Why should any of us care about Audi's plans for this year? I’ll tell you why. Audi has announced they will not compete in the American LeMans Series (ALMS) P1 category after the 12 Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh From Florida in 2009. Audi’s announcement played no small part in Porsche’s decision to abstain from any factory-based efforts in the Prototype class. Despite the fact that the two manufactures have competed in different classes, it is no secret that Porsche’s competitiveness has been more than a thorn in Audi’s vulnerable side.
Porsche (Penske in particular) has enjoyed great success not only in class, but in numerous overall victories as well. Audi will pound the Le Sarthe pavement with the R15 at 24 Hours of LeMans, but will there be RS Spyders biting at a P2 victory? Certainly it won’t be the bright yellow DHL Penske cars for two reasons; The Captain (Penske) would only want to show up if he could win outright, but he knows the speed and mileage of the Audi diesels is too great. Second, DHL, a German company, has announced it will be closing its US-based operations (you can thank Lehman Brothers for that one).
Instead, Roger Penske will team up with Porsche again at 2009’s GrandAm Rolex Championship, this time with a Riley Mk XX Daytona prototype piloted by Porsche factory drivers Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas, who join forces again for the full season. The prototype’s powerplant will be a 4.0 flat-six, likely mated to a 6-speed sequential box. (This motor is said to be related to a 911 flat-six and could very well become a variant we see in upcoming Porsche street cars). The ‘09 Spirit of Daytona car will return with its Porsche Cayenne GTS-based V8 engine, the only one in the field. The test bed will be great to watch, although we will not have the benefit of a head-to-head comparison as the ‘09 car is a Coyote chassis.
In some ways, the transition away from prototypes seems like one more rational executive decision from the well-oiled business machine Porsche has proven to be, particularly in current hard times for for the automotive industry. Wolfgang Duerheimer, member of the Executive Board for Research and Development at Porsche, said, "despite Porsche's success with prototypes, the 911 continues to be the emphasis at Porsche Motorsport." Indeed, its decades-long 911 platform is now and will continue to be the manufacturer's main focal point in racing. Accordingly, the 911 has lived up to its expectations: it is the most successful and well-known GT-class car in road racing.
Now, not only will there be no Porsche Factory presence at ALMS, but Dyson Racing and Mazdaspeed Motorsports have announced a long term partnership to replace the Porsche RS Spyder. Together with BP Energy company, they will run two Lola LMP2 coupes with 2.0L Turbo MZ engines prepared by AER.
What do Porsche fans have to look forward to in '09?
Plenty: veritable juggernauts, multiple cars and multiple series.
In ALMS, the victorious Flying Lizard Motorsports team will have the tall factory shoe Joerg Bergmeister returning in the #45 car joined by lone American Porsche Factory driver Patrick Long. As some of you may recall, they have enjoyed great success together in previous years at ALMS (most notably the Championship in ’05 and Grand Am Rolex Series 2007). The #46 car will feature team principal Seth Neiman, Darren Law and Johannes Van Overbeek.
Wolf Henzler, who raced with the Lizards last year, steps out of the Championship winning # 45 car in 2009. Instead, he’ll hop into the Farnbacher-Loles Racing GT3RSR, solidifying their Porsche Factory partnership in the GT2 class. Wolf will team with fellow Porsche SuperCup winner Dirk Werner, who brought Farnbacher-Loles their first Grand AM Championship in 2007. Henzler and Richard Westbrook (yet another factory driver ) will team up for the Rolex 24 of Daytona, complimenting Dirk Werner and Porsche Club of America alum Leh Keen in the GT class.
Porschenomics Trickle Down Theory
One thing the economy certainly seems to be doing is absolutely stacking the Porsche driver lineups--good news for motorsport fans everywhere. In February, I’ll offer a motorsport viewing guide to help you better enjoy the changes and challenges coming your way. Get set, program the TiVo…and go!
Christian M. Maloof is Track Chairman and Chief Instructor for Porsche Club of America’s Rally Sport Region. He holds instructor certificates and race licenses from the MidOhio School and Skip Barber. He races a Porsche 993 3.8 RS in the German Touring Car Series (GTS) division with NASA. He may be reached at email@example.com or by visiting christianmaloof.com.