WEC re­port: Sil­ver­stone

Audi breaks Porsche’s win streak, but then loses out post-race. By Edd Straw

Motor Sport News - - Headline News -

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.

Audi trio cel­e­brated the vic­tory, then lost it The R18s headed the grid for much of the race

Porsche: win­ners

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