P orsche is filling three out of six places in its LMP1 program for 2017. Mark Webber ended his racing career at the end of this season. André Lotterer replaces the Australian. The 2011, 2012 and 2014 Le Mans winner comes from Audi. As is well known, the plug was pulled there for the LMP program.
Porsche occupies new cockpits in the 919 Hybrid
The change was announced at the 'Night of Champions' motorsport gala in Weissach and was no longer a surprise. Lotterer is considered one of the best drivers in the WEC. And after the Audi shutdown, Porsche is definitely the top port of call for drivers in the World Sports Car Championship. The car has been better than the Toyota for years.
Lotterer isn't the only new driver for the coming season. Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas have to leave the team. To achieve this, Porsche is pulling its GT works drivers Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber into the LMP1 program. In the same train, the two cockpits are redistributed: Lotterer takes turns with Tandy and Neel Jani in the Porsche 919 Hybrid with the starting number one. In 2016, Jani was still driving the number 2 919 Hybrid. New Zealanders Bamber and Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard are responsible for the sister car on the track. The last two named were still on the road in a single Porsche in 2016. The promotion of Tandy and Bamber is also accompanied by changes in the Porsche GT works driver squad. Dirk Werner, Laurens Vanthoor and Sven Müller are new.
The sorted out Lieb and Dumas remain under contract with the company, but are entrusted with new tasks. Nice PR language to belittle the loss of the coveted racing seat. Lieb should switch to the field of international customer sport.
The end of Lieb and Dumas did not meet with understanding everywhere in the scene. Porsche sorts out two world champions with them. Both of them won big together with Jani this season. First the victory in Le Mans (18th for Porsche), then the drivers' title in the WEC. Their problem was the strong performance of the Porsche with starting number 1 around Webber, Hartley and Bernhard. The three drivers had bad luck at Silverstone, Spa and Le Mans at the beginning of the year. After the 24h race, however, they saw it off when the technology finally held up. The trio won four of the remaining six WEC races.
Lieb, Dumas and Jani pulled from their pad of points, which they had built up mainly through the victory at Le Mans. There were 50 instead of the usual 25 counters. But you have to give them credit: Unlike their teammates, they had to go to the secondDrive more carefully halfway through the season and avoid any risk. Webber, Hartley and Bernhard could attack freely: After all, it was all about individual victories for them. The World Cup train was gone at the start of the season.
Two Le Mans winners with Tandy and Bamber?
Those familiar with the scene also say that Jani was a small step ahead of his two team-mates in terms of speed. In contrast, the driver pairing Webber, Hartley and Bernhard was more balanced.
Tandy and Bamber are already very familiar with the 919 Hybrid. The duo won the Le Mans 24h race with Nico Hülkenberg in 2015. At that time, like Audi, Porsche used a third vehicle. In 2016 it was decided, like Toyota, to reduce to two cars in order to save costs. Both Bamber and Tandy were already part of the Porsche works driver pool. Both competed in the LMGTE Pro 2016 at Le Mans in the 911 RSR. Both drove in the American IMSA.
The driver market in the WEC could be thrown even further. Toyota is considering sending three cars to Le Mans in 2017 - especially after the technical changes to the regulations planned for 2018 are to be postponed after the Audi shutdown. A third Toyota TS050 Hybrid opens up new possibilities. Porsche could be forced to do the same as the Japanese. Because you would be at a disadvantage with two versus three cars. Because the route on the Sarthe likes to eat its favorites: due to technical breakdowns or driver errors due to poor concentration. You'd rather have an extra iron in the fire with a third LMP racer. There is already movement at Toyota itself: Touring Car Champion José-Maria Lopez is vehemently associated with the Japanese, even if you only use two cars.