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No Borders Here…………Bill Oursler looks at the levees

Excuse me if I sound confused. Over the past year the tail, in this case Porsche, may not have been wagging the dog, hereafter known as Volkswagen AG, but to be sure it now controls the hound, having already purchased a controlling 31 per cent interest in the giant auto maker. Moreover, if one is a true believer, the “little guys” are in the process of putting together a financial package that will allow them to purchase another 20 per cent of Volkswagen stock for an uncontestable 51 per cent interest in VW.

Now, all of this may appear rather dull to us sports car racing freaks; you know that kind of business reporting which comes as a couple of lines in our nightly news programs and puts us to sleep better than any pill. Unfortunately, while we may ignore these going-ons as having nothing to do with our racing passions, the fact is that we do so at our peril. Of course, that narrow focus is rampant in many fields. However, for the racing community, it seems to be something of a badge to be proudly displayed. Ignorance it seems is bliss for far too many motorheads.

In case you haven’t noticed, the automobile business, especially in the United States, and to some degree, the European Community, is in a state of turmoil as it struggles to sell cars in a shaky economic climate while at the same time trying to re-invent itself to meet the challenges of global warming and the pressures of reducing the dependence of its products on oil – whose supply issues are about on par with today’s economic matters in terms of shakiness.

What in the wide world of sports is going on here?

When times are troubled, the first thing to go are what many perceive as “frills,” motorsport being among them for folks like Wendelin Wiedeking, who has said many times that he considers racing a financial “black hole.” And, why you say is his opinion important? The answer is simple: Wiedeking is the man who runs Porsche for the Piech and Porsche families, and, as such is the man who will be making decisions soon, if not already at VW, and its subsidiaries such as Audi.

In the movie “The Right Stuff,” there is a line that goes: “No bucks; no Buck Rogers.” Wiedeking is the man who controls “the bucks,” or “Euros,” Audi and Porsche use to go racing. Put another way, Wiedeking is the man who can “giveth,” and is the man who can “taketh” them away. So, that’s why I’m confused.

Throughout the late fall and the early part of this winter, Dr. Ulrich, the head of AudiSport which is the organization that has developed the awesome turbocharged R10 diesel spyders that are run under the banner of its surrogates like Reinhold Joest and David Maraj’s Champion Racing, has demanded that the American Le Mans Series put the full 50 kilogram weight penalty on its LMP2 prototypes, this including the Penske Team RS Spyders which last year beat the Audis eight times in head-to-head competition.

On the other hand, the Porsche folks at Weissach have been equally insistent that if the ALMS does comply with the demands of Le Mans, from which it leases its technical regulations, Porsche will take its “marbles” and stay home. Now, if my silly mind reads the fine print, I thought the final decision as to who does what where will be made by the man who controls “the bucks.” And, as far as I can determine that individual is Wiedeking, not the engineers and team bosses at either Audi or Porsche.

So why am I listening to these guys. In fact, why are you?

Come out and play….

The R10 program is a commercially inspired enterprise on which VW has spend in the area of $250 to $350 million that is intended to help Volkswagen and its brands capture a large share of the diesel street market which is now increasing exponentially around the world. At the moment the R10 effort appears secure in light of the fact that Peugeot has put itself in the same diesel arena on the track in hopes of achieving the same street market objectives as has Volkswagen. Moreover, companies like Mercedes, Toyota, Honda, and even Ford, General Motors and Chrysler are all on the diesel bandwagon, although Detroit sees the United States as being from five to ten years behind the rest of the globe.

And, diesels are just the beginning. Unfortunately, Wiedeking and Porsche are not necessarily diesel lovers, with pronouncements that Porsche is not intending to go the diesel route. Thus, as long as Wiedeking can see the R10 being the promotional tool to increase diesel car profitability, it will stay. When he doesn’t, it will disappear. A hard line to be sure, but one typical of a man whose has boosted Porsche’s net annual profits by ten per cent a year for a numbers years, and in the process has made it the most profitable auto maker in the world on a per unit basis.

Combine Wiedeking’s sometimes cold hearted decisiveness in ridding himself of that which might hurt the bottom line, and one has to wonder about the persistent rumors of efforts to get Porsche to build a LMP1 version of the RS Spyder. Some believe it makes sense. After all, they say, while the RS Spyder customer program will continue at least through 2009, the factory supported Penske deal will end at the conclusion of the 2008 ALMS campaign, this leaving Porsche’s engineers to concentrate on something new.

The French, are you here?

The problem is that according to the L’Automobile Club du L’Ouest, which runs the Le Mans enduro classic, the rules will change in 2010 from open topped racers back to the coupes of the past. Quite what the specifics of this changeover will be haven’t according to insiders, been completely worked out as yet. So again, why would Porsche even think about constructing a car to a set of as yet still uncertain rules?

And, even if the scriptures were firm, why would Wiedeking want to initiate a program that would in any manner tarnish, or diminish a multi-hundred million dollar effort intended to increase VW’s black ink? Porsche says it wants to sell up to 115,000 units for 2008. That is many times less than the figures for Volkswagen. In terms of profits and loses, it doesn’t now, nor will it in the future, make sense; certainly not to someone like Wiedeking.

Over to you Scott….

Indeed, it may well be that by the time the ALMS reaches its mid-season point, the LMP2 contingent could well find themselves saddled not with the 25 extra kilos they’ve be ordered to carry now, but the whole 50. And, as for the reduction in their fuel capacity, who knows what will happen there. Again, now that Audi is racing for the Piech and Porsche branches of the Porsche family, and now that Wiedeking is in charge of seeing to the brand’s financial health, does he really want to see Porsche beat Audi? If he were a passionate motorsport fan, perhaps yes. However, given that he is anything but a passionate advocate for racing, one suspects not.

Whatever the ALMS’ future, you can be sure that the head guy behind the desk will have a large say in how it turns out, no matter what bickering goes on by those who are now in effect his underlings.

                                                                      Bill Oursler
                                                                    February 2008

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