The penultimate round of Porsche's final season in top flight prototype racing is done and gone. This report will take you through the highs and lows, ups and downs of Porsche's time in China this weekend. The 6 hour race was not without incident, but ultimately everything shook out decently in Porsche's favor. While they didn't win any of the classes outright, they managed to secure titles in LMP1, and keep their title fight alive in GTE Pro and GTE Am. Read on for more.
Race Report: LMP1
With one round remaining in the FIA World Endurance Championship, Porsche officially secured the Drivers' and Manufacturers' world championship titles with a double-podium effort this weekend in Shanghai, China. While they didn't win the race outright, Porsche ran a conservative strategy to ensure both cars finished the race with decent points. Thanks to the second Toyota suffering collision damage late in the race, Porsche were promoted to second and third in the LMP1-H category netting enough points to secure both championships a round early. While the race was largely uneventful, this was a monumental occasion for Porsche, and a big win for the team that will be disbanded after the close of the season in just a few weeks time.
The #1 car was started by Nick Tandy - celebrating his 33rd birthday - from second on the grid. Over the first stint Tandy was consistently mixing it up with both Toyotas at the front, running well and keeping the car in second position. On lap 19 drama struck and his throttle pedal was no longer responding to inputs, causing the car to slow dramatically coming out of a corner. Tandy was forced to bring the car to a stop and re-cycle the ECU to get back underway. The whole ordeal lost the #1 919 Hybrid just over a minute and a half on the track, time that the team would never recover. From there, the team is in damage control mode, just planning on pounding laps and making it to the finish. The #7 Toyota's lengthy repairs elevate the #1 up into third, where they finish.
The #2 car starts from fourth on the grid with Earl Bamber in the driver's seat. For a short while he managed to elevate himself up to third, but a few laps later he is again overtaken by the faster #8 Toyota. Once the #1 car is sidelined, the 2 is elevated up into third, and they are no longer taking the risks required to get the car to victory lane. By the end of the first stint, Porsche realizes that Toyota has the faster car on this circuit, and need to settle into a rhythm to score some good points. By lap 126, both Porsches are a lap down to both Toyotas. Patience is rewarded when the #7 comes in for repairs, and the #2 car is handed second place, where they finish.
Fritz Enzinger, Vice President LMP1: “Today’s race told another chapter of an almost unbelievable success story that shortly comes to an end. For the achievement of six world championship titles and three Le Mans overall victories, this team deserves the highest praise. With a great team spirit and good fun, they had a common aim: to win races for Porsche. This was again rewarded today by the defense of both world championship titles. What we have experienced over especially the last three years will take some time to sink in. Hats off to every single team member that contributed to this success and I want to thank everyone at Porsche worldwide, especially the board. They have supported us right from the beginning, believed in us and gave the program a high priority. Without this backing, we would not have won those races. This also goes for the great cooperation with our partners right from the beginning. Now I’m looking forward to an exciting race in Bahrain where many board members will join us. I’m utterly proud of our achievements over the recent years.”
Race Report: GTE
While the LMP1 championship battle ended this weekend, the GTE Pro class remains wide open until the final round in Bahrain. Thanks to spectacular efforts by Richard Lietz and Fred Mako, a Porsche factory effort 911 RSR managed to finish on the podium in second place at the checkered flag. The other car, driven by Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre, sadly suffered an engine failure after two hours and 15 minutes while leading the GTE Pro category. You could say this race was a bit of a mixed bag for Porsche's GT contingent. The lone podium placing, however, was enough to close the gap in the GT Drivers World Championship to just two points.
The #91 Porsche of Lietz and Mako started on the GT grid in seventh position, and after seeing the nose-to-tail battles in this class, it's easy to see that everyone is very closely matched on performance. By running consistently fast lap times, the duo were able to move up through the field, and after the first hour the car had been elevated up to third. After some impressive dicing with the Ford GTs, Mako managed to snag the lead of the race shortly after the #92 car was forced to retire. During the final stint of the race it was again Lietz at the wheel fighting for the lead with one of the Ford GTs. For nearly an hour he battled for the lead, never letting it out of his sight. Unfortunately with just over half an hour remaining, Lietz' car was struck by one of the Toyota LMP1 prototypes. While the prototype was forced to pit for repairs the Porsche RSR managed to recover, but the battle for the lead was over. Lietz brought the car home in second, some 11 seconds behind the class winner.
For the first couple of stints, Estre and Christensen impressed everyone with a very strong run. They'd started the race from the first row of the grid on outside pole, and within three laps of the green flag falling, Estre moved his 911 RSR up into the lead of the class. The pass for the lead was one to remember, dicing in an amazing duel with the Aston Martin of Nicki Thiim. First stint ended, Estre pitted from the lead and handed off to Christensen. The car was consistently the fastest in the field, and Michael had an uneventful stint, handing back to Estre still in the lead. Shortly after taking control of the car, Kevin reported a fatal engine failure and coasted to a stop at the end of the start-finish straight.
The Porsche customer teams also delivered strong performances. The Gulf Racing 911 with Ben Barker, Nick Foster, and Khaled Al Qubaisi finished the race in second place. Securing third place finish, Dempsey Proton Racing defended their title chances with Matteo Cairoli, Christian Ried and Marvin Dienst doing the driving. With this pair of podiums, that puts Porsche up to five podium positions from three classes.
Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser, Vice President Motorsport and GT Cars: “The fight for the world championship remains gripping. Today we managed to narrow the small gap to two points. Hopefully in Bahrain we’ll finally be able to bring home our long overdue maiden world championship win for our new 911 RSR. In the GTE-Pro class it was even closer than usual today. It’s a shame that the incident with the Toyota cost us decisive seconds as well as the chance to be even closer and perhaps even score a victory. The title race in the GTE-Am class is still open.”
The ninth and final round of the Sports Car World Endurance Championship WEC will be contested in Sakhir/Bahrain on 18 November.