With Porsche revealing the first part of its 2016 worldwide motorsports program over the weekend, confirmation of its six full-season FIA World Endurance Championship drivers continuing in the team’s pair of LMP1 cars, it completes one puzzle but opens the floodgates on another.
The question, simply, is where will all its remaining factory – or potential factory drivers waiting in the wings – wind up for next season?
Porsche’s irony is that the question of where its drivers will be placed comes following a dream season that saw it claim both WEC and IMSA championships, driver and manufacturer, and the overall win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the first time in 17 years.
To run down the list, start first with the six retained in the WEC. Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley have their World Championship, and Romain Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb stay together in the second car.
These six fit the mold of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and thus Porsche is opting for continuity on the driver front for the third straight year, in arguably its flagship entry across its primary forms of motorsport.
When we get to the GTE stars and veterans, that’s where things get a bit trickier.
Start here with the two drivers perhaps left most in the lurch as a result of Saturday’s news that Porsche would not be running a third car at Le Mans, in Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber.
The consternation for more than a month, really, since an FIA calendar shift brought the new European Grand Prix at Baku onto the same weekend as Le Mans was what would happen to Nico Hulkenberg. If he couldn’t join Tandy and Bamber, who would?
But now news has come that the third car, which was all-but-confirmed as late as the Shanghai weekend just a month ago, has now been dropped from racing altogether at Le Mans.
With no disrespect to Hulkenberg, it’s full-time sports car factory aces Tandy and Bamber who have been left blindsided and overlooked by the manufacturer in their quest to repeat at the world’s most iconic sports car race.
Yes, you can say it’s a business decision and yes, you have to admit the VW Group’s emissions scandal that rocked the company has played a part in this decision.
It however ignores the human factor of what’s been lost as a result of this car drop. All three drivers have intriguing stories and now, indirectly, the legend of the 2015 win might grow because it was a one-off third car with a trio that won’t get a shot to repeat.
Half the reason Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Dindo Capello became so popular – besides their own respective abilities behind the wheel – was how well they complemented each other as a collective unit, as Audi’s star trio for the better part of the decade.
Porsche, in theory, has its own next generation of factory stars in Tandy and Bamber, and is now denying them the shot at an overall repeat before they can even grow to that level. A GTE-Pro opportunity, should it arise, would at least be a seat, but would lack the luster of the overall shot to win.
Speaking of GTE, that’s where the biggest dilemma for Porsche occurs, with most if not all its factory stars waiting to be placed next season.
The as-yet-unconfirmed but likely departure of the factory Porsche Team Manthey GTE-Pro effort for 2016 leaves several of its drivers – notably this year’s champion Richard Lietz – along with Michael Christensen and Fred Makowiecki without WEC homes at the moment.
The talk of Proton Competition stepping up into GTE-Pro could provide a landing spot for at least a couple factory drivers.
On the U.S. side, in the CORE autosport-run Porsche North America entries, this year’s drivers were primarily Tandy, Bamber, Joerg Bergmeister and then GT Le Mans champion Patrick Pilet.
Porsche never did name a full-season lineup for either car and the start of the year saw its own driver title hopes compromised – in theory – with a revolving door of a lineup unbecoming of a factory effort. Pilet overcame the points deficit as the year went on, but that didn’t seem possible in early summer.
The discontinuation of the Derrick Walker-led Team Falken Tire program leaves Wolf Henzler without a spot; Patrick Long, who raced fully in the WEC this year with Dempsey Proton Racing and the enduros with Falken, is also fully TBD.
In recent weeks, several drivers have also tested the Porsche 919 Hybrid for the first time.
Juan Pablo Montoya and Mitch Evans tested in Bahrain after the WEC finale, with Evans, Kevin Magnussen and Oliver Turvey having tested earlier in the month at Barcelona.
The fact they were testing to begin with seemed to preclude a possible race appointment for at least one of those four drivers, filling in for Hulkenberg.
The four recently named Porsche Junior drivers might need homes as well, as would recently crowned Supercup champion Philipp Eng, among others who have been Porsche-affiliated in recent years.
The knock-on effect that has in North America is the potential whereby factory drivers could be placed in privateer Porsche efforts.
2015 Pirelli World Challenge standout Ryan Dalziel was notified he wouldn’t return to EFFORT Racing; Spencer Pumpelly only recently found out he also wasn’t retained at Park Place Motorsports, despite winning twice in IMSA and five times elsewhere in 2015.
Both of their replacements are believed to be Porsche factory drivers.
It’s all added up to a conundrum of wondering and waiting where Porsche will place its factory aces in the seemingly dwindling number of factory opportunities.
All the while, its list of available talent at its own disposal continues to grow.
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