Penske and Porsche are two names in motorsport that belong together like peanut butter and jelly. Neither of these two entities are known to take half measures when it comes to anything, but particularly on the race track. Dating all the way back to the 1950s, Roger Penske has raced Porsche-powered machines, but particularly sports prototype cars. Back in the 1970s they paired for the all-conquering 917 Can Am program, and much more recent they worked together on the RS Spyder LMP2 program between 2005 and 2008. Over a decade later, it’s time for another run at Penske Porsche prototypes applying to the FIA and IMSA LMDh ruleset.
While Porsche and Penske aren’t quite ready for showtime in 2022, the new Porsche hybrid prototype will be ready for action in the 2023 season. To get a leg up on the competition before that powder keg sets off in a couple years, Penske have bought and will operate a standard non-hybrid LMP2 class car for next season, according to a report from Racer. You can’t just jump into the 24 Hours of Le Mans, 24 Hours of Daytona, or 12 Hours of Sebring without any experience with modern equipment. Especially when your competition is factory-backed racing efforts from Toyota, Ferrari, Audi, Lamborghini, Acura, Peugeot, Alpine, BMW, and Cadillac, among others.
There is more to get accustomed to in a new race car than just getting it to go fast. The Penske team will have a trial run at planning, logistics, strategy, pit stop work, and re-acquainting themselves with European-rules racing rulebooks. Knowing how Penske likes to prepare, there will be plenty of time between now and Porsche’s first race in LMDh, likely the Daytona 24 in January 2023, to get everything into place. They don’t call the team’s efforts Penske Perfect for nothing.
Penske has picked up a fresh set of Oreca-built 07s to race in LMP2 in 2022 and develop into the Porsche LMDh for 2023. That same Oreca chassis will serve as the backbone for Porsche’s turbocharged V8 hybrid machine, so it makes sense that Penske would learn the ins and outs of one of the most successful chassis in LMP2. Last week Team Penske ran a lengthy test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (also owned by Roger Penske) that went well past sundown. While it had been rumored for months, Penske finally acknowledged in public that the team would run a 2020 WEC effort.
“With the commitment that we have with Porsche for ‘23 and beyond, you just can’t show up and be ready to run,” Penske told Racer Magazine. “So we purchased the LMP2 car, and expect to enter it in some races and compete at Le Mans as a training ground for us for ’23.”
“We were shaking down the car with some drivers not to be identified at this point. Just to get a feel for the car and the team. These are guys that worked on the Acura Team Penske program, and we were just trying to get people back on their feet after the IndyCar season. And we’ve done a couple of days of testing and it was well worthwhile. And we have more to do.”
“Our plan would be to run as many as we can up through June in Le Mans, for sure. And then, depending on where we are in the development of the LMDh car, we may take a look at a race or two at the end of the season. There’s lots of options.
“And I think the first thing is getting the guys’ sea legs back and getting the driver line-up solidified. And we’re really excited about it. It’s a big undertaking. But you know, we’ve got good, experienced people, and this is going to be a lot of fun to try and accomplish a goal with Porsche we’ve never accomplished, and that’s winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the next few years.”
Right now it’s fun to speculate as to who might drive the Penske LMP2 in 2022. The Penske team has two recent prototype titles in current-spec IMSA DPi with Acura, winning in 2019 and 2020. That team made use of a slew of former and current IndyCar talent — namely Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves, Alex Rossi, Graham Rahal, and Simon Pagenaud — along with superstar sports car names Ricky Taylor and Dane Cameron. Since the end of the 2020 season, Penske has managed to burn bridges with Montoya, Castroneves, and Pagenaud. Taylor and Cameron have stayed onboard with Acura after the company split with Penske ahead of the Porsche announcement.
Meanwhile Porsche has lost some of its most talented racers in the time since it effectively discontinued factory-backed efforts outside of the WEC. Without an IMSA program or a prototype to race anywhere in the world, Nick Tandy left for the Corvette squad, and Earl Bamber recently ditched to race Cadillac prototypes with Chip Ganassi.
Right now Porsche’s factory squad looks like this:
• Gianmaria Bruni
• Matt Campbell
• Romain Dumas
• Kevin Estre
• Mathieu Jaminet
• Neel Jani
• Richard Lietz
• Patrick Long
• Andre Lotterer
• Frederic Makowiecki
• Thomas Preining
• Simona de Silvestro
• Laurens Vanthoor
• Pascal Wehrlein
From these names, I think Lotterer, Jani, and Dumas are still among the most talented car development hands out there, and it might make sense for them to be involved in developing the LMDh program. Guys like Kevin Estre, Vanthoor, and Fred Mako are reliable quick racers, and could anchor any Porsche effort. With Penske involved, there’s an opportunity for some IndyCar talent to bleed over into Porsche’s program as well. Aussie Will Power is still a massively talented driver in open wheel, but he is over 40 now, and might be thinking about a slightly less aggressive career path in sports cars. He would certainly be a welcome addition, and I’d love to see him in Porsche gear.
There’s no telling yet much about this Penske Porsche program, but you can tell that it will be right and it will be ready. 2023 can’t get here fast enough.