Audi survive late scare to win at Silverstone
Sunshine and gusting winds greeted fans arriving at Silverstone on Sunday for the first round of the FIA World Endurance Championship. After the new team line ups and the national anthems on the grid before the start it was down to business for all the teams eager to start the season on a positive note.
Porsche had qualified on the front row and continued to show that pace as both cars pulled away from the chasing group. The opposite happened to the No. 7 Audi as Treluyer struggled to get the car off the line. Not only did he see the rest of the LMP1 grid disappear around the first corner, but he was then engulfed by the LMP2 runners as well. It could have been the surprise of the slow Audi that caused the new Strakka Racing Dome to immediately spin off in to the gravel, sending them to the very back.
Just six minutes in to the race the leading LMP1 cars were in traffic as they caught the back markers in the GTE field. The closing speeds were astonishing. The speed of the whole LMP1 grid was impressive throughout. The lap times were comparable with the middle of the F1 grid last year. Keeping in mind the weight of the cars, the fuel and the distance of the race, this was remarkable. Webber’s Porsche was particularly quick, pulling out a 10 second advantage on his team mate in second place. Behind them the battle between Audi and Toyota for third place saw them trading places in and out of Brooklands.
In the LMP2 field the KCMG car benefitted from a great start to take the lead in class, but within the first hour it was being chased down by the two orange and black G Drive Racing cars. Despite a valiant effort from Tandy at the wheel, he was passed on consecutive laps and the G Drive cars didn’t look back. The stricken Strakka Racing car, was recovering from the back and had a different view as it began to fight its way back through the congested field.
Aston Martin started at the front of the GTE Pro field and started well, initially holding off the challenge of Porsche, with Ferrari staying out of trouble and watching developments unfold in front of them. GTE Am was equally close with the sole Corvette getting ahead of the Porsche and the AF Corse Ferrari, with Aston Martins watching closely.
Things were to change beyond the first hour. The leading Porsche, with Webber at the wheel, was called to the pit lane and pushed back in to the garage. Unfortunately it was never to return, as a driveshaft failure curtailed their race, leaving a lone Porsche out front.
Audi’s double challenge was reduced shortly after Porsche. Following impact with a GTE Porsche at Becketts, the No. 8 Audi had to return to the garage for bodywork repairs. Time in the garage cost the car a lap, but the damage appeared a little more than cosmetic. The car never really recovered and continued to look unstable when it returned to the track. Their challenge was over.
At the front the battle was really just beginning. Over the period of more than an hour the remaining Audi and Porsche became locked in a tremendous battle. They were also briefly joined by the No. 1 Toyota as the pit stop strategy panned out. The lead constantly changed between the cars while Neel Jani and Marcel Fassler, expertly weaved their vehicles through the traffic. The Porsche was clearly able to pull away from the Audi along the straights, but it was quickly reeled in again by the Audi under passed under braking in to the corners. The battle continued for lap after lap, neither able to put any distance between themselves and their rival, despite different pit stop & tyre stinting strategies.
Eventually the No. 7 Audi managed to break the stranglehold and a gap appeared. The Porsche had to be careful as the chasing Toyotas double stinted the tyres bringing them back in to the mix. Toyota and Porsche both challenged the leader throughout the rest of the race, but neither could hold the lead for any length of time, and going in to the last hour the Audi continued to lead with a gap of almost 40 seconds.
The LMP2 race became a comfortable 1 -2 for the G-Drive Racing. Once they had passed the KCMG car they built a lead that could never be surpassed. The No. 26 car ahead of the sister Ligier. The battle behind them saw the fluorescent green Extreme Speed HPD car finish in the third podium spot, but they were later disqualified by the stewards for worn bodywork beneath the car. This meant a late promotion for the Strakka Racing Dome that had fought its way back from that initial spin at the first corner. A great effort from the home based team.
The GTE Pro race was more difficult to predict. The initial dominance of Aston Martin was undermined by a decision to pit under a full course yellow, setting their strategy off against the Porsche and Ferraris. The Manthey Porsche team looked strong but ultimately it was the experience of Bruni and Vilander that brought the AF Corse Ferrari home for the win.
Audi survive late scare to win at Silverstone
Back at the front it was difficult to call a winner. Audi were ahead of Porsche who were in turn ahead of Toyota; a three way fight to the finish. The Audi built enough of a gap to enable them a splash and dash to the line, but the Porsche and Toyota were closing. Just as the Audi was coming in for that last stop, the stewards gave the Audi a stop/go penalty for overtaking squabbling GTE cars by taking all 4 wheels off the track. The Audi came back to the pitlane on their outlap and served the penalty to emerge just seconds ahead of the chasing Porsche. The gap now much reduced to just 8 seconds with 10 laps remaining.
In the last few laps the Toyota in third was catching the Porsche in second, who in turn was catching the leading Audi. The Porsche closed the gap to less than 8 seconds but just couldn’t catch the Audi. Fassler held on to give Audi the win and start the FIA WEC season on the top of the podium.
This was an incredible race, and sets up the next round at Spa perfectly. All three prototype challengers appear to have improved on last year’s model and there is clearly little to choose between them. This could be the best FIA World Endurance Championship season yet.
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