When you think of Austin, Texas and the Circuit of the Americas, surely your first thought is torrential downpours and sheets of rain. Wait, that's not right. Usually races at the circuit are arid and hot, generally running trouble-free thanks to lots of runoff area and that wide uphill turn 1. This time, to turn a Texan phrase, the World Endurance Championship had a few hitches in their get along.
The 6 hour race in Texas got off to a fantastic start with the two Toyotas streaking off into the lead, clearly the match of the field. It looked like everything was already lined up in Toyota's corner, followed by the Audis, then the Porsches taking up the rear of the P1 field. In GTE Pro, the two Porsche 911 RSRs were content to move through the field as if they were one fluid unit. Apparently, Mother Nature didn't like that, and shook the whole field up like a little kid with a snow-globe.
At about an hour and a half into the race, the skies opened and a biblical flood ensued. More than a half-dozen cars were strewn about the circuit stuck in the gravel at the end of that lap, one of them was the #20 Porsche 919. This resulted in the entire race being red-flagged for almost an hour. By the time the 20 was pulled out of the gravel, it was well over a lap down and out of contention for the win. This immediately put Porsche one six-shooter down in the three-way draw. With a few bullets still in their #14 gun, Porsche didn't let their hopes sag even a little, holding out hope that Jani, Lieb, and Dumas could pull off their first WEC victory.
Thanks to Michelin's trick "slick intermediate" rain tires, Neel Jani put in some phenomenal laps after the restart, both holding off advances from the Toyotas behind, and pulling up equal to the Audis, and then passing both of them for the overall lead. The Porsche and the leading #2 Audi were on alternating fuel strategies, so after Jani handed over to Lieb, the lead was handed back to Audi, then Porsche regained when Audi would pit. This happened throughout the remainder of the race, and when Lieb came in for his final stop, he rejoined in second, knowing that the #2 Audi would need another splash of fuel before the finish.
Something, though we aren't sure what, happened to Lieb's charge after that final fateful pitstop, however. With the lead, and the all but assured victory within sight, Lieb had a wrench thrown into the works. The #14's power-supply unit was clearly not alright, and the car was well down on outright power. While he had been continually lapping the circuit in the 1:51-1:52 area before the stop, the best he could manage after the fact was in the 1:57-1:59 zone. Without the pace to catch the leader, let alone hold off attacks from behind, Lieb quickly dropped from second as they ran to an unsavory fourth behind both Audis and the #8 Toyota.
In the GTE-Pro class, the 91 and 92 looked great after the re-start from the red-flag period. Both cars were working well, and they quickly moved into the lead of their class with just under three hours remaining in the race. The fight to get past was a tight one with the leading Aston Martin, but it only Patrick Pilet and Jorg Bergmeister about half an hour to stretch their lead out quite a bit over the competition. When Makowiecki and Tandy took over their respective cars, the Aston was a good 20 seconds down the lap.
It all started to fall apart with just under an hour and a half remaining. When Nick Tandy pitted his Porsche from second place, the darn thing just wouldn't start back up again. The Porsche crew ended up throwing the car up on dolly jacks and wheeling it into the garage to try a few things out. The car did come back out, but it took them more than a lap to get it sorted and back out. The distance to teammate Mako and the second placed Aston Martin was now insurmountable, and Frederic was on his own to try to defend the incoming Aston attack. In the end, the Porsche would fall to second position, and they were forced to watch as the competition streaked off into the distance to take the checkered flag.
At the restart in GTE-Am, things looked pretty good for Porsche, as the Proton Competition car of Khaled Al Qubaisi, Christian Ried, and Klaus Bachler led away as the green-flag fell again. Unfortunately, the Aston Martins of the GTE-Am field overpowered their Porsche over the next 3.5 hours as well, forcing the #88 Proton Porsche down to the final podium position.
In the end, Porsche did achieve a podium position in both GTE categories, and both of the 919 Hybrids did finish the race. Those are half-decent results in the grand scheme of things. Unfortunately, with one hour remaining in the race, Porsche was leading overall with the 14, leading GTE-Pro with the 92, and leading GTE-Am with the 88. Oh how easily things can fall apart in the final hour of a 6 hour race.
Wolfgang Hatz, Board member for Research and Development Porsche AG:
“Until shortly before the end it was a very encouraging weekend for us in which we were fighting for the race win. The team did a great job and it is a shame it has been unrewarded.”
Fritz Enzinger, Vice President LMP1:
“Unfortunately we did not manage to turn the development work of the recent months and the good qualifying result into the amount of championship points we wanted. Similar to what happened in Le Mans, we had chances to get a podium, perhaps even a race win. We will carefully analyse what has led to the loss of power in car number 14 and get prepared for Fuji.”
Andreas Seidl, Team Principal:
“The outcome of the race is obviously disappointing. It was hard work and mixed conditions. In the beginning of the race, when it was dry and hot, we could not go at the same pace as the leaders, but in the rain we have been surprisingly strong. For the restart we split strategies to increase our chances. The decision to put slick intermediate tyres on car number 14 enabled us to take the lead. In the end a problem in the powertrain cost us a podium finish.”
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