Porsche won the top prize at the Le Mans 24 hour endurance race for a record setting 19th time this past weekend. Its 919 Hybrid LMP 1 cars won the race of attrition after the faster entries from Toyota were sidelined with mechanical issues halfway through the race. In fact, Porsche’s winning car limped across the line as its drivers were forced to drive very conservatively in the final hours to avoid overstressing the hybrid electric powertrain.
After the race, Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda suggested that the 24 hour contest may be too rigorous for hybrid technology, as both Toyota and Porsche experienced mechanical issues with the electric motors that are such a vital part of the powertrain under current Le Mans rules. Nevertheless, Toyoda pledged his company would continue in its quest to win at the La Sarthe circuit.
Porsche To Formula E?
Recently, rumors have surfaced that Porsche may be thinking of ending it endurance racing effort and move its competition program to Formula E. According to a report by Autosport, Porsche CEO Oliver Blume, board member Michael Steiner, and its LMP 1 team technical chief, Andreas Seidl, met with Alejandro Agag, the CEO and founder of Formula E, in Monaco during the race weekend at that storied venue last month.
“We received an invitation [to Monaco] from Alejandro Agag to have a look and experience Formula E for the first time,” Seidl told Autosport during the Le Mans weekend. “We just had an invitation to an interesting series, though maybe there are not enough technical freedoms yet.”
Formula E rules have strictly limited innovation by the participating teams during the first seasons in an effort to keep costs down and attract interest from various teams. The entire series could operate for a year on the budget Mercedes has for its Formula One engine program alone.
Formula E Rule Changes
Starting in the series’s fifth season, which begins in the fall of 2018, the rules will be broadened considerably. Gone will be the batteries supplied by Williams Advanced Engineering, which can only power the cars for about 30 minutes.
In today’s Formula E races, drivers must come into the pits and jump into another race car with a fully charged battery in order to complete the race. Starting in Season 5, the batteries will be supplied by a partnership between McLaren and Lucid Motors and will last for an entire one-hour race. Porsche actually bid to be the battery supplier but lost out to the McLaren/Lucid proposal.
After the conclusion of the Le Mans race last weekend, Andreas Seidl told Autosport that there was “no news” from the Porsche board about ending its endurance racing program. He said his company remains “committed” to the LMP 1 effort, although a final statement on that subject is expected later this year.
Manufacturers come and go in racing, depending on how they view the impact of their exploits on track to sales of automobiles. Porsche is deeply committed to bringing its Mission E all-electric, 4 door, all-wheel-drive sports car to market in 2019. Participating in Formula E beginning in the fall of 2018 might be a perfect opportunity for the company to highlight its commitment to electric cars.
If Porsche joins the Formula E circus, rumors suggest Ferrari might be inclined to become involved as well, even though the Maranello outfit has no active plans to manufacture an all electric car. Formula E is still in its infancy, but it is showing signs that one day it may actually compete for fans’ attention with Formula One, which is struggling to remain relevant as the transition to zero emissions cars picks up speed in the coming years.