Andre Lotterer’s immense triple stint in the middle of the race was the difference in a close battle between all 3 LMP1 manufacturers. The German driver’s average lap times were a cut above the rest and ensured that even a late ‘stop-go’ penalty could not prevent the #7 Audi, co-piloted by Marcel Fassler and Beniot Treluyer, from taking victory.
There is a lot to like about the current LMP1 regulations, the hybrid technology is road relevant, they look and sound good and most importantly of all, they are fast; the power trains generating up to, and in some cases in excess of, 1000bhp! And with pre season testing suggesting that Audi and Porsche had made large improvements for 2015, it was with great anticipation that we headed to Silverstone for the opening round of the World Endurance Championship.
From the outset it was clear that Porsche had the one lap pace and so it was no surprise that the 2 Stuttgart machines locked out the front row in qualifying with the #17 of Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley ultimately ending up on pole. Toyota and Audi however were stronger over longer stints which left expectations high for a close fight on race-day.
While the two Porsches in the hands of Mark Webber and Romain Dumas were able to make a good start and focus on building a lead, the Audi’s had a mixed start to the race. In fact the #7 Audi had a poor opening lap with an apparent misfire causing the car to drop back. However such was Audi’s pace that Treluyer had fought back to third position overall as the first hour drew to a close.
A full course yellow as a result of the Signatech Alpine going off at Copse was a good opportunity for the teams to bring in their cars for fuel. Both Audi’s however were still in the pit lane when the track returned to green following their decision to pit on the second lap of the caution period. This in effect cost the German team roughly thirty seconds to Toyota and Porsche who had pitted their cars at the first available opportunity, promoting the #1 Toyota to third position overall.
Porsche looked strong up front, but just as onlookers were contemplating a dominant win, Webber was back in the pits and out of the race with a drive train failure; an unfortunate end to the race for leading car. The #8 Audi meanwhile was soon to be the second major LMP1 player to hit trouble; losing a lap after a collision with the #88 GTE-AM Porsche. And so it appeared victory would be fought out between the #18 Porsche, both Toyotas and the #7 Audi.
The #7 Audi was setting the track alight and by the time the lead cars pitted for the second time Treluyer had reeled in the 919. However it was the #2 Toyota who emerged from pit lane with a 40 second lead courtesy of electing to double stint tyres and to leave Wurz behind the wheel; The top 3 teams changing drivers with Fassler jumping in the Audi, Jani climbing aboard the Porsche and Davidson taking over the #1 TS040.
The pace just wasn’t there for the #2 Toyota though and Wurz was rapidly caught by the chasing trio. Fassler and Jani were now putting on a real show for the fans as the two cars swapped positions lap after lap; the Porsche being much quicker in a straight line but the Audi having a significant advantage through the twisty sections. This squabbling was also helping Davidson in the #1 Toyota as he closed on the two Swiss drivers.
After some twenty laps of lead changes between the two the duel was finally ended by the next round of pit stops. Again Toyota jumped their opposition courtesy of Davidson staying aboard the #1 machine, with Conway second but dropping back partially as a result of picking up a track bollard. Lotterer meanwhile had stepped into the #7 Audi and it wasn’t long before he had despatched both Japanese cars.
Consistently the fastest man on the track and losing very little time in traffic, Lotterer went about building a lead which was over half a minute by the time he handed the car over to Fassler with the race entering the final stages. The German had blown the opposition away and was clearly the difference in what was essentially a close battle between the 3 manufacturers.
Fassler was then able to increase the lead to 40 seconds before the lead Audi was given a ‘stop-go’ penalty for an overtaking infringement. This would make for a close finish as the Porsche had been able to eek out enough fuel to save it from requiring a final ‘splash and dash’; something which both the #7 Audi and the #1 Toyota could not avoid.
Indeed, Nakajima’s late stop caused the Toyota to drop back to third, however Fassler had enough of an advantage to make his splash and dash, take his penalty one lap later and still emerge in the lead of the race. Both the Porsche and Toyota were gaining on the Audi but in reality Fassler was able to control the gap and take victory by 4.6 seconds as the 6 hours elapsed. The #1 Toyota would take third just 10 seconds further back while the sister car would end the race in 4th, a full lap down by the chequered flag. The second Audi of Lucas Di Grassi, Oliver Jarvis and Loic Duval rounding out the top five, 3 laps adrift, after a troubled day in the office.
Nick Tandy managed to get the jump on both G-Drive racing Ligiers at the start of the race in the KCMG Oreca however the race pace of the Russian team was much stronger; both Ligiers managing to pass Tandy by the close of the first hour.
And that was pretty much the story of the race as the #26 and #28 machines drove off into the distance while the rest battled it out for the remaining podium position. Roman Rusinov, Julien Canal and Sam Bird finished the event in 6th position overall to claim LMP2 vistory with the sister car of Gustavo Yacaman, Pipo Derani and Ricardo Gonzalez, 1 lap further back in 7th.
KCMG had a difficult race, losing 18 laps to the class winners by the chequered flag. However a solid performance for the #30 ESM HPD, on it’s WEC swansong, looked to have landed them the final step of the podium, only to be disqualified after the event for running too low. Instead it was the Strakka Dome which took third position; just reward for not giving up after a diversion into the Abbey gravel trap on the very first lap of the race.
After dominating qualifying, Aston Martin held a 1-2-3 in the early stages however the team were unfortunate casualties of the full course yellows in the first hour of the race. All three cars came in under green conditions between the two yellow periods while the other contenders managed to get in and out under caution. In effect this cost them 1 minute and combined with the fact that the British marque’s race pace was not as strong as their one lap times meant they were now completely out of the running for the podium positions.
Instead it was the #92 Porsche of Patrick Pilet and Fred Makowiecki who now lead the race from the #51 AF Corse Ferrari of Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander, the #71 sister car of Davide Rigon and James Calado and the #91 Porsche of Michael Christensen and Richard Lietz.
As the race reached it closing stages, the #92 Porsche had dropped away courtesy of losing 4 minutes in pit road with problems and the experienced #51 Ferrari crew had gotten the better of their younger team-mates. In fact the #91 Porsche had also managed to overhaul the #71 Ferrari, but Michael Christensen could do little about the pace of Bruni over the final stint.
And so yet again Bruni and Vilander stood on the top step of the podium, taking class victory by 10.6 seconds with 10th place overall.
Pedro Lamy, Paul Dalla Lana and Mathias Lauda were able to uphold Aston Martin honours in the GTE AM class however, with Lamy having built enough of a lead to make a late ‘splash and dash’ in the #98 Aston and still take victory by 13 seconds from the AF Corse Ferrari of Francois Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard and Rui Aguas. While the SMP Racing 458 of Victor Shaytar, Andrea Bertolini and Aleksey Basov were only 16 seconds further back in third.
In Summary …
Overall it had been another great weekend of endurance racing and while it was disappointing that Nissan and Rebellion were not ready to take part in round 1, the closeness of the racing between the other top LMP1 teams suggests that this could be one of the best sportscar racing seasons on record. Audi clearly had an advantage at Silverstone with their car working well in the high speed corners of Copse, Becketts and Stowe but it will be interesting to see the relative advantages of the other cars come into play at the remaining circuits on the calendar; Toyota seem to have a more all round car whereas the straight line speed of Porsche is bound to be a massive benefit on the Mulsanne!
In LMP2 it was pleasing to see more cars on the grid and nice to have a bit more variety of machinery. It is a real shame about the ESM HPD project however we eagerly await the forthcoming arrival of the SMP Racing BR01. It is great to see so many different brands across the WEC and ELMS grids and with this in mind I genuinely cannot see any positives from the potential limitation of this formula to 4 chassis manufacturers and 1 engine supplier for 2017. I strongly believe in the saying that if it isn’t broke don’t fix it!
I would absolutely love to be at Spa for round 2 but unfortunately my holiday allocation has already been used up. Surely Porsche will be a strong candidate for victory at the classic Belgium track, but the best thing about 2015 is that no-one genuinely knows who will have the strongest package by then! Exciting, it most definitely is.
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All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)