Webber to leave F1 for sportscar racing

Silverstone (England), June 27 (IANS) Formula 1 driver Mark Webber announced Thursday that he will make an exit from the sport at the end of the season and move on to sportscar racing.

The Red Bull driver will join Porsche's new sportscar programme in the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) and Le Mans 24 Hours, making the announcement just ahead of this weekend's British Grand Prix here.

The Australian signed a contract with Porsche that extends over several years where, starting next year, he will compete in the LMP1 sports prototype at Le Mans and in the sports car at WEC.

He is no stranger to sportscar racing having previously competed for Mercedes in 1998-99. The 36-year-old has already competed at Le Mans twice, finishing as a runner-up in the FIA GT Championship in 1998 at the wheel of a sports prototype.

"It's an honour for me to join Porsche at its return to the top category in Le Mans and in the sports car World Endurance Championship. Porsche has written racing history as a manufacturer and stands for outstanding technology and performance at the highest level," said Webber.

"I'm very much looking forward to this new challenge after my time in Formula 1. I can hardly wait to pilot one of the fastest sports cars in the world."

The 36-year-old Australian will join former Red Bull development driver Neel Jani of Switzerland at Porsche's LMP1 team along with Timo Bernhard (Germany) and Romain Dumas (France).

Webber's exit will mark an end to a 12-year relationship with F1 where he made his debut with Minardi (2002) before moving on Jaguar (2003, 2004). Webber then raced for Williams (2005, 2006) for a couple of years before joining his current team Red Bull (2007-present) where he has won nine Grands Prix. He also helped Red Bull clinch the Constructors' Championship for three consecutive years (2010-2012).

The Australian's exit will heighten speculation about who will partner triple World Champion Sebastian Vettel.

Although reports have repeatedly linked Lotus's Kimi Raikkonen to the seat, Red Bull already have several potential candidates including sister-team Toro Rosso's Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne.

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