Mark Webber will slam the door shut on his Formula One career straight after his final race in Brazil on Sunday. He joins Porsche on Monday morning to spearhead the company's attack on sports car racing and will test its all-new Le Mans challenger before Xmas.
Webber has been given an early release from Red Bull Racing and had a top-secret seat fitting at Porsche's race base at Weissach in Germany last week. He had been expected to continue his F1 commitments until the end of the year but an early exit has been arranged, possibly helped by a personal sponsorship deal with Red Bull that continues into his new career with Porsche.
"We are very lucky that Mark will join us one day after the Formula One race in Sao Paulo," the CEO of Porsche, Matthias Muller, reveals exclusively to Carsguide. "I met him last week when he had the seat fitting. We are very happy to have him."
Webber will lead Porsche's attack and was targeted by the company more than a year ago to lead its return to Le Mans, a race it has won a record 16 times. He made the decision to retire from F1 and switch to sports cars during the off-season break and revealed his decision to friends and family before he started the Australian Grand Prix in March.
Webber has had a difficult time at Le Mans, failing to start in his first effort at the twice-around-the-clock French classic with Mercedes-Benz in 1998 after an engine blow-up and then back-flipping twice in 1999 in a Benz that was too fast and flighty for its own good. He was lucky to escape without injury from two massive shunts where he could easily have been killed.
This time around, Muller says Porsche is doing everything it can to be successful next June, starting from an early test with Webber.
"I suppose it is in December," he reveals. But the company will be up against its big brother in the Volkswagen empire, the Audi prestige brand that has won Le Mans 12 times, and Toyota.
"Of course, we expect that we are competivie but we have to say that with Audi and Toyota we have strong competition. They have a lot of experience," Muller says. "We have a very fast car and a very good drivers' team, so we have to see what happens. Of course, we want to be competitive and we will see during the race whether it is possible to win.
Porsche has yet to reveal its full driving roster for Le Mans, but there is likely to be a strong Anzac connection with young New Zealader Brendan Hartley in strong contention for a place alongside Webber. He has already tested for Porsche and had been a member of the Red Bull Junior squad, rising to an F1 test driver with Toro Rosso, before being passed over by the team's talent spotters in favour of Daniel Ricciardo, the young Aussie who replaces Webber next year at Red Bull Racing.
This reporter is on Twitter: @paulwardgover