Porsche’s crop of factory drivers are positioning themselves for a possible future in prototype racing, despite the German brand not having formally confirmed a LMDh program.
Sportscar365 has learned that multiple factory drivers from its IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship squad have had talks with existing DPi teams about possible drives for the 2021 season.
Laurens Vanthoor, Earl Bamber, Nick Tandy and Fred Makowiecki could all theoretically be without rides in North America next year following Porsche’s decision to curtail its factory GT Le Mans class effort at the end of this year.
The inquiries could point towards a push from the German manufacturer to get its drivers top-level prototype experience prior to Porsche’s arrival in LMDh, which it has been evaluating.
Vanthoor, who has long expressed interest in prototype racing, admitted he ‘shot the idea’ of driving in DPi next year to Porsche’s head of factory motorsport Pascal Zurlinden although said he hadn’t received a reply.
The reigning GTLM champion admitted that “everything’s unclear” for him and his current teammates at the moment.
“It’s a situation where we don’t really know what’s going to happen,” Vanthoor said in a videoconference with media last month.
“For sure it’s no secret at all — the same for Earl — that our dream is to go LMDh in the future. But unfortunately that’s still a couple of years away.
“It’s very unclear. Every week you hear something else. I think Porsche doesn’t really know themselves [about LMDh].”
The Belgian said he would be open to a DPi drive next year, if given Porsche’s blessing.
Vanthoor has previous experience in LMP2 machinery, having made his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut in an OAK Racing Ligier JS P2 Honda and one year later with Michael Shank Racing.
MSR is one of a number of teams linked to possibly fielding Acura ARX-05 DPis next year amid Team Penske’s exit from the factory program.
“I would like to do DPi for sure,” Vanthoor said. “It’s a step to LDMh but I do feel that with everything happening, and things also changing at Porsche, the best shot for my future is at Porsche,
“Maybe I’ll have to go to a year of something that I’ve wanted to do a little bit less than what I dreamed of to, then hopefully do LMDh. I hope [Porsche] will able to tell me soon.
“In general the driver market at the moment is probably not very easy because we’re not the only program that’s stopping around the world and there’s a lot of good drivers around.”
Porsche LMDh Debut in 2022 ‘Not Realistic’
Zurlinden, meanwhile, has indicated that Porsche would not likely be ready to make its LMDh debut in 2022, should the manufacturer receive an official go-ahead on the program.
It would result in at least a two-year gap between the end of Porsche’s GTLM effort in the WeatherTech Championship and a possible LMDh effort that could launch in 2023.
Zurlinden stressed that a decision on LMDh has still not been made.
“Looking at the decision point of view, if we get a [board] decision around December, then if you want to race in January 2022 you would have to have a finished car by June , which is not so realistic,” he told Sportscar365.
“For us, the timeline is independent to when the regulations will start.”
IMSA Denies Claims of LMDh Being Delayed to 2023
There has been mounting speculation that the rollout of the LMDh platform will be delayed until 2023, although IMSA President John Doonan has denied the claims that multiple team owners have indicated to Sportscar365 that the decision has already been taken.
“We continue to hope that it might be possible for 2022,” Doonan said. “However, anybody looking at the news now is that the core auto industry, just like every other business on the planet, has been impacted.
“The market will speak, meaning the manufacturers will speak. I don’t think any of us at IMSA or the ACO are interested in drawing a line in the sand.”
Sportscar365 understands that the final LMDh regulations will be announced at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Daniel Lloyd contributed to this report