IMSA: Porsche to end factory GTLM program

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Porsche will end its factory GT Le Mans program at the conclusion of the 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, citing financial problems due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The program, run in partnership with CORE autosport, fields the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR for Nick Tandy and Frederic Makowiecki, and the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR for reigning GTLM champions Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor.

The announcement does not impact Porsche’s customer programs in IMSA, including the GT Daytona class of the WeatherTech Championship, the Michelin Pilot Challenge series, and the GT3 Cup Challenge series.

“The decision to halt our factory involvement in the IMSA series was not an easy one for us,” Porsche Motorsport Vice President Fritz Enzinger said in a statement.

“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.”

The 2020 WeatherTech Championship resumes July 4 at Daytona International Speedway, with the No. 912 of Bamber and Vanthoor sitting second in the GTLM standings.

Here is Porsche’s full statement:

Porsche will cease its factory involvement with the 911 RSR in the GTLM class of the North American IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship (IWSC) at the end of 2020. The current season will not be affected.

With this step, Porsche Motorsport makes a significant contribution to overcoming the economic effects that the coronavirus crisis has had on the sports car manufacturer. As the reigning champions in the GTLM manufacturers, team and drivers classification, Porsche currently ranks second in the championship with its American partner squad Core autosport after the season-opening 24 Hours of Daytona. After taking an essential break for health safety reasons, the IMSA championship plans to resume its racing activities on the first weekend in July. The restart will be held at Daytona. Porsche Motorsport would like to bid farewell to the series by defending its title.

The support of customer teams in the GTD class of the IWSC, as well as the Michelin Pilot Challenge (GT4) and the GT3 Cup Challenge USA, will continue unchanged in cooperation with Porsche Motorsport North America and Porsche Cars North America.

“The decision to halt our factory involvement in the IMSA series was not an easy one for us,” emphasises Fritz Enzinger, Vice President Porsche Motorsport. “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.”

Pascal Zurlinden (Director Factory Motorsport): “For us sportspeople, such endings are always painful. For our operational team Core autosport and everyone involved, I’m very sorry that we were unable to make this decision with more lead time. At the same time, I’d like to thank everyone affected by this for their professional handling of this situation.”

Steffen Höllwarth (Head of Operations IMSA Championship at Porsche Motorsport): “We hope that this season’s races will still be contested so that we don’t leave the IMSA stage soundlessly. Of course, such decisions impact the mood, but we’re all professionals and we’re now focusing on the remaining races of the current season.

Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
Brett Farmer/LAT Images/IMSA
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens’ return to racing

“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.