Posrche step away from LMP1, but LMP2 & GTE thrive
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Recent headlines from the FIA World Endurance Championship have focused on Porsche's decision to withdraw from the series at the end of 2017 and paint an uncertain picture for the championship.
Porsche's exit from the top prototype class follows Audi's departure at the end of 2016 and the focus of rulemakers and series organisers is currently on revamping the prototype regulations in a way that keeps Toyota Hybrid Racing involved as the sole factory team while boosting the performance of non-hybrid LMP1 cars to a competitive level.
But look below the top layer of the WEC and there remains a strong LMP2 category and GT racing where there is growing manufacturer involvement.
The FIA World Endurance GTE-Pro category already enjoys participation from full-factory Aston Martin, Porsche and Ford teams and also from Ferrari via the factory-aligned AF Corse outfit, while for the 24 Hours of Le Mans the Corvette Racing squad makes the trip from North America to make it a five-marque battle.
The Chip Ganassi Racing-run Ford programme continues next season, the Porsche GTE-Pro effort is unaffected by the decision to quit the top prototype category and the announcement of a new Aston Martin endurance racer based on the DB11 -- replacing the long-serving Vantage V8 GTE -- is imminent.
BMW joins the GTE fray next year while speculation about more brands joining the GTE category has hinted at possible Lamborghini, McLaren and Honda programmes.
BMW Motorsport used last week's IAA Motor Show in Frankfurt to remove the camouflage from its new M8 GTE endurance race contender that will take the marque back to the 24 Hours of Le Mans next year as well as contesting the FIA World Endurance Championship and the IMSA Weathertech Sport Car Championship in North America.
The new racer is scheduled to make its debut in the GT-LM class of the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January, the race debut coming ahead of the production model reaching the market.
BMW has confirmed the M8 GTE is powered by a TwinPower Turbo V8 engine of 4.0-litre displacement with its V8 front-engine layout similar to Aston Martin and Corvette while contrasting the mid-engined configuration used by Ferrari, Porsche and Ford.
The other key development for the World Endurance Championship has been the announcement of the shift to a "winter calendar", with a 2018-19 extended "super season" being the transition method for moving the championship away from a calendar year timescale.
The provisional calendar sees eight races in the 2018-19 World Championship including two visits to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The championship will start with the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium on May 5 before the 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 16-17.
The other races in 2018 are the 6 Hour races at Silverstone (August 19), Fuji (October 21) and Shanghai (November 18). The three races scheduled in the first half of 2019 are at Sebring (March 16-17), Spa-Francorchamps (May 4) with the final at Le Mans (June 15-16).
It's expected the following FIA World Endurance Championship season will run through the second half of 2019 and first half of 2020.