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WEC reveals eight-race winter calendar for 2018-19, Sebring returns

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The FIA World Endurance Championship will return to Sebring International Raceway in 2019 as part of a new winter calendar set to come into force next year.

Featuring eight races across 18 months, the 2018/19 WEC ‘super season’ will see the championship achieve its long-held goal of finishing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with two visits to the Circuit de la Sarthe scheduled in the campaign.

The six-hour race at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas has been cut, as have the Silverstone, Nürburgring, Mexico City and Bahrain events from the existing nine-race schedule.

Having hosted the inaugural WEC race back in 2012, Sebring returns to the calendar as part of a double-header weekend that will see a 12-hour event run directly after the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s own race.

2018-2019 FIA World Endurance Championship Provisional Calendar

1. 4-5 May – WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps (BEL)
2. 16-17 June – 24 Hours of Le Mans (FRA)
3. 13-14 October – 6 Hours of Fuji (JPN)
4. 3-4 November – 6 Hours of Shanghai (CHN)
5. February 2019 – Place and event TBC
6. 15-16 March 2019 – 12 Hours of Sebring (USA)
7. 3-4 May 2019 – WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps (BEL)
8. 15-16 June 2019 – 24 Hours of Le Mans (FRA)

In the same announcement, officials from the FIA and the ACO confirmed tweaks to the regulations for LMP1 from 2018 in reaction to Porsche’s shock decision to quit the class at the end of the season, the aim being to stimulate more interest from manufacturers to join Toyota in the category.

Here are the planned changes:

  • From 2018/2019, and in the future, there will only be one category (and consequently one classification) in LMP1.
  • To make it as accessible as possible to join this category from the 2018-2019 season onwards, the level of performance of the current non-hybrid LMP1 regulations managed via equivalence of technologies will be aligned with the current LMP1 hybrid regulations.
  • Each competitor entered in LMP1 will have the same potential of performance independent of the type engine power used. Very clearly there will always be a slight advantage for the hybrid engine in terms of autonomy related to lower fuel consumption.
  • There will be no changes made to the current chassis regulations (only LMP1 chassis will be eligible) but to facilitate the access to LMP1, more choice and engine power options will be offered. Depending on the selected criteria, an Equivalence of Technology will be implemented between turbo compressed and normally aspirated engines (as done in the past between petrol and diesel).
  • All these decisions will apply for the next two seasons.

“Other regulatory decisions, which are still being finalized, will be announced later on covering areas such as a reduction in the number of private tests and collective tests proposed,” the statement from the series adds.

“The 2020 LMP1 regulations will be substantially altered as compared to the model presented during the last 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“The ACO and the FIA remain wholeheartedly convinced that technology including Hybrid systems must keep its place of honor in Endurance racing, but not at any price.

“The budgets invested over these last years in LMP1 Hybrid are no longer sustainable and a return to reasonable budgets should allow all manufacturers to compete in this discipline.”

Porsche: Formula E more than a marketing tool, ‘no passing fad’

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Porsche executive board member Michael Steiner is confident that Formula E will be more than just a “passing fad” or a tool for good marketing as the German marque begins to prepare for its entry to the series in 2019.

Porsche rocked the racing world last month by announcing it would be closing its LMP1 program at the end of this year, shifting its focus to Formula E where it will race from season six onwards.

The move sees Porsche follow in the footsteps of many more manufacturers, with Audi, Jaguar, Mercedes, Renault and BMW among those who will also be racing in season six.

Porsche had previously dismissed Formula E as not being of enough technical interest in its current state, but Steiner is confident of its future direction.

“The series is developing in an interesting direction,” Steiner said. Think, for example, of the rear axle with the electric motor, which manufacturers are able to design themselves within the regulations.

“Or take the inverter and the battery management, where there will also be more freedom. In the relatively short term, it is expected that a better battery will be used in Formula E, which will eliminate vehicle changes during the race.

“There are also planned increases in drive performance. And brake-by-wire is coming, along with other things. We have seen the roadmap on the technical side. The regulations will start to open up and the planned developments are very interesting.”

Steiner said Porsche is expecting Formula E to become a strong technical formula, adding: “We would not make such a wide-ranging strategic change for an event that only had marketing potential.

“If Formula E were just a short-term trend or a passing fad, we would certainly not become involved.”

Porsche staying coy on Formula 1 engine rumors

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Porsche has remained coy on rumors it could be set to enter Formula 1 as an engine supplier in the near future despite confirming that it is in the process of developing a “high-performance, high-efficiency engine”.

Porsche rocked the motorsport world last month by announcing it would be closing its LMP1 program at the end of the season in order to prepare for an entry to Formula E in 2019.

The realignment of its motorsport strategy came following Porsche’s attendance of meetings regarding F1’s future power options, set to come into play for the 2021 season.

The German marque had been rumored to be considering entering F1 as an engine supplier alongside its Formula E commitments, with member of the executive board research and development Michael Steiner responding to the speculation.

“Like other manufacturers, we participate in discussions on the future Formula 1 powertrain at the invitation of the FIA,” Steiner said.

“At the moment, the team in Weissach is not working on an F1 engine, but it is working on a high-performance, high-efficiency engine, specifically at the design level.

“So far, we have not decided what we will do with this engine, or in other words whether we will use it in series production or in motorsport. If the LMP1 programme had continued, we would have worked on efficient high-performance engines, and we are now pushing ahead with this development.

“The development contract with the engineers will run for the next 18 months.”

When asked directly if Porsche would be entering F1 in 2021, Steiner said: “I am not working on that assumption, but there is no statement to be made about this.”

F1 currently boasts four engine manufacturers – Mercedes, Ferrari, Honda and Renault – but is known to be discussing its future regulations with a number of parties both inside and outside of the sport.

Porsche last featured in F1 as an engine supplier in 1991, powering the Footwork team for six races before its switch to Ford engines for the remainder of the season.

Toyota appoints new WEC LMP1 team president

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Toyota has appointed Hisatake Murata as the new president of its LMP1 team in the FIA World Endurance Championship as it plans for life after Porsche in the series.

Murata has worked with Toyota since 1987 in a variety of roles, being part of its WEC efforts since the formation of the championship in 2012.

Murata will take over with immediate effect from Toshio Sato, who has been relocated to Toyota’s powertrain division.

“I am proud to take this new role at TMG [Toyota Motorsport]. Since the beginning of our hybrid LMP1 project, I have built up a strong relationship with TMG members so I am looking forward to working together even more closely as we push to succeed in all areas,” Murata said.

“I would like to sincerely thank Sato for his leadership of TMG since 2015 and wish him all the best in his new position.”

Murata’s appointment comes just one week after Porsche announced its decision to close its LMP1 program at the end of 2017, leaving Toyota as the sole manufacturer in the class for 2018.

While details regarding Toyota’s involvement in the championship next year remain unclear, Murata’s appointment suggests there is some kind of future for its LMP1 program.

Toyota ‘sad and disappointed’ by Porsche’s LMP1 exit

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Toyota president Akio Toyoda says he is “sad and disappointed” that Porsche will be ending its LMP1 program at the end of the year, leaving the Japanese marque as the sole manufacturer in the FIA World Endurance Championship’s premier class.

Porsche announced early on Friday that it would be pulling the plug on its LMP1 operation following this year’s season finale in Bahrain, switching focus to Formula E, where it will race from 2019.

Toyota and Porsche have battled for top honors in the WEC since 2014, leaving Toyoda with a heavy heart after hearing the news.

“I felt that it was very unfortunate when I heard that Porsche decided to withdraw from the LMP1 category of the WEC racing series,” Toyoda said in a statement.

“At last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans race, we were honored that Porsche considered Toyota as a rival. It was a great battle as we fought against each other for victory.

“Looking towards this year’s series, we aimed to rise to and even surpass Porsche’s challenge. Those thoughts drove us to work harder and put forth our best efforts in realizing new technologies and skills.

“At this year’s Le Mans, I again had the opportunity to meet and talk with Dr. Porsche. He told me that, much like us, his company participates in motorsport to enhance its production cars. As a carmaker that has been doing such for a very long time, Porsche deserves a great deal of respect.

“I feel very sad and disappointed that we will no longer be able to pit our technologies against such a company on the same battleground next year.

“However, the fight is not yet over. We will continue to battle with all our strength in the remaining five races of this year.

“Let’s make it an amazing competition that will remain in the hearts of the teams as well as of the fans.

“I am full of gratitude to Porsche, but I will save my thanks for when the season is over. At that time, I wonder which of us will be congratulating the other.

“Let’s look forward to that moment as we continue to fight. To everyone at Porsche, we’ll see you on the track!”