Kicking off the 2016 running of the World Endurance Championship with the 6 hour race at Silverstone, Porsche has begun their championship defense in decent form. The race, after a lot of ups and downs, would end with the #2 Porsche LMP1 winning the weekend and maximum points. Porsche's weekend was less than the best in regards to the two GTE categories. Try as they might, the cars simply failed the drivers in this instance. That said, it was a very interesting race, and unpredictable until the very end and even more so after it ended.
Porsche In The LMP1 Category:
The #1 Porsche 919 Hybrid:
Starting the race behind a pair of Audis, the #1 of Mark Webber began the race from the third position. It wasn't long before the Porsche started creeping forward, however. Only 7-laps later, Webber moves into second position past the #8 Audi R18. On lap 16, the 2015 world champion moves his #1 Porsche into the leading position past the #7 Audi. The race, though still young, looks to be well in hand for the Porsche driving trio of Webber, Hartley, and Timo Bernhard. Webber worked hard to get out in front of the pair of Audi drivers and then worked equally hard to create a gap between he and them. At lap 27, Webber handed over the Porsche to Brendon Hartley. Hartley is well familiar with the car, and well familiar with pushing to maintain a gap. At lap 55, Hartley had already created a gap of nearly a minute to the second placed Audi, and pitted for fuel and tires. Just 16-laps later, Hartley's race (and by extension that of Webber and Bernhard) was over. Just seconds after the team radioed in to Hartley to tell him to push hard to increase the gap, Hartley crashed his car.
Watch the video above and it's easy to see that Hartley made a move on the outside of the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche that didn't quite stick. Brendon's pass was a low-percentage move that he bears the full blame for. Unfortunately, due to the circumstances, he didn't have too many options in this instance. The closing speed between a factory LMP1-H and a GTE car is significant, and reaction times are often not enough to compensate for the milisecond prior to contact. Unfortunately, with his Porsche 919 Hybrid well into the lead, Hartley made contact with the 911 RSR leaving both in the gravel trap unable to continue further in the race. This crash elevated Audi into the lead.
The #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid:
In the #2 car, however, the story is a good distance longer and a bit more successful. Romain Dumas started the car and had an uneventful first stint through to lap 26. Dumas handed the Porsche over to Neel Jani, who would run a double stint, pitting again at lap 55 for fuel and tires. As the pair of Audis have issues, Jani moves into second place and Porsche is scored 1-2. On lap 71, Jani pits to allow Marc Lieb into the driver's seat, at the same time changing out the nose of the car due to damage in traffic on the prior stint. Thanks to the incident caused by sister car #1, the #2 Porsche is elevated into the lead of the race. The #8 Audi retires from the race at the same time due to a hybrid system failure.
At the restart Lieb is forced to battle with the #7 Audi, and loses the lead. At lap 102, Lieb changes the driver seat back into Dumas' control. Some 30-laps later, Neel Jani gets back into the car, still in second, to take the car to the finish. Porsche's strategy, thanks to a couple of safety car incidents, looks to be playing out where they will only have to pit for fuel six times while the Audi will need 7 stops. On what should be their final stop, Porsche decides to take only left side tires in order to save some time in the pits. The Audi needs to stop again, and should allow them plenty of time to lead the race at the end. Unfortunately, on his first lap out of the pit lane, Neel Jani experiences a puncture on his right front tire, which forces him back into pit lane only one lap after he'd just been there. Having spent some time hounding the leading Audi, the #2 Porsche is forced to pit on lap 187 for a final splash and dash, which costs them any possible chance of victory, and they are forced to settle for second.
Here's Where Things Get Strange After The Race
As it would happen, however, the race-winning Audi was awarded a post-race exclusion penalty for having run afoul of the rules. All LMP1 cars are allowed only 5mm of wear on their undertray, and the Audi had more than that. The FIA has excluded the Audi from the provisional results, and promoted the #2 Porsche to the victory. Audi has appealed the decision with the FIA, so we'll see where this ends up in future days. As of this writing, the Porsche is declared the official winner. The following Porsche team quotes were recorded prior to the Audi's exclusion. I'm sure they'd have had a different sentiment if they'd known at the time.
Dr Oliver Blume, Chairman of the board Porsche AG:
“The race was thrilling right to the end. Highs and lows were close together – that’s racing. The season opener clearly proved the extremely high level of the World Endurance Championship. The tight competition between such different car concepts is fascinating and groundbreaking. Qualifying, as well as the race result, are extra motivation for us to be back on top again next time.”
Fritz Enzinger, Vice President LMP1:
“We have an action packed weekend behind us. Qualifying wasn’t ideal for us and in the race we had various kinds of troubles, such as Brendon Hartley’s accident, and we are relieved he wasn’t hurt. In the end we had the puncture on car number 2. Nevertheless: congratulations to Audi. We came second, Toyota third – for the championship this is a great start to the season. The spectators can look forward to some very exciting racing. In Spa we will attack again.”
Andreas Seidl, Team Principal:
“Congratulations to Audi. We should have won today’s race, but several incidents prevented us from doing so. Our number 1 car had a solid lead and lost the race in an accident with a GT car. The number 2 car also had a collision with a GT car, and in the end had one additional pit stop because of a puncture. Nevertheless: We had the fastest car on the grid and the fastest pit crew. Many thanks to the development team back home in Weissach and to the crew on site – we can count on our strengths.”
Brendon Hartley, Driver #1 Porsche 919 Hybrid LMP1:
“I feel very upset for the team. The car was incredibly good and Mark did a mega first stint. When I took over everything was fine. I had a comfortable lead, didn’t feel under pressure and did a good job in traffic. Then I wanted to get passed a GT car on the outside, which is quite normal through corner two, but the driver didn’t see me and used all the road. It happened very quickly and we made contact. It was a racing incident that could have been avoided, and I am sorry for both the Gulf racing GT team and for our car number 1 crew. We will re group and take the positives from the weekend.”
Neel Jani, Driver #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid LMP1:
“I was the second driver and did a double stint. The first one was terrible because I got stuck in traffic all the time and lost up to six seconds per lap. After my pit stop I was a lot luckier with traffic and, although we still had the damaged front wing on the car, I was able to go at the same speed as the leading car. When I was back in the car during the last third of the race, again I had difficulties in traffic. Perhaps this is because we have less of an advantage this year on the straights. However, with the puncture our chances to win that race were gone.”
The results as released from Porsche also do not reflect the Audi's exclusion. These numbers could be changed, officially, by tomorrow morning.
Race result 6 Hours of Silverstone:
1. Fässler/Lotterer/Tréluyer (CH/DE/FR), Audi R18, 194 laps
2. Dumas/Jani/Lieb (FR/CH/DE), Porsche 919 Hybrid, – 46,065 sec
3. Conway/Kobayashi/Sarrazin (GB/JP/FR), Toyota TS050 Hybrid, – 1 lap
4. Imperatori/Kraihamer/Tuscher (IT/AT/CH), Rebellion R-One AER, – 11 laps
5. Heidfeld/Piquet jr./Prost (DE/BR/FR), Rebellion R-One AER, – 13 laps
6. Albuquerque/Gonzalez/Senna (PT/MX/BR), Ligier JS P1-Nissan, – 15 laps
Drivers’ World Championship:
1. Fässler/Lotterer/Tréluyer (CH/DE/FR), Audi, 26 points
2. Dumas/Jani/Lieb (FR/CH/DE), Porsche, 18 points
3. Conway/Kobayashi/Sarrazin (GB/JP/FR), Toyota, 15 points
4. Imperatori/Kraihamer/Tuscher (IT/AT/CH), Rebellion, 12 points
5. Heidfeld/Piquet jr./Prost (DE/BR/FR), Rebellion, 10 points
6. Albuquerque/Gonzalez/Senna (PT/MX/BR), RGR Sport by Morand, 8 points
Constructors’ World Championship:
1. Toyota, 27 points
2. Audi, 26 points
2. Porsche, 18 points
Porsche In The GTE Categories:
With Porsche's factory effort essentially over for the 2016 WEC season, they are banking their efforts on four factory-supported privateers in the two GTE categories. The GT field is fiercely competitive, and proved a little less than fruitful for Porsche's efforts in the opening round. While the four cars failed to finish with results worthy of writing home about, they each did learn something for the future, and should be able to attack at the front of the field in future rounds. The Porsche 911 RSRs led both categories at times, and with only 30-minutes left in the race Porsche looked poised to perhaps capture both class wins, but luck was ultimately not on their side. The track, and the competition, would ultimately prove to be their undoing, and this was a less than successful start to the season.
The Gulf Racing #86 was the first Porsche 911 RSR to be taken out of the race. Contact with the #1 919 Hybrid LMP1 of Brendon Hartley would be their undoing. The car flew through the gravel trap, ultimately suffering too much damage to continue. To Hartley's credit, his immediate concern was to check on the condition of Wainright, the driver of the Gulf Porsche at the time of the incident.
The next racer to fall victim to Silverstone's wrath was the Dempsey Proton Racing 911 RSR of Richard Lietz and Michael Christensen. Having come into the pits at about the same time as the P1 on Gulf Racing violence occurred, it was instantly obvious that the Dempsey Racing car had suffered a right-front suspension failure. The repair, which required the car to return to the garage, took enough laps that the car was dropped completely out of contention. Many laps down, the car did return to the circuit and ran until the end to collect as many points as possible.
In an identical failure, both the #78 Porsche of KCMG as well as the other Proton Racing Porsche (Team Abu Dhabi), also saw their right front suspension fail within sight of the finish. The Abu Dhabi Proton Racing car was sitting in second place at the time, and with the failure saw their chances of a podium place slip away.
I'm not sure who supplies right front upper wishbones for the 2016-spec 911 RSR, but they should really avoid answering the phone for a few days, as there is likely an angry German on the other end of the line that they probably don't want to receive a tongue lashing from. In my opinion, this is indicative of a batch-failure, and it would be wise of Porsche to stress-test a few pieces from the next batch before installation. For now we'll chalk it up to bad luck and the business of racing. It's sad though, as Porsche really could have won both classes if they'd stayed on track and kept all of their bits in one piece.
Richard Lietz, Driver Porsche 911 RSR #77:
“We were lying second when we had to pit and were thrown down the field. We were definitely on track for a podium, but then of course our chances disappeared. Still, we’d found a very good and fast setup for our 911 RSR.”
Wolf Henzler, Driver Porsche 911 RSR #78:
“When you’re so close to scoring a podium result only to finish fourth it’s understandably disappointing. We would all have prefered a successful start to the season. Nevertheless, I’m looking ahead to the next race with confidence.”
1. Rigon/Bird (I/GB), Ferrari 488 GTE, 167 laps
2. Bruni/Calado (I/GB), Ferrari 488 GTE, 166
3. Turner/Sörensen/Thiim (GB/DK/DK), Aston Martin, 166
4. Pla/Tinkwell (F/USA), Ford GT, 165
5. Franchitti/Mücke (USA/D), Ford GT, 165
6. Christensen/Lietz (D/A), Porsche 911 RSR, 154
7. Stanaway/Rees/Adam (NZ/BRA/GB), Aston Martin, 151
1. Collard/Perrodo/Aguas (F/F/P), Ferrari F458 Italia, 163 laps
2. Lamy/Dalla Lana/Lauda (P/CAN/A), Aston Martin, 162
3. Yamagishi/Ragues/Ruberti (J/F/I), Chevrolet Corvette, 161
4. Ried/Henzler/Camathias (D/D/CH), Porsche 911 RSR, 154
5. Al Qubaisi/Bachler/Heinemeier Hansson (UAE/A/DK), Porsche 911 RSR, 154
6. Wainwright/Carroll/Barker (GB/GB/GB), Porsche 911 RSR, 138