Australian star to bow out at the season’s end
Waning motivation was a primary factor in Mark Webber’s decision to retire at the end of this season, after three-years with Porsche in the World Endurance Championship.
The winner of nine Grands Prix with Red Bull Racing, Webber switched to the WEC from Formula 1 after the 2013 season and has revealed that he was increasingly asking himself “Do I need to do this any more?”
The 40-year-old said: “I’m waking up a bit more often on race weekends thinking I might prefer to be somewhere else. That’s not good. When you are asking yourself why you are in the car, it is time to stop.
“I can’t do it half-heartedly because I’m in a team environment and that wouldn’t be fair. I can’t turn around and say, ‘I don’t want to go to Aragon to test, can the guys do the work?’ Porsche has been brilliant in managing my batteries, the exposure to the workload, but I can’t request any more.”
The basis of his decision to retire was made as early as the Spa WEC round in May, but wasn’t set in stone until the end of the summer. He had an option to extend his original three-year deal beyond the end of the current WEC season, but will instead move into an ambassadorial role with Porsche.
Le Mans: No regrets
Webber won the WEC title with team-mates Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley last season, but failed to claim the biggest prize in sports car racing by winning the Le Mans 24 Hours. He insisted that he had no regrets in walking away from the cockpit with a best result of second place from 2015 in the French endurance classic.
He also draws great satisfaction from his role in developing the Porsche 919 Hybrid LMP1 car that triumphed in 2015 and ’16. “Part of me won Le Mans because I know I developed the car,” he said. “If I didn’t have my F1 results, it might be a bit different, but I am very comfortable with what I have done with Porsche.
“Le Mans was exceptional for me this year in terms of performance: I was pretty much the fastest Porsche driver. This year was clarification that I did everything I could. I could go for another five years, and always have a technical issue. That’s the race.”
Webber admitted, however, that “Maybe the race and I didn’t love each other. It is an incredible event, but I just didn’t love the whole two-week experience to be honest. Going there every year 10 days before the start, I was thinking, ‘Let’s just get the race going’.”
One-off returns ruled out
Webber has effectively ruled out competing again and says he has no interest in racing a Porsche GT.
“I’ve driven in F1 and now the 919 Hybrid, so some of the fastest racing cars in the world,” he said. “I’m not being arrogant, but why would I want to drive anything else? I can’t see myself getting the urge to race a GT car.
“The Dakar Rally has been mentioned, but I think it is unlikely. I love motorbikes, but I would never race one. I think racing is pretty much done for me. I will come and watch.”
Tandy and Bamber head queues
Porsche GT drivers Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber, who were part of the winning line-up at Le Mans in 2015 alongside F1 star Nico Hülkenberg, are at the “front of the queue” to take the seat vacated by Webber for next season, according to LMP1 team principal Andreas Seidl.
“We have the luxury of having two Le Mans winners on our GT programme,” he said. “That they were able to win Le Mans with only one preparation race [at Spa] is incredible and shows that they would both be able to do a good job.”
Briton Tandy and New Zealander Bamber, who joined the P1 squad in an third 919 Hybrid for the 24 Hours last year, are both racing full-time in the IMSA SportsCar Championship in the US this year. They returned to Le Mans in June with Porsche’s GTE Pro squad because Porsche did not run a third P1 car.
Seidl said that there would be no decision on filling any vacancies until the end of the season and no announcement until December or January.
No third cars at Le Mans
Porsche and sister marque Audi have both ruled out running three cars at Le Mans again in 2017. They each axed their additional entries for the 24 Hours in the name of cost reduction in the wake of last winter’s ‘dieselgate’ emissions row.
Seidl explained that a return to entering an extra car in addition to its pair of regular WEC entries was “not a topic for discussion”.
Audi Sport boss Wolfgang Ullrich said: “We have reorganised our structure for two cars. It would not be an efficient use of resources to restructure from three to two and then go from two back to three.”
Toyota has yet to decide whether it will decide to expand its WEC squad for Le Mans. It has made two entries each season since its return to top-line sportscar racing in 2012, claiming that it does not want to divert resources away from car development.
Should Toyota stick with its traditional two-car assault, there will most likely be no more than seven LMP1s on the 60-car grid for Le Mans next year. The Anglo-Swiss Rebellion Racing team, the top privateer in the WEC, has announced its intention to step down to the LMP2 category for 2017.
The only non-factory team with plans to compete in P1 next season is the Germany-based ByKolles squad. It
is again expecting to run a solo CLM-AER P1/01.
Rebellion’s decision comes despite rule changes designed to bring the privateers closer to the factory cars over the course of the next two seasons. Le Mans and WEC promoter the Automobile Club de l’Ouest has stated that encouraging more independents into the P1 class is a top priority for 2018.
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