Porsche will end its factory sports car racing program in IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at the conclusion of the 2020 season. It signals the first loss among manufacturer racing projects from a steep downturn in auto sales due to the coronavirus, and came with limited warning outside the Porsche family.
“The decision to halt our factory involvement in the IMSA series was not an easy one for us,” Porsche said Motorsport VP Fritz Enzinger. “With a view to the current corporate situation in connection with the coronavirus pandemic, it is only logical for Porsche Motorsport to make a contribution to coping with the economic fallout. We’ve openly discussed our exit with all involved.
“At this point, we’d like to convey our sincere thanks to Jim France and the colleagues at IMSA for their understanding. Porsche belongs in endurance racing. We will work hard to ensure that this is only a temporary Auf Wiedersehen.”
Porsche returned as a full works effort upon IMSA’s reformation in 2014 as the American Le Mans Series and Grand-Am’s Rolex Series merged into a single championship. Run by North Carolina’s CORE autosport, the Jon Bennett-owned, Morgan Brady- and Michael Harvey-led outfit delivered three Manufacturers’ championships for Porsche and two Drivers’ titles over the last six seasons, along with 18 victories in IMSA’s fiercest class.
The German manufacturers’ decision strikes a worrying blow to IMSA’s GT Le Mans class after Ford wound down its factory program after the 2019 season. It left a total of six full-time cars to represent the all-pro category, with two cars apiece from BMW, Corvette, and Porsche, plus the occasional appearance from the single-car, independent Risi Competizione Ferrari squad in GTLM.
With no immediate prospects for a new manufacturer or privateer entry to fill Porsche’s void when the 2021 season begins in January, GTLM’s presence on the WeatherTech Championship grid could be limited to four or five cars, provided further withdrawals do not occur.
Among the only silver linings to consider, IMSA’s shortened schedule, which resumes from July-November, affords the dozens of CORE autosport mechanics and crew members the opportunity to finish the year running the Nos. 911 and 912 911 RSRs while searching for new employment. The likely downside they will face, with motorsports as a whole heavily impacted by shutdowns, pauses, and cancellations stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, is a limited number of available jobs.
“This has been an amazing seven-year partnership,” Brady said. “I’m extremely proud of everything we’ve accomplished. While we continue to prepare for the remaining 10 rounds of the IMSA Championship, we’re sensitive to how this departure will affect our team members and their families.”
Porsche makes use of a deep pool of factory drivers that it dispatches to various championships throughout the world; it’s unclear where the four full-time and two part-time GTLM drivers will fall in the company’s plans after the IMSA season finale in November at the Mobile 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. Ongoing support of Porsche’s customer teams in the Pro-Am GT Daytona class, and IMSA’s training categories, will continue into 2021 and beyond.
Separate from Porsche’s on-track contributions to IMSA’s product, the brand’s off-track impact within the series is immeasurable. Including the vast popularity of its car corrals at most events, plus the advertising investments made by the company at the various circuits on the schedule and on television, Porsche’s looming absence as one of IMSA’s most ambitious promotional partners will hard to ignore.
As sports car racing’s most enduring manufacturer, the future is expected to feature a return at some point by Porsche. Facing similar economic concerns during the recession that began in 2008, Porsche ceased its championship-winning factory ALMS LMP2 program with Team Penske, opting to move to the far less expensive Grand-Am Daytona Prototype class for 2009 before departing altogether until announcing its union with CORE in GTLM for 2014.
Having attended a number of IMSA’s manufacturer meetings as the new-for-2022 LMDh rules have been formed, Porsche’s well-known interest in the next-generation hybrid prototype class could offer the brand a target to aim for in the near future.