THE SUN SETS ON PORSCHE LMP1 PROGRAMME.
In 2014, Porsche came back to Le Mans in the top flight with the 919 Hybrid. Now, in 2017 they have just finished their last race with that car.
I love Le Mans. For me there is no other race series that comes even remotely close. Being a Porsche enthusiast, I was very happy to hear that they would return to La Sarthe in 2014. Porsche had big boots to fill - they have won Le Mans more than any other manufacturer. And they have won it when it was really, really competitive - unlike Audi.
Competing at Le Mans and in the FIA World Endurance Championship isn't cheap though, and despite having a smaller team than Audi, it reportedly cost Porsche $250m per year to compete at the top level. That's a lot of money, but hey, they are very profitable so it was okay. They were winning too. One year after coming back to the top-flight, they won Le Mans, the World Manufacturers Title and the Drivers title. Something they would do for three consecutive years - right up until this year. Even by Porsche standards, that's impressive. Their tally is now 19 wins at Le Mans, which is amazing.
But in 2017, there was only two major manufacturers in LMP1 - Porsche and Toyota. Audi had the plug pulled at the end of 2016 blaming diesel-gate as a contributing factor. I'm sure Porsche love to win (who doesn't), but spending $250m to beat one other team does not make a lot of commercial sense. Sure, they're the best... but who are they actually beating?
So that is that. Porsche decide to join Formula E in 2019 (seriously still can't believe that decision) and in the meantime will focus on the 911 RSR in GTE Pro. I'm not knocking GTE, not at all - in fact, now LMP1 is non-existent in terms of Factory teams apart from Toyota, my favourite racing is seeing the GT boys go at it. These are magnificent race cars with proper teams, development and drivers. Ford and Ferrari have cars that have two years under their belts; Porsche have one year on the new mid-mounted RSR and Aston Martin and Corvette will be back in 2018 with all-new cars. Oh, and so will BMW. That's a mighty programme with a proper grid. It's also competitive, which is more than we can say for LMP1.
I'm going to stop weeping in to my Pilsner now and thought we should take a brief look back at 2017 and the final season of the 919 Hybrid. Silverstone was first in April - a race the car was not set up for (in terms of aero), but they still took 2nd and 3rd places with the #2 car taking most points.
Next was Spa Francorchamps in May. Once again, the aero wasn't perfect for this circuit but they had high hopes. But it wasn't a great race for Porsche and the Toyota's were much stronger - the 919 took 3rd and 4th places, with the #2 car once again gaining the most points.
The dress rehearsal was over now and the real deal was in June - the 24 Heures du Mans. And that was the first time in 2017 that they took the top step. It was an insane race that nearly saw an LMP2 car win - but I won't go in to that now. The #1 car could have won, but didn't. The #2 car had to battle for it, but win they did with 367 laps. A big points haul that they needed.
The middle part of the year suited the set-up of the 919 more and that was proven at the home race in Nürburgring with a one-two finish. The #2 car taking the maximum points.
Two consecutive races across the Atlantic in September and Porsche had found its groove - one-two in Mexico and the same in Austin, Texas. The #2 car once again maximising the points here. The 919 will not win again. Ever. But we didn't know that yet.
There was three races left in the season and it was Porsche's title to lose. Fuji was the Toyota home race and they did not disappoint - Porsche had to settle for 3rd and 4th, with the #1 car outclassing the #2 for the first time in 2017.
Next was Shanghai, and Porsche took 2nd and 3rd (but Toyota threw away their one-two by hitting the Porsche RSR). Then, the same happened in Bahrain last weekend - Toyota threw away a one-two after their LMP1 car hit the Factory Porsche RSR. Again. Somewhat ironic. Somewhat stupid from Toyota. They couldn't stop the 919 winning everything, but they did deny the Class leading GTE Pro car from their first win of the season. Twice.
So that's it. Porsche LMP1 programme will be reserved for visitors to the Porsche Museum and we will make do with GTE Pro. Don't stay away too long Porsche because I can't see this Formula E thing getting me excited. Ever.