From another action-packed yet bizarre 24 Hours of Le Mans to Porsche’s withdrawal from LMP1 competition, the sports car racing season saw major storylines develop on and off the track.
Sportscar365 takes a look at the Top 10 stories from 2017:
10. Macau Pileup – Following Laurens Vanthoor’s flip-and-win from 2016, the FIA GT World Cup again made the end-of-year highlight reel, but this time for a massive pileup in the Qualifying Race that involved nearly three-quarters of the field and totaling millions of dollars of damage. Edoardo Mortara claimed victory once the race was resumed, with the Swiss driver going on to win the overall title on Sunday, although slightly mooted due to the carnage-filled opening race.
9. New GT4 Cars Debut – A number of manufacturers jumped on the GT4 bandwagon, with BMW debuting its M4 GT4 at the Hankook 24 Hours of Dubai, Audi taking the wraps off its GT4-spec R8 LMS at the Nürburgring 24 and Mercedes-AMG’s GT4 running in VLN. Both GM and Ford, meanwhile, also debuted GT4-homologated cars, with the Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R capturing the Pirelli World Challenge GTS championship and the Mustang GT4 claiming multiple wins in IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge competition.
8. Longtime Teams Close Up – The 2017 season saw an end of an era for a number of long-running sports car racing operations, with GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing, Stevenson Motorsports and SpeedSource all closing their doors, and legendary Porsche outfit Alex Job Racing ceasing its professional racing activities after nearly 30 years in top-level competition. Stevenson’s exit was marked by tragedy, with team owner Johnny Stevenson passing away suddenly less than two weeks following the team’s final race.
7. Cadillac Ends PWC Program – Following seven drivers’ championships, five manufacturers’ titles, 33 wins and 121 podium finishes, Cadillac ended its factory involvement in Pirelli World Challenge, bringing a decade-long run to an end for the Pratt & Miller-run squad. It came following Michael Cooper and Jordan Taylor’s SprintX crown in their Cadillac ATS-V.R this year, and has since opened the door for Callaway to enter the sprint race championship next year with its self-built Corvette C7 GT3-Rs.
6. Penske, Joest Join IMSA – A pair of powerhouse teams announced entries into the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship for 2018, with Team Penske firming up plans to run a pair of new Acura ARX-05 DPis and Joest Racing taking over Mazda’s factory DPi program with heavily revised Mazda RT24-P cars. Penske made its sports car racing return at Petit Le Mans with a Gibson-powered Oreca 07 LMP2 car, which was put on pole by Helio Castroneves and finished third in the race.
5. Bizarre 24 Hours of Le Mans – While Porsche claimed its third consecutive victory in the French endurance classic, it didn’t come easy, amid a crazy race that saw every LMP1 car hit trouble, with a LMP2 entry leading the race overall at one stage while during the No. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid’s comeback drive. Two of the three Toyota TS050 Hybrids retired, including a bizarre incident for the No. 7 car of Kamui Kobayashi, that triggered clutch failure for the car.
4. New-Gen LMP2s, DPis Debut – The highly anticipated new-for-2017 LMP2 platform debuted globally, first in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship alongside its new DPi formula, which proved to be one of the success stories of the year. Cadillac dominated the WeatherTech Championship, although Tequila Patron ESM’s Nissan Onroak DPi visited victory lane and Spirit of Daytona gave a global-spec LMP2 car its first victory in IMSA competition.
3. Alonso Tests Toyota, Set for Rolex 24 Debut – Alonso mania hit sports car racing, with the two-time Formula One World Champion testing Toyota’s LMP1 car at the Bahrain Rookie Test, as well as having been confirmed in United Autosports’ entry for January’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, in a story initially revealed by Sportscar365. The Spaniard has since been linked to a partial-season WEC program next season, around his likely 24 Hours of Le Mans debut with the Japanese manufacturer.
2. WEC Calendar, Regulations Overhaul – With its LMP1 hybrid class on the verge of collapse, major changes to the WEC were announced, with the championship evolving into a winter calendar, first with an 18-month ‘Super Season’ in 2018/19 that includes two editions of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Additionally, the FIA and ACO confirmed plans to combine LMP1 hybrid and non-hybrid competitors into a single category, which has since seen an influx of announcements from privateers stepping up to the top class.
1. Porsche Exits LMP1 – The sports car racing world was turned upside down in July when Porsche confirmed its exit from LMP1 competition at the end of the year, following months of speculation that the German manufacturer would shutter its factory hybrid program, despite one year remaining in its commitment. The announcement, less than one year after Audi’s withdrawal from top-level prototype competition, sent shockwaves through the WEC paddock and ultimately led to major changes to the globe-trotting championship for 2018 and beyond.