Mark Web­ber – world cham­pion!

Porsche’s WEC dou­ble

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In 1999 Mark Web­ber made what he must have thought at the time was a per­ma­nent exit from sportscar rac­ing. More than that, for a short while it looked like it might have been an exit from the sport en­tirely, so trau­ma­tised had Web­ber been by the two sep­a­rate, hor­ri­fy­ing ‘fly­ing’ ac­ci­dents in the Mercedes CLR that year at Le Mans (be­low).

But re­turn to the cock­pit he did, only now with one that didn’t have a roof. He signed with Ar­rows F1 as a test driver, in a deal that also saw him race in the In­ter­na­tional For­mula 3000 Cham­pi­onship. Sportscar rac­ing was past history for Web­ber; he was back in open­wheel­ers – the dream of For­mula 1 and be­com­ing world cham­pion was still very much alive.

Two years later he would make his F1 grand prix de­but. In 2010 he would go into the fi­nal grand prix of the sea­son as one of four driv­ers in con­tention to be­come that year’s world cham­pion.

Sadly, it was not to be for the Aus­tralian. Still, when he re­tired from F1 at the end of 2013, he left with a proud record: nine wins, 13 poles, and third over­all in the driv­ers’ cham­pi­onship on three oc­ca­sions.

Hav­ing ex­ited F1, Web­ber promptly (and some­what un­ex­pect­edly) re­turned from whence he came – sportscars. And now, two years into his sec­ond ca­reer in en­durance sportscar rac­ing, he is a world cham­pion.

A mar­que of the cal­i­bre of Porsche was never likely to bring a half-baked ef­fort to the not in­sub­stan­tial chal­lenge of de­vel­op­ing a hy­brid pro­to­type to take on the likes of ex­ist­ing LMP1 play­ers Audi and Toy­ota. So it proved; the Porsche Hy­brid 919 gave a good ac­count of it­self in its de­but 2014 sea­son – for a while Web­ber even looked a chance to win Le Mans – and this year it did the busi­ness.

At Le Mans Web­ber was part of the sec­ond­placed crew in a Porsche one-two (it was Porsche’s first vic­tory at the Sarthe since 1998 – back when Web­ber was part of the op­po­si­tion Mercedes driver squad…), and Porsche wrapped up the man­u­fac­tur­ers’ ti­tle with still one round to run.

That just left the driv­ers’ ti­tle. Web­ber and team-mates Timo Bern­hard and young Kiwi Bren­don Hart­ley went into the fi­nal at Bahrain with a 13-point ad­van­tage over their Audi ri­vals. How­ever, early on they looked in big trou­ble as the car de­vel­oped a throt­tle ac­tu­a­tor prob­lem. They lost five laps while the prob­lem was fixed, leav­ing them with a huge task for the re­main­der of the six hours.

When the prob­lem re­turned late in the race, the sit­u­a­tion looked grave. Cru­cially the Porsche tech­ni­cians were able to do a quick fix at a pit­stop, and Web­ber was back on his way. In the end they were saved by a se­ries of fac­tors: Web­ber did man­age to coax the car home at re­duced pace in fifth place, nine laps down, while at the head of the field Porsche team-mates Neel Jani, Ro­main Du­mas and Marc Lieb raced on to their first win of the year, thus deny­ing Audi trio An­dre Lot­terer, Benoit Tre­luyer and Mar­cel Fassler a vic­tory that could have made them world cham­pi­ons.

That’s what you call a team ef­fort.

WORDS STEVE NOR­MOYLE PIC­TURES LAT ARCHIVE

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