WEC report: Silverstone
Audi breaks Porsche’s win streak, but then loses out post-race. By Edd Straw
Audi headed into the World Endurance Championship season opener at Silverstone knowing it had an improved Audi R18 e-tron quattro with which to challenge Porsche. But was it quick enough to win in a straight fight? And would it be reliable enough to get to the end?
In the end, both of those questions were rendered moot by the fact that Audi #7 crew Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler’s on-theroad victory was taken away from them thanks to its underfloor skid block being under the minimum allowed thickness of 20mm in post-race scrutineering.
But even before that there were doubts about the answers the race provided, as the #2 Porsche of Romain Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb that was initially defeated before being handed the win was not the quicker Porsche on the day. What’s more, Audi’s reliability worries were shown to be well founded by the sister #8 car of Oliver Jarvis, Lucas di Grassi and Loic Duval grinding to a halt while attempting to battle on having suffered a hybrid malfunction.
There were at least reasons for encouragement for Audi even though it went home empty handed. Lotterer and Fassler combined to take the first pole position for Audi since the Fuji WEC round in October 2013. But this was achieved in damp but drying conditions so there was no guarantee this advantage would remain in the race.
Lotterer held the lead at the start ahead of Jarvis, but Mark Webber in the #1 Porsche was soon on the move. Just 10 minutes in, he capitalised on traffic to take second from Jarvis. Shortly before the half-hour mark, Lotterer lost a little momentum through Club Corner while behind the Bykolles CLM of James Rossiter. As Lotterer pulled out to pass Rossiter on the start/finish straight, Webber seized his chance by making it three abreast to take the lead into Abbey.
From then on, the #1 Porsche was in a class of its own and didn’t miss a beat when Webber handed over to Hartley after his opening 27-lap stint. The Audis had no answer to the pace of the Porsche, which was compounded by Lotterer losing an extra 12 seconds to the leader when he made his first stop for fuel and tyres. That delay also dropped Lotterer behind Jarvis, but when the #8 Audi slowed, shorn of hybrid impetus, it moved back up into second place followed by the #2 Porsche, which was now driven by Lieb.
All seemed serene up front, until Hartley took one risk too many in traffic. Shortly before the two-hour mark and closing on the GTE Am Gulf Racing Porsche driven by Mike Wainwright through Abbey, Hartley decided to go around the outside through the fast Farm left-hander. Wainwright, understandably, didn’t have any idea he was there and they clashed at the exit. This launched Hartley’s car onto its side at high speed before it returned to its wheels as both cars slid into the gravel trap. Game over.
“I wanted to get past on the outside, which is quite normal but the driver didn’t see me and used all of the road,” said Hartley. “I don’t want to blame anyone. It was a true shame.”
The stewards begged to differ and were keen to blame someone, justifiably holding Hartley responsible for a lack of caution and reprimanding him. The real punishment was that Hartley had thrown away what was as certain a victory as you can have with four hours still to run. It also transformed the dynamic of the race, as while it handed the lead to the #2 Porsche it turned it into a genuine head-to-head between the two marques.
Damage to the nose, after taking to the grass when Jarvis moved across on Dumas on the Hangar Straight in traffic during the first stint, cost the Porsche pace prior to the nose being changed under the full-course yellow that followed the sister car’s crash. But even fighting fit it wasn’t as rapid as the erstwhile leader, and hadn’t been all weekend thanks to an understeer problem.
When the race got back underway after an extended yellow period thanks to the length of time it took to recover the Audi, which stopped on track at the same time as the #1 Porsche crashed, Treluyer in the #7 Audi was immediately on the attack. Lieb, in the leading Porsche, lost momentum in traffic and was slow off Copse Corner, allowing Treluyer to blast past on the run to Maggotts.
There was a twist, as stewards investigated a possible yellow flag infringement by Treluyer thanks to Rene Rast having temporarily stopped the Jota Sport-run G-drive ORECA to the side of the track with a fuel pump problem.
“It was very tricky because you see the flag and it’s too late most of the time,” said Treluyer. “So you have to pray and say it’s OK.”
The stewards agreed it was indeed OK and the race was on. But Lieb could find no way to attack as the gap ebbed and flowed between the two cars in the following hours. The Porsche’s hopes were not aided by Dumas spinning onto the grass after contact with Marino Franchitti’s Ford GT during his second stint, although that ultimately only cost a few seconds to match those Treluyer lost with his own, unforced, spin.
“It was difficult, we didn’t have the pace like our sister car so we struggled a bit in the race,” said Lieb. “But we matched car seven on average speed so we were in the fight for a long time. Sometimes it’s just very close.”
For some time, it seemed it would stay very close to the finish, especially with the Porsche’s ability to go longer on fuel meaning it would require a shorter splash-and-dash in the final hour to reach the finish. Fassler’s advantage in the Audi was only six seconds after both he and Jani had made their final fuel stops. Because Treluyer had earlier made a two-tyre stop, Fassler was able to take on four fresh boots at his final proper stop while Jani could only take his remaining half-set. This set it up nicely, as both still required the splash, but a front-right puncture forced Jani back to the pits three laps later and effectively ended the battle.
“It wasn’t our day,” said Jani before the stewards decided that it would be after all. “At the end, I was pushing but it was very hard in traffic because we had good laps then sometimes lost six or seven seconds. We were not lucky in traffic because we made up time but then lost it all in one lap.
“I had a puncture just after the pitstop and had to come back in. That cost us the race. We knew we had to do a splash and dash but by then there was no need to risk anything because unless they had a big issue, we could never catch up.”
Fassler crossed the line 45 seconds clear of Lieb, a win that initially seemed to end a six-race Porsche run of dominance stretching back to Le Mans.
But what of Toyota? Although Mike Conway, Stephane Sarrazin and Kamui Kobayashi were ultimately classified second on the TS050’S debut after the sister car, which had been ahead, dropped back thanks to repairs to extensive bodywork damage caused by a puncture, neither Toyota was ever a serious threat. But the team was quietly encouraged by the progress it’s making with much more still to come – and there needs to be given that it has to find another second a lap to be at the races. Behind, Rebellion Racing crew Matheo Tuscher, Dominik Kraihamer and Alex Imperatori took the team’s first outright WEC podium since 2013 ahead of the sister machine in fourth.
Fifth place went to the Lmp2-winning RGR Sport by Morand team’s LigierNissan JSP2. Bruno Senna started the car, and passed Roman Rusinov’s Jota Sport-run G-drive ORECA for second during the first stint before handing over to silver-rated Ricardo Gonzalez, who did a competent job before handing over to Filipe Albuquerque and Senna to finish the job.
The Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier led early on in the hands of Pipo Derani but Chris Cumming did not do as good a job as Gonzalez, losing time when he spun across Club corner after tagging the grass on the approach to the left-hander at entry. Derani at least had the satisfaction of setting fastest lap, but second was the team’s reward.
The G-drive car was also a strong contender, particularly when Rast was behind the wheel. But time lost when he had to stop and pull over after the restart in the third hour didn’t help its cause and the car finished just under halfa-minute off the class winner.