Vitaphone drops out of 24H with funding woes

Vitaphone drops out of 24H with funding woes

Vitaphone Racing had been looking forward to this year's Le Mans 24H, and challenging for an LM P2 class victory with the Porsche RS Spyder, but the team's hopes were finally dashed with the announcement from the Le Mans organizers ACO (Automobile...

Vitaphone Racing had been looking forward to this year's Le Mans 24H, and challenging for an LM P2 class victory with the Porsche RS Spyder, but the team's hopes were finally dashed with the announcement from the Le Mans organizers ACO (Automobile Club de l'Ouest) that the entry had been withdrawn.

Vitaphone Racing celebrating the 2008 FIA GT championship.
Photo by DPPI.

The German FIA-GT powerhouse team, run by Rafal Calafell, had entered an Aston Martin DBR9 in the LM GT1 class in the 2008 edition, but the effort was felled by a driveshaft failure in the early evening hours.

For this year, the team was looking to move up to the P2 class, and appeared to be a likely front-runner with one of the three privateer RS Spyder entries, the other two being Team Goh and last year's class runner-up, Team Essex. However, the plans finally fell apart with just six weeks to go before the June endurance classic.

"The Vitaphone Racing Team has officialised its withdrawal, as it was unable to find an agreement with Porsche to run an RS Spyder in LM P2 in the 2009 Le Mans 24 Hours," said the terse note from the ACO. "Thus, the German team will not be present at the compulsory free practice session on 10th June."

However, a reference to an "agreement with Porsche" appears to place the blame on the German manufacturer, when the reality is more complicated than that. Back in February, the ACO's announcement of the entry list included Vitaphone as the third RS Spyder, but the concurrent Porsche press release only announced the Team Goh and Team Essex entries.

"We were caught by surprise when we learned from the published entry list that the Vitaphone Racing Team had applied for a place on the grid of this year's 24H Le Mans race with a Porsche RS Spyder, as neither the team nor the ACO had informed us in advance about this project," explained Hartmut Kristen, the head of Porsche Motorsport.

In the last two months, Porsche and Vitaphone Racing tried to work out a way to enable the German team to run at Le Mans, with the required engineering support, Le Mans aero kit and spare parts, but with time running out, the project finally fell apart.

Team Essex Porsche RS Spyder at the 2008 Le Mans 24H.
Photo by Tom Haapanen.

"We immediately entered into negotiations with the Vitaphone Racing Team and we had several meetings with Mr. Bartels regarding this matter following the initial contact," Kristen continued. "We tried really hard to get a Vitaphone RS Spyder car on the grid, but at the end of the day the team was not able to find sufficient funding, although we had offered them a substantial support."

In retrospect, it appears that Vitaphone Racing's entry was a speculative one, with neither an agreement with Porsche worked out nor the funding in place. While the the agreement with the factory could have been worked out, the current economic climate likely killed Vitaphone's chances of securing sufficient sponsorship for the Le Mans venture.

With the withdrawal of the entry, ACO has now added a second entry for Team IMSA Performance Matmut, the French team now planning to run a pair of Porsche 911 GT3 RSRs.

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Series Le Mans
Teams IMSA Performance Matmut