If you reside in North America, and are a fan of Porsche's WEC effort, you likely found yourself awake watching the race until awfully late on Saturday night. If you did, you likely saw a race with a lackluster start, but a heap of phenomenal racing and a whole lot of on-track action. There was a lot of strategy, some amazingly lucky calls from the pit wall, and some great on-track dicing for much of the race. As races go, this one couldn't have gone much better for Porsche, in the grand scheme of things. They have a lot to be happy about, and can continue the season with heads held high.
Porsche in the LMP1 Category -
Starting the run at Le Mans, Porsche's 919 Hybrid has now won 4 races in a row, and now leads the WEC points in both the drivers' standings as well as the manufacturers'. Drivers Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley, and Mark Webber completed the hat trick, winning their third race in a row, and vaulted themselves to the top of the drivers' points. Even better, Dumas, Jani, and Lieb managed to bring their car home in second to prevent the Audi team from scoring any more points than they otherwise might have, giving Porsche a 1-2 victory in Fuji. Can't ask for better than that.
The winning car, 919 Hybrid #17 started the race from pole position, but the rain was falling heavily and the green flag was waved with a yellow one, starting everyone stacked up behind the safety car. Mark Webber, even on full wet tires, had a spin at turn three, and rejoined in 4th, putting the team on the back foot. exacerbating issues, the car suffered from a lack of "torque" the whole race with hybrid energy deployment issues pulling out of corners (where the 919 usually shines). With the very wet weather favoring the Audi and Toyota chassis, the 17 car struggles to keep pace, and for over 10 laps there is a fantastic thrust-and-parry battle between Webber and the #1 Toyota.
919 Hybrid #17 had a pretty amazing race. Starting on full wets from second place after the 40-minute safety car period, Romain Dumas had a brief issue with his car engaging the pit-limiter without warning. After losing a few positions, Dumas rejoined in 5th and had to work his way back up the order. It only took him until lap 77 to make it back into the lead. On lap 82, Dumas handed over to Lieb who risks going out on intermediate slicks (affectionately known as the "slicktermediate" Michelin), who retains the lead. Luckily that gamble payed off.
As the race starts to dry out, the Porsche's advantage starts to come back to them. In torrential rain, the Audi and Toyota have an edge, but the drying and dry-ish conditions that the race saw for the latter half were well suited for Porsche's efforts. Porsche managed their fuel strategy and were the last of the LMP1 cars to come in, this, luckily, coincided with a full-course caution, allowing them effectively a free pitstop in regards to on-track time lost. Add in the fact that Audi gambled on dry slick tires way too early and were forced to pit a second time to put intermediate rain tires back on, and Porsche was in the proverbial cat-bird seat for the remainder of the race. When the checkered flag fell, both 919s had a lead of more than a lap over the Audis. Because of how close the points were stacked in the driver championship, Porsche opted to have the #17 cede the lead of the motor race to the #18 car, in an effort to get a lead over the previously leading Audi drivers, Treluyer, Fassler, and Lotterer.
Fritz Enzinger, Vice President LMP1:
“It was a difficult race in changing conditions, but we accomplished what we wanted. By another one-two result we have extended our lead in the manufacturers’ standings and also in the drivers’ championship Timo, Brendon and Mark are now leading. The team did a sensational job, it is a pleasure to work like we do and I want to thank everyone involved.”
Andreas Seidl, Team Principal:
“Despite extremely challenging conditions, we strategically got everything right today. Every single decision by the team proved to be the right one. All six drivers did a great and completely errorless job. In the end of the race they showed true teamwork. Although we are a very young team, we also proved that we are able to manage and win a difficult race. Audi did put us under pressure right from the start. Many thanks to all the employees and team members here on site and back home in Weissach for the perfect preparation which was the base for our success.”
Timo Bernhard, Driver, Porsche 919 Hybrid #17: “We have achieved our target to get another one-two result for the manufacturers’ standings. This, for me, is the most important news. Normally it would have been the day for our sister car, as they had deserved to win. Our race was difficult and we are grateful for the full points. But to win the title, there is still a long way to go as we have two more six-hour races ahead of us.”
Marc Lieb, Driver, Porsche 919 Hybrid #18:
“I did a double stint in the middle of the race. The first one was a bit tricky in the beginning, because the track was quite slippery for intermediate tyres. The rain didn’t stop as quickly as we hoped it would. It was challenging, but it worked well, and the pace was good. Also in the second stint everything was fine. Having a lead of almost one minute, I was able to take care of the brake temperatures, which were rather high, and save the tyres. At times we were the fastest car on track, it was good.”
LMP1 Category Results -
1. Bernhard/Hartley/Webber (DE/NZ/AU), Porsche 919 Hybrid, 216 laps
2. Dumas/Jani/Lieb (FR/CH/DE), Porsche 919 Hybrid, + 14.306 seconds
3. Fässler/Lotterer/Tréluyer (CH/DE/FR), Audi R18 e-tron quattro, 1 lap behind
4. Di Grassi/Duval/Jarvis (BR/FR/GB), Audi R18 e-tron quattro, 2 laps behind
5. Davidson/Buemi/Nakajima (GB/CH/JP), Toyota TS040 Hybrid, 2 laps behind
6. Wurz/Sarrazin/Conway (AT/FR/GB), Toyota TS040 Hybrid, 13 laps behind
Porsche In The GTE Pro Category -
While not quite the day that the LMP1 boys had, Porsche's Olaf Manthey-run GTE Pro class team did a pretty good job considering, finishing the day with a 2-3 finish, keeping themselves in the fight for the title. After a pair of double victories at the last two races, this 2-4 gives the team good points, closing them in on Ferrari for the constructors championship (the lead is now only 13 points) and retains Richard Lietz's points gap at the top of the Drivers' championship.
After 17 laps of torrential downpour and safety car processional, Patrick Pilet took the start of the race in his #92 Porsche 911 RSR, and swiftly swept past 3 GTE Pro rivals in just a handful of laps, moving into second place. It's safe to say that Pilet knows what he's doing in a Porsche in the rain, as he'd just taken the overall victory at a very rainy Petit Le Mans just last weekend. Following in Pilet's slipstream, the #91 car with Michael Christensen at the wheel also worked through the field. Christensen managed to do one better, and overtook Pilet for second and then moved into the lead only 10 laps later. Only an hour into the race, and only racing for 20 minutes, Michael's Porsche lead the class, having started from 9th.
Unlike the LMP1 Porsches, the GTE cars actually preferred the wet weather, having superior traction over the other competitors in the wet with a rear engine concept helping out a lot. As things cleared up, the Ferraris and Aston Martins started to find some more pace, and the racing really got hot. The GTE cars also had to take an extra pit stop compared to their competition, as they'd continued on wet tires a bit longer than the rest of the field. This all added up to the Porsche duo losing a bit of ground to the rest. A late race rally saw the #92 car with Fred Mako at the wheel making some very decisive moves against the Ferrari of James Calado, both taking every inch given and nothing more. It was a very respectable battle (in a race that was punctuated by a battle that was much less so) between some very professional racers, which ended with Mako taking the 2nd position.
Marco Ujhasi, Overall Project Leader GT Works Motorsport:
“A crazy race that was characterized by different strategies of individual manufacturers and cars. Under such circumstances, we achieved the best possible result. Still, we have a lot to analyse and we’ll use the insights to tackle the next races even stronger. Congratulations to our customer team Dempsey Proton Racing on winning their first WEC race. Their effort was nothing less than sensational. Flawless pit stops, a top performance on the track and perfect timing amongst the drivers – my compliments!”
Patrick Pilet, Driver, Porsche 911 RSR #92:
“What a strange race. I’m not completely happy because not everything was perfect. We had no luck with the tyre choice, which was partly my fault. As the track became drier, we didn’t switch to slicks at the right time. I thought it was still too early and wanted to wait a few more laps. Because of this we had to come into the pits again shortly afterwards and we lost a lot of time. Towards the end I did everything to earn as many championships points for Porsche as possible. Despite everything, we underlined the potential we have. I now hope we can turn this into a win at Shanghai.”
Richard Lietz , Driver, Porsche 911 RSR #91:
“This race had everything that fans could possibly wish for. And we had fun in the car as well. We made many correct decisions today. Unfortunately, the stewards of the meeting caused confusion in the end by first announcing and then promptly revoking the caution phase, and we suffered the consequences of this. It cost us a podium result. The decision to intervene in this way is a shame. We had a great car today, but under these conditions we weren’t able to achieve what would have been possible.”
GTE Pro Category Results -
1. Bruni/Vilander (I/SF), Ferrari F458 Italia, 193 laps
2. Pilet/Makowiecki (F/F), Porsche 911 RSR, 192
3. Rigon/Calado (I/GB), Ferrari F458 Italia, 192
4. Lietz/Christensen (A/DK), Porsche 911 RSR, 192
5. Sörensen/Nygaard (DK/DK), Aston Martin, 191
6. Turner/Adam (GB/GB), Aston Martin, 190
7. MacDowall/Rees/Mücke (GB/BRA/D), Aston Martin, 190
Porsche In The GTE Am Category -
It's been a long road for the Dempsey-Proton racing team, but they've finally scored their first GTE-Am Category victory. This year has been a good one for the team, having already scored an impressive 2nd in class at Le Mans. Because the race started under caution, the team opted to start Patrick Dempsey in the car to get his "Amateur" mandated minimum time out of the way with as little detriment to the effort as possible. After running about 90 minutes of his time, Dempsey handed over to Marco Seefried, who put in a stellar double-stint taking the car to the lead and extending it out to a massive one. After Seefried, Porsche factory ace Pat Long stepped into the car for another stellar double-stint. By the end of his effort, Long had moved the car into more than a lap lead over the second placed Aston Martin. With 20 minutes remaining, Dempsey stepped back in to finish out his minimum drive time and while Paul Dalla Lana's Aston did manage to eat into Dempsey's lead, he retained the lead to the checkered flag. It was a well managed race, the two pro drivers put down some of the best laps I've ever seen, and with a bit of luck on weather and tire choices, the trio took their first win. A wholehearted congratulation to them!
In the GTE-Am class, Earl Bamber delighted fans with a spectacular stint at the end of the race, elevating his #88 Abu Dhabi Proton Racing 911 RSR to third in the GTE Am category. With just a few laps remaining, he charged through from the back of the pack on a drying track. As he settled into third place, he was hit by an overtaking LMP1 sports prototype. The ensuing pit stop to change a damaged rim threw him and his teammates Christian Ried and Khaled Al Qubaisi back to fifth place.
Patrick Dempsey, Driver, Porsche 911 RSR #77:
“A great feeling. Our first victory in the WEC – we’ve worked hard for this over the entire season. I drove a long first stint in pouring rain and then had to wait for hours. When I climbed back into the car shortly before the flag, my main priority was not to make any mistakes. But everything came together today. Patrick gave me advice over the radio, Marco drove a fantastic stint and the team’s strategy was perfect. I’m very grateful for all the support I’ve received from Porsche and the team this season. It enables me to keep developing as a driver. This is a great day – and from now on Fuji is one of my favourite race tracks.”
Patrick Long (911 RSR #77)
“After finishing second at Le Mans I thought I couldn’t top the emotion. But this victory has surpassed everything. None of us made any mistakes, and Marco put in an incredibly strong drive at the midway mark of the race. That made this great success possible.
GTE Am Category Results -
1. Dempsey/Long/Seefried (USA/USA/D), Porsche 911 RSR, 187 laps
2. Dalla Lana/Lamy/Lauda (CDN/P/A), Aston Martin, 187
3. Perrodo/Collard/Aguas (F/F/P), Ferrari F458 Italia, 186
4. Roda/Ruberti/Sylvest (I/I/DK), Chevrolet Corvette, 185
5. Ried/Bamber/Al Qubaisi (D/NZ/UAE), Porsche 911 RSR, 185
6. Bertolini/Shaytar/Basov (I/RUS/RUS), Ferrari F458 Italia, 185
7. Castellacci/Griffin/Hall (I/GB/GB), Aston Martin, + 184
Championship Standings Results -
1. Bernhard/Hartley/Webber (D/NZ/AUS), Porsche 129
2. Lotterer/Tréluyer/Fässler (D/F/CH), Audi, 128
3. Dumas/Jani/Lieb (F/CH/D), Porsche, 95. 5
4. Di Grassi/Duval/Jarvis (BRA/F/GB), Audi, 79
5. Tandy (GB), Porsche & Oreca, 66
6. Davidson/Buemi (GB/CH), Toyota, 59
7. Bamber/Hülkenberg (NZ/D), Porsche, 58
8. Nakajima (J), Toyota, 55
1. Porsche, 264
2. Audi, 211
3. Toyota, 119
1. Ferrari, 228 points
2. Porsche, 215
3. Aston Martin, 147
1. Porsche Team Manthey, #91 Porsche, 119 points
2. AF Corse, #71 Ferrari, 117
3. AF Corse, #51 Ferrari, 111
1. Richard Lietz, Porsche, 110 points
2. Davide Rigon, James Calado, Ferrari, 103
3. Gianmaria Bruni, Toni Vilander, Ferrari, 93.5
4. Michael Christensen, Porsche, 92
5. Frédéric Makowiecki, Porsche, 78
10. Patrick Pilet, Porsche, 60