellation of the FIA WEC 1000-mile event due to the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the ACO and IMSA to work on a contingency plan to reveal the regulations and maintain dialogue with manufacturers.

Zurlinden said there is still no firm plan for the release of the regulations, and therefore, no clear picture of what the required budget to run an LMDh program will be. This, he said, is the biggest obstacle currently standing in the way of a decision.

“IMSA and the ACO have the same issues as every company affected by the COVID-19 crisis,” he said. “All the discussions are still ongoing, and they will continue until the regulations are published. If the regulations come out in the next two weeks, which is when we expect them, I don’t expect a couple of weeks delay to be a problem for other manufacturers looking to join.

“The direction presented in Daytona was the right direction, the question is when we have the rules we have to look at the budget, but we can’t do that yet.

“The FIA WEC Hypercar rules were too expensive, and you could only race in the WEC, so we didn’t have interest after we looked at it at the beginning of 2019. But LMDh, one car, two championships, and from what we know the budgets are quite low. It looks to be a similar level to our Formula E program.”

Zurlinden also doesn’t see any reason why the brand’s existing IMSA and FIA WEC GTE programs can’t be run in parallel with LMDh, just as they were when it ran GTE Pro and LMP1 concurrently from 2014-2017 in the WEC.

“In the past when we raced in LMP1 we ran in GT, it is an option,” he said. “And if you look at the cars, if it is possible like in GTLM to run a customer program in LMDh too, then we will look at it.”

But if marques choose to race for overall wins in IMSA and the WEC, the future health of GTE is itself another question. Porsche feels it is too early to speculate on how GTE will look in the future, and whether or not GT convergence will be necessary to keep the GT classes of both major sportscar championships healthy.

A return to prototypes wouldn’t necessarily come at the expense of Porsche’s GT programs. Image by JEP

“We have less manufacturers in GTE Pro but GTE Am is healthy, so before 2023 there is no reason to discussion about convergence, whatever happens with GTE Pro,” he said.

There are further questions now about how the FIA WEC schedule looks going forward too, with Sebring having been cancelled and Le Mans moved to September. There is potential for the championship to revert from a winter calendar back to its traditional calendar-year schedule to avoid shortening the planned 2020/21 season, and Zurlinden said this choice hinges on the thoughts of the privateer teams in the FIA WEC.

“I think it is an option to change the calendar back, but the most important thing is it works for our customers,” he said. “If you look at the WEC, most teams are customer teams, so the question is when is the best start time for them, when you have no teams even committed at this point.

“Le Mans will be a challenge in September, (the change in season) means new conditions on track, and a first run at the circuit with our brand new car (the RSR 19). It will be a challenge for all of us, but our engineers have proven that they can adapt quickly and learn a lot from changes in conditions in the races we have had so far.”

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