Easter Sunday emerged gray and overcast at dawn but nothing was going to dampen my enthusiasm for getting to Silverstone just in time for the gates to open because Porsche were due to make their first official appearance in top line sports car racing since 1998 Le Mans winning Porsche GT1-98 was retired from competition.
Before the pits walk about which would give spectators an opportunity to see the new Wundercar the third FIA Formula 3 race of the weekend was run. The cars were all mandated 2012 Dallara F312 but now running motors which are sealed and have to last a whole season. Much to the delight of his vocal fan club Ferrari’s protege Antonio Fuoco won the event by just under five seconds from sixteen year old Max “Son of the Boss” Vertappen who is seen above being gifted second place by third place finisher Esteban Ocon who wound up the weekend with the championship lead having finished 2nd and then 1st in the weekends earlier races. Max is son of former Formula One Racer Jos ‘The Boss’ Verstappen perhaps best remembered as the driver sitting in the Benetton which erupted into a fireball at the 1994 German Grand Prix and winner of the 2008 LMP2 Le Mans series title.
By the time I got to the pit lane for the walkabout the queue was already enormous but within a couple of minuets it was moving and unsurprisingly spectators were standing 6 deep trying to get a glimpse of the Porsche 919 Hybrid which was started from scratch, leaving the past behind, as evidenced by the turbocharged 2 litre V4 and and two energy recuperation systems that has been developed over the last 30 months.
The #14 driven by Romain Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb and the #20 driven by Timo Benhard, Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley showed phenomenal speed in free practice being over 10 mph faster than their rivals in a straight line. They lined up 3rd and 6th on the grid respectively despite being the only runners in low down force Le Mans spec.
The #7 Toyota TS 040 Hybrid driven by Alexander Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin and Kazuki Nakajima was on pole ahead of the #1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro driven by Lucas di Grassi, Loïc Duval and Tom Kristensen. Forth on the grid was the #2 Audi of Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benoit Tréluyer ahead of fifth place Anthony Davidson, seen seated above right, who shared the #8 Toyota with Nicolas Lapierre and Sebastian Buemi, seated above right. Less than half a second covered the qualification times of the 6 work LMP1 cars.
Toyota led the opening laps of the race but it was not long before André Lotterer in the #2 Audi, seen above about to relieve the Sebastian Buemi of third place, got to the front of the field. As the first hour of the race unfolded rain started to fall that would, unknown to anyone at the time decide the outcome of the race. Buemi pitted from fourth to take on a set of intermediates, Wurz pitted from second to take on full wets as Toyota wisely split it’s strategy between its cars while the ever optimistic Audi Team elected to stay on slicks.
The Porsche 919’s were running comfortably in 5th and 6th places until the #14 first lost a wheel and then returned only to experience a drive problem and retire after completing only 30 laps. In the LMGTE Pro class however the works 911 RSR’s were comfortably running 1st and 2nd with the #91 driven by Patrick Pilet, Jörg Bergmeister and Nick Tandy easing away from the #92 seen above driven by Marco Holzer, Frédéric Malowiecki and Richard Lietz. With less than an hour to go the #91 pulled into pit for full wets but when the #92 was about to follow suit the pit lane was closed, and was to remain so until the race was called nearly half an hour early handing the LMGTE Pro class win and 7th place overall to the #92 of Holzer, Malowiecki and Lietz who finished just over 40 seconds ahead of their team mates.
The LMP2 class pole was won by Roman Rusinov, Oliver Pla and Julien Canal driving the #26 Morgan – Nissan, seen with Oliver Pla driving through Becketts above, from the similar #47 Oreca 03 badged example driven by Mathew Howson, Richard Bradley and Tsugio Matsuda. On their way to a 5th place finish overall the #26 had to change their nose twice, to repair damage the first time and then fit one with the correct dive planes the second, but managed to catch and pass the #47 which received a 10 second penalty for speeding in the pit lane and was later penalised a lap for unsafe release from a pit stop.
Meanwhile the #7 Toyota, seen above about to overtake the #88 LMGTE Am Porsche RSR driven by Christian Ried, Claus Bachler and Khaled Al Qubaisi, on the full wets was struggling and fell behind the sister #8 car of Davidson,Lapierre and Buemi on intermediates which inherited the lead after the #1 Audi which di Grassi crashed into the barriers on slicks in the wet at Woodcote had to retire with a broken suspension pick up point and the #2 Audi also on slicks lost four laps and five places when Lotterer went off at Stowe.
While the #2 was making up lost time the #71 LMGTE Pro Ferrari F458 Italia, seen above was being driven by Davide Rigon and James Caldo to an eventual 5th in class finish ahead of the #81 F458 Italia driven by Stephen Wyatt, Michele Rugolo and Sam Bird which recorded a third place class finish in the LMGTE Am division behind …
two works Aston Martin Vantage V8’s. On this occasion #95 Aston Martin seen above brought home the GTE Am bacon with Danes Kristian Poulsen, David Heinemeir Hansson, Nicki Thiim recording a 15th place overall along with class honours.
On intermediate tyres Benoit Treluyer recovered to 4th place in the #2 Audi when just after the 3 hour mark he appears to have locked a wheel braking for Copse corner, clouted the inside barrier and then went sailing over the kitty litter to come to rest on solid ground against the barrier, which he hit hard enough for the front wheels to be facing in different directions. Benoit valiantly cleared up the worst of the mess, against the marshals better judgement, jumped back in the car fired it up and got it going all of 5 yards before the Audi steered its self into the gravel trap and retirement. For the first time in 18 races going back to 2011 neither Audi finished which “may” yet have effectively handed not just the race but also the World Endurance Championship to Toyota.
On his LMP1 debut New Zealander Brendon Hartley meantime kept the #20 Porsche 919 Hybrid on the black stuff as it progressed to a third place with Timo Bernhard and Formula One™ refugee Mark Webber sharing the podium finish. Porsche will be keeping their Le Mans low down force spec bodywork for the next round of the WEC championship at Spa where they will continue their preparations for Le Mans which they are obviously very keen to win on their return to top flight endurance racing.
“Quick Nick” Heidfeld was the immediate beneficiary of the #2 Audi’s misfortune as he was handed back 4th place in the race driving a triple stint in the long in the tooth Toyota powered Rebellion Racing Lola B12/60 which by Le Mans should be replaced by a pair of Oreca built Toyota powered R-One LMP1 Coupés. Quick Nick with team mates Nicolas Prost and Mathias Beche came home fourth overall a distant 8 laps behind the winning #8 Toyota.
With an hour to go the rain returned getting ever more heavy, this led to the Pace Car being brought out and for twenty odd minuets we had a curious situation where, other than those immediately behind the pace car when it came out, none could maintain anything like the pace necessary to actually catch it. For some like the #12 Rebellion Lola this may well have been because cockpit was steaming up reducing visibility, for others like the #91 Porsche RSR it was because they were on the wrong tyres and the pit lane was closed, because the pace car was out and so with twenty six mins to go the race director sensibly called the race.
Anthony Davidson is seen above celebrating Toyota’s 6th WEC victory with his team mates and the third place Porsche crew on the podium built into The Wing, while the rest of the cars are seen in Parc Ferme on the start finish straight.
The Silverstone 6 Hours, the 2014 edition of which can be seen on this link, has often been used by the works Porsche team as a prelude to it’s assault on the Le Mans 24 hours, on this occasion one of the cars performed well enough to show that the team should be in the ball park for victory in the 24 hour classic, while Toyota cleverly split their tyre strategy during a period of weather uncertainty to secure a victory for one of it’s cars leaving the other well placed.
Last years 6 Hours of Silverstone, Le Mans and World Endurance Championship winners completely dropped the ball when the weather threw a curve ball leaving both of their entries on the wrong tyres at the wrong time showing that not even the very best of teams over the last 15 years always has things to learn and room for improvement.
I am not sure that I’ll be able to make it to Le Mans or indeed any of the rest of the WEC rounds but I’ll be following it with keen interest until the end of the season.
Thanks for joining me on this “Prelude To Le Mans” edition of “Gettin’ a li’l psycho on tyres”, I hope you will join me for Americana Thursday tomorrow ! Don’t forget to come back now !