When Porsche Supercup champion Philipp Eng signed for BMW over the winter, it looked as though Porsche had allowed the Austrian to slip the net. But with Eng set to make his Le Mans debut at the works-supported Proton-Dempsey Racing outfit next week, it appears nothing will stop Porsche from getting their man…
“I don’t know exactly how it came about. It all happened in the background, I had nothing to do with the negotiations. Then I just got the call that I would have the chance to do Le Mans, I had the clearance from BMW and that was it. When I finally talked to Porsche, we found a good solution to do it, I was really surprised actually.”
As circumstances go to make your Le Mans 24 Hours debut, Philipp Eng’s are rather extraordinary. After two years of showing some very respectable names – including Porsche junior Sven Müller, Nicki Thiim and Christian Engelhart – a clean pair of heels first in the Carrera Cup Deutschland and then in Porsche Supercup, Eng was finally given a test in a works Porsche 911 RSR GTE at Bahrain last November.
However, with both Porsche’s LMP1 and factory GTE programmes downsizing in the wake of the VW emissions scandal, opportunities with the Stuttgart manufacturer were limited and it wasn’t long before Eng signed with their Bavarian cousins at BMW.
Yet despite the very considerable possibility that BMW would flatly refuse, Porsche weren’t prepared to let Eng slip and pursued him for their works-supported Proton-Dempsey Racing line-up to join reigning WEC GT Drivers champion Richard Lietz and Michael Christensen for the 24 Hours. With none of their cars entered in the race, BMW agreed and so Eng finds himself in the enviable position of making his debut alongside a three-time Le Mans class winner, in a car which is well-proven at this level. It’s like Christmas, Birthday, the National Lottery and Premium Bonds have all come in at once.
— Porsche Motorsport (@PorscheRaces) June 5, 2016
“It’s pretty crazy, I was obviously really happy when I got the news,” he said. “I watched the race for almost ten years and it was always my dream to drive it, so it was an amazing feeling to do the first couple of laps at the test day. Thankfully I didn’t embarrass myself!
“Richie is a three-time GT class winner so it was really helpful to get all his experience and his advice as I haven’t been in a Porsche since November. Although the history books don’t show it, Michael to me is World Champion as well, he just missed a race to compete in the US last year. They both two amazing drivers, I know Michael from Porsche Supercup and I am really happy that he is my team-mate because he is very quick, racing against him was not nice!
“We all got along very well at the test, we speak the same language and in the end it worked out well. I found my way around the circuit and I got to know the traffic, which is going to be a key factor.”
— Proton Competition (@ProtonRacing) June 5, 2016
Le Mans rookie though he may be, Eng is old and wise enough to know that nothing is gained from making bold predictions beforehand. That being said, the Austrian isn’t just turning up to take part. Being partnered with Lietz and Christensen comes with its own pressures and Eng knows that banking solid points towards their championship is just as important as the result itself.
“With all the Balance of Performance, nobody really knows what the pace is going to be like. If you go by the laptimes at the test, it’s ridiculously close, everybody is almost within the same second,” he said. “To start with an established car is always an advantage, first of all it’s about finishing the race without any technical problems and touch wood, that’s all sorted on the car. You never know with a 24 hour race, but they’ve done everything possible to have a reliable car.
“My goal is to make no mistakes, hopefully finish on the podium and help Michael and Richie score important points for the World Championship, because Le Mans counts for double points. I think that’s realistic. I’m not even thinking about the win, if it comes then good, but it’s always hard to predict!”
To read the five things you should look out for at Le Mans, with guest analysis from Jonny Cocker, click here.