At the end of last week Roger Penske officially announced what we’ve already reported in the latest issue of Motor Sport. After three successful years racing a pair of Porsche RS Spyders in the American Le Mans Series’ LMP2 category, the Penske-Porsche combination moves into the Grand-Am’s Daytona Prototype category in 2009 with a Porsche-powered Riley Mk XX. The new combination makes its debut at the Rolex 24 at Daytona at the end of January.
Porsche factory drivers Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas will be Penske’s primary drivers as they have been over the past three years in the ALMS. In that time, Bernhard and Dumas shared fourteen wins and took two LMP2 drivers’ championships with Penske. Both have raced multiple times at Daytona aboard factory Porsches with Bernhard scoring an overall win in 2003.
“We are proud to continue our long-standing relationship with Porsche,” Penske said. “We look forward to continue our considerable sports car success and our team is working hard to prepare for the first event at Daytona.”
Indeed, the team has been testing the 4-litre, flat-six-powered Riley with more testing planned over the next month and a half. The Penske team raced a rented Grand-Am car in last year’s Rolex 24 as a prelude to this latest Penske-Porsche combination.
Ryan Briscoe, now established as one of Penske’s two IRL drivers, is expected to join Bernhard and Dumas at Daytona. The fourth driver for the Rolex 24 will probably come from either Patrick Long, Helio Castroneves, or the latter’s replacement if Penske takes a decision to dump the Brazilian who’s in serious trouble with the USA’s federal tax authorities.
Penske and Porsche’s departure from the ALMS comes after three very successful years. The contract called for a three-year program and the combination won both the P2 drivers and engine manufacturers championships the last two years despite strong competition from Acura. Mission accomplished, Penske and Porsche now take on the rival Grand-Am series amid rumours of a return to the ALMS in two or three years with a hybrid-powered car.
Another factor in the conclusion of the ALMS program was the departure from the American market of sponsor DHL. The German-based international freight company was the primary sponsor of Penske’s Porsche Spyders for the last three years but amid the global financial crisis DHL ceased all operations in the United States last month and closed its headquarters in Ohio.
As Alex Gurney said in this space last week the Daytona Prototype category is looking a little healthier than it appeared earlier in the autumn following the early days of the market meltdown. Penske’s formal announcement of his new partnership with Porsche is a shot in the arm for the Grand-Am series while the ALMS will surely feel the loss of Penske and Porsche. The ALMS folks in Braselton, Georgia, where the ALMS is headquartered, will be hoping there’s substance to the rumours about a future Penske/Porsche hybrid ALMS car.