For the second round of the World Endurance Championship, Porsche started the weekend feeling great. Having shown reasonably well At Silverstone last month, the Belgian round this weekend was looking good. Adding a third 919 Hybrid only added bullets to their gun, with a total of 5 Porsche factory racing cars on hand to battle for two different class victories. With a few changes to Porsche's luck, and perhaps a different pit strategy, The 919s honestly could have won this race overall. In GTE Pro, the cars and drivers weren't the fastest, but their legendary reliability helped both cars make the most of the day.
Porsche's Results In The LMP1 Class
In what was to become one of the most epic races of all time, and certainly one of the fastest (race pace averaged about 200 Km/H over 6 hours), Porsche set the top three times in qualifying, absolutely blowing away last year's pole time by nearly 4 seconds. They really had a good race going, and were it not for a few pieces of bad luck, the Porsche Team might have had the legs on the eventual winning Audi. They all fought hard, but Leena Gade (race engineer for Audi's #7) called a brilliant race and made the right moves to bring her team victory. The way the race went for them, Porsche should have no trouble accepting a 2-3-6 overall finish. From the outset, it was all-hands-on-deck, as there were 8 factory LMP1 cars vying for the lead.
Race Report, Car #17:
Brendon Hartley lead the race away from the pole position at the start and for the first hour he absolutely controlled the race, streaking off to a relatively comfortable lead ahead of his team car, the #18. That, however, would soon change.
The #17 Porsche 919 has had a string of bad luck lately, failing to convert their two previous poles into race finishes, suffering a bad crash at the tail of last year, and a failure at Silverstone just a few weeks ago. That bad luck followed the team to Belgium, as Hartley had a bad brake lockup going into the bus stop chicane. Rather than stop and turn the car around, Hartley drove through a gap in the wall to use what he thought was an escape road to return to the circuit. Unfortunately, it wasn't an escape road, but rather a track marshal station. He managed to return to the track, but he clipped a corner worker's flag box, and forced one of the corner workers to step out from behind his safety barrier to allow Hartley passage. Because the safety of the track workers was jeopardized, the car was levied a 15 second stop-go penalty. Timo Bernhard took the penalty, which dropped him back to second, where he stayed for his stint.
At lap 47, Bernhard pitted to swap out for Webber, and the car was wheeled into the garage for a rear shock absorber change. Luckily the change was quick, but on-track time was certainly lost. Webber ran a fast double-stint, improving to third, seemingly the only Porsche driver to come to grips (pun non-intentional) with the Michelin's tire wear over two stints. The Porsche remained in third for pretty much the rest of the race, and that is where the trio finished.
Marc Lieb jumped past Tandy on the first lap moving into second place, and stayed there for the first stint. Lieb handed the car to Neel Jani, who moved into the lead of the race when the #17 received their penalty. Romain Dumas got in the car after Jani, and moved the lead out to nearly half a minute. Lieb got back in the car and had a dog fight battle for two stints with Audi's Benoït Tréluyer, swapping the lead of the race several times. Benoit's car was better suited to double stinting a set of Michelins, apparently, than the Porsche, because Lieb pitted early to swap out for Jani and new tires. Jani was sent back out with a set of scuffed tires that had been used in qualifying the previous day. Neel worked hard to get ahead of the Audi again after his stop, but when he pitted, lost the lead again. Needing to stop for a much longer fuel fill, as the Audi's strategy had them running longer into the race before stopping, the Porsche rejoined in P2 some 40 seconds back. Tréluyer stopped for a short fuel fill to finish out the last 20 minutes of the race, and exited the pits just 13 seconds ahead of Jani. The Porsche #18 just didn't seem to have the tire strategy to catch and pass the Audi (on even older tires), and finished the race in second place, only about 10 seconds back from the victor.
Race Report, Car #19
Nick Tandy, who started the race in second, fell to third when Lieb passed him on lap one. Only 6 laps later, Tandy divebombed down the inside of Kevin Estre's 911 RSR, and took a bit too much kerb, bouncing over into the GTE car. Both cars skidded into the runoff where Tandy took the brunt of the damage with a heavy nose-in to the tire barrier. He did get the Porsche back to the garage without a nose cone, and the required stop for repairs had the 919 drop several positions down the order. They returned to the circuit in 9th, and thanks to great work from team mates Nico Hulkenburg and Earl Bamber, the team rebounded to finish in sixth, thanks to relatively slow running from both Toyotas and a lengthy repair for Audi #8.
Fritz Enzinger, Vice President LMP1 Program -
“That was an extremely exciting and turbulent race for us. At the beginning we had a one-two-three lead before an unlucky accident. But with the two podium finishes and sixth we have achieved our target to finish the race with all three cars. We were absolutely up to speed. The result speaks for itself when first and the second are separated by only a few seconds after a six-hour race. We also once again made progress in terms of reliability. We are on the right path for Le Mans and look forward to the great challenge. I take my hat off to the entire team – especially to the third crew and our three new drivers. They integrated themselves into the team very well and were competitive right from the beginning.”
Andreas Seidl, Team Principal -
“For the moment I must admit there is a feeling of disappointment. After having locked out the front of the grid with a one-two-three in qualifying, for sure we would have been able to win that race if it had all gone according to plan. Regarding the crew of car number 19, we can say: mission accomplished. The drivers completed all their race stints, and this was the main target to get ready for Le Mans. A big thank you to the pit crew who successfully managed two repairs in the garage during today’s race. After it all, I would say we have managed the challenge to enter three Porsche 919 Hybrids for the first time. We have finished the race with all three cars and took two out of three available podium places. This means valuable points for the World Championships.”
Brendon Hartley, Driver 919 Hybrid #17 -
“At the end of my first stint I had a front brake lock and was struggling to slow the car down before the bus stop chicane. I tried to bring the car back onto the track safely when I went through the escape road. However, we received a stop and go penalty for this. Then we lost more time because of the rear damper change, but I think it was a very good recovery drive and effort from the team to move into third place. I did a double stint on the tyres and had to protect them in the first half. I think on average the lap times were good.”
Marc Lieb, Driver 919 Hybrid #18 -
“I had a good start, was able to improve to P2, but not follow Brendon in what was then our leading car. Later when I was in the car again it was a lot more fun out there. Because the regulation limiting the supply of tyres we did a double stint, but it didn’t quite work out with the tyre wear. It was a great battle with Ben Tréluyer and quite a moment when he hit me in the rear going down to turn nine, but that’s racing. To strike back we have some work to do in terms of tyre management.”
Nick Tandy, Driver 919 Hybrid #19 -
“The accident with the Porsche 911 RSR early in the race was a misunderstanding. I obviously thought he would let me by and he clearly didn’t expect me to overtake. Then we had a technical problem with the car, which caused me to miss the pit lane entry and we lost more time. Of course, I’m not happy with how things went, but the car was great to drive and the tyres were holding up better than expected. Thanks to the team for a great job.”
Porsche's Results In The GTE Pro Class
Because WEC regulars Michael Christensen and Patrick Pilet were sidelined with racing duties in California at the United Sports Car Championship race, Porsche hired Sven Müller and Kévin Estre (On special loan from his employment as a factory McLaren team driver) as one-off replacements. Estre started the car, and on lap 7 was collected by a collision with Porsche LMP1 driver Nick Tandy. In my humble opinion, it was a low percentage payoff move by Tandy, and a racing incident, for which no penalty should have been levied. Unfortunately the race directors said differently, giving Estre a penalty for avoidable contact. While the collision and the penalty moved them back in the order, the pair of drivers remained consummate professionals and just kept racing. At the end of the race, the #91 was sitting in fourth, but was promoted to third with a one-minute stop-go penalty levied against the leading Ferrari because one of their tires rolled into the pit lane during a stop.
Race Report, Car #92:
Neither 911 RSR really qualified all that well, starting well back on the grid. The #92 car of Frédéric Makowiecki and Richard Lietz, took a cautious approach to the race, doing their best to avoid contact and just pounding out the laps.
At the start, the Porsche was on used tires from their qualifying session, and they had a hard time keeping up with the faster cars ahead, but as the race tracked on, both drivers found pace in the #92 911 RSR. With excellent execution of a dodgy pit strategy, and excellent long-run performance, the pair were able to slowly pick their way through the field, finding themselves in third when the #51 Ferrari suffered their pit-lane penalty, elevating the unique pairing of Mako/Lietz into second.
Dr Frank-Steffen Walliser, Porsche Head of Motorsport
“This was a somewhat turbulent race under tricky conditions. You don’t have to understand the interventions of the stewards, but somehow it all balanced out in the end. Above all, we must underline the performance of Kévin Estre and Sven Müller, they did a fantastic job. When you’re new to a well-oiled team, the pressure and expectations are always very high, but the way these two handled it deserves the highest respect. They came up through the ranks of Porsche’s brand trophy series, and, considering the field they were up against today, everything they learned in our makes cup series speaks for itself. You can only recommend to every young driver to learn there.”
Sven Müller, Driver 911 RSR #91 -
“We never imagined we would finish on the podium after such a turbulent and difficult early phase. But the fact that we managed it is a tribute to the strong performance of the entire team. To finish my first ever WEC race on the podium is an awesome feeling. Even starting in front of a packed grandstand and to see the enthusiasm of the fans was incredible. It gave me goosebumps. That was one of the most wonderful and thrilling races I’ve ever contested.”
Richard Lietz, Driver 911 RSR #92 -
“Over the course of the race we saw that the grid position is perhaps not that important at the six-hour event. But seriously: it was a very turbulent race. The stop-and-go penalty hit us hard, but we still managed to finish on second. This is great for the championship and certainly the best we could do today.”
Round three of the Sports Car World Endurance Championship WEC is at the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans on 13/14 June. Prior to this on 31 May, an official test day is held on the Circuit des 24 Heures.
Porsche's Results In The GTE Am Class -
In the 911 RSR fielded by the Porsche customer team Abu Dhabi Proton Racing, the former Porsche Junior team driver Klaus Bachler, and his teammates Christian Ried, and Khaled Al Qubaisi narrowly missed out on a podium spot in the GTE-Am class. They ended the race in the fourth position. US race driver and actor Patrick Dempsey, racing alongside Porsche works driver Patrick Long and Marco Seefried finished in fifth. The Dempsey Proton Racing 911 RSR simply did not have the pace to keep up with the Ferraris and Aston Martins ahead. When you discuss Am class racing, it is almost always a consideration of the non-professional driver being the weak link in the chain, and unfortunately that proved true of Mr. Dempsey. The winning Aston Martin made use of an experienced amateur, Paul Dalla Lana. Paul was turning laps within a second or two of the pro drivers in his car. Patrick Dempsey, though, was often some 8-10 seconds adrift of the fastest times set in that car by Pat Long. This is not meant to be a slam against Dempsey, as he certainly has the drive and the potential to get there. Perhaps now that he's removed himself from the serial drama "Grey's Anatomy", he'll have more time to train behind the wheel and won't have to split his time between the two very different disciplines.
Patrick Dempsey, Driver 911 RSR #77 -
“My first race on this very selective circuit was a fantastic experience. My teammates have all raved about Spa, but my expectations were exceeded. Our qualifying ran without mishap and our 911 RSR’s pace was good in the race. I tried to make as few mistakes as possible, and aside from my spin, I managed this well. All in all, the experience was very positive for the team. Now we can look forward to Le Mans.”
Klaus Bachler, Driver 911 RSR #88 -
“I got away well at the start and went from third to second place. After the first race hour we were on course for the podium, but then several incidents threw us back. Our 911 RSR made contact with several competitors, and our car was slightly damaged. Our team helped us with great pit stops, so that we could secure fourth in the end. It’s a pity, because I’m sure we could have achieved a better position today.”
[Photos and Quotes provided by Porsche]