Tag Archives: FIAWEC

Porsche and G-Drive Shine in Silverstone Sun

Audi exclusion lands Porsche the RAC Tourist Trophy whilst a faultless drive saw Simon Dolan, assisted by Harry Tincknell and Giedo Van Der Garde, finally claim a second Silverstone ELMS victory after narrowly missing out in both 2014 and 2015.

PorkerWin

As opposed to re-mortgaging your house to visit the British Grand Prix, just £40 buys an adult weekend pass for the opening rounds of the European Le Mans Series and the WEC.   Even better value for money when you consider that, unlike the F1, there is no charge for parking at the circuit!

Both series have seen changes for 2016, the most obvious being the removal of GTC and the separation of qualifying for all three classes in the European Le Mans Series whilst the WEC welcomed new GT regs that would feature aggressive rear diffusers for the GT PRO machines.  None of which appeared to have done any harm as the ELMS boasted a whopping 44 car entry whilst the WEC managed a quality filled 33.  No better way to commence my circuit racing season.

ELMS

The 4 Hours of Silverstone would fill it’s now traditional Saturday afternoon slot and with great anticipation we made the little over an hour journey down to the home of British Motorsport in far from ideal conditions.  You don’t expect the ‘Warning Ice Possible’ sign to appear on your dashboard in mid April, and even more bizarrely we didn’t anticipate the WEC free practice session to be red flagged as a result of Snow!

SnowySilverstone

Pleasingly however, whilst remaining cold, sunshine finally broke through the clouds as the 44 strong ELMS entry began their formation laps;  the Thiriet by TDS Oreca 05 on pole courtesy of a stonking lap from long time Rebellion racer, Mathias Beche.

ELMSPOLE

The day would not end as well as it started for the pole sitting machine however, initially running wide at the start before a stuck throttle would send Pierre Thiriet into the Luffield Barriers.  Which, alongside the mechanical failure of Tristan Gommendy’s Eurasia Oreca 05 at Woodcote on the very same lap, would bring out the first full course caution period of the afternoon.

In the meantime, works Ford man, Harry Tincknell had built a healthy lead in the G-Drive Gibson with only Paul Loup Chatin in the Panis-Barthez Ligier able to stay in touch.  A lead that was relatively commanding before Chatin was able to take advantage of a second full course yellow to allow legendary French Goalkeeper Fabian Barthez to jump aboard; Barthez emerging in the lead of the race courtesy of the earlier G-Drive stop occurring under green flag conditions.

But whilst Barthez was not able to keep Dolan behind for long, driver rankings dictated that the former was required to spend much less time behind the wheel; a tactic which looked favourable given Timothe Buret’s pace.  Unfortunately however, just as the lead battle looked to be getting interesting, the Ligier hit mechanical problems and dropped way out of contention; thus leaving the way clear for ex Caterham F1 pilot, Giedo Van Der Garde, to cruise to victory.  Although crossing the line with just 3 seconds remaining and then setting the car’s fastest lap of the race on the very last tour must have eroded the team manager’s finger nails somewhat!

Behind, the SMP racing BR01 of Stefano Coletti, Julian Leal Covelli and Andreas Wirth came home second whilst a stunning late stint by Olivier Lombard lifted he, Vincent Capillaire and Jonathan Coleman onto the final step of the podium.  Meanwhile Alex Brundle, Mike Guasch and Christian England claimed top spot for United Autosports in the Ligier dominated LMP3 category.

JMW

In GT, disqualification for the JMW squad robbed them of a home victory, where instead the Aston Martin of Andrew Howard, Darren Turner and Alex MacDowall claimed top spot.  A late push from GT pole man Richie Stanaway almost made it an Aston 1-2 but for a debatable last lap move on the AT Racing Ferrari; the New Zealander crossing the line first but subsequently relegated 1 position at the discretion of the stewards.

WEC

WhatADifferenceadaymakes

Fans had packed into Silverstone on Sunday, basking in conditions that could not have been more different to that of the previous morning.  And several coffees, a quick walk around the underwhelming paddock and a lap of the circuit later we were finally back at Luffield, eagerly anticipating the start; a build up to the race disappointingly ruined by an amateurish warm up act on the PA in preference to Radio Le Mans.  The mind boggles!

In tricky conditions, Audi had stunned onlookers by beating  Porsche to pole position and it was the #7 R18 in the hands of Andre Lotterer who lead the opening laps of the race.  However its was a lead that would last just 25 minutes as Mark Webber in the #1 Porsche was a man on a mission, going on to build a commanding lead before handing over the reigns to Brendon Hartley.

WorldChamps

But, just as Porsche looked like they were going to walk away with it, the young New Zealander made an error of judgement passing the Gulf GTE AM 911 of Michael Wainwright.  And just like that their race was over, thankfully both drivers escaping injury after what was a pretty scary collision; the LMP1 regulations appearing to do their job as the #1 Porsche refused to flip.

YOUTUBE CLIP

Meanwhile the #8 Audi had also hit trouble after the first round of pit-stops.  Oliver Jarvis had put in a great first stint, managing to pass the sister car during the stops but dropping back with hybrid issues at around a quarter distance; the same issue that would cause a recently installed Lucas Di Grassi to park the troublesome machine out on track.  A full course caution was required to remove both of the stricken German machines.

This left the #7 Audi and the #2 Porsche to battle it out for victory with Benoit Treluyer in the R18 managing to sneak past Marc Lieb as the track returned to green after the aforementioned incidents.  Both cars would later endure spins, whilst a safety car period for debris would bring the #6 Toyota in the reckoning;  the 2014 champions however, whilst showing glimpses of pace, were not able to string consistently quick laps together and would never seriously challenge the top step of the podium.

With just a quarter of the race to go there was still little to choose between the front running cars.  Whilst the Audi held a slim lead , attention turned to fuel consumption and whether Porsche could make it to the flag with 1 less stop.  As it happened both the Porsche and Audi required a ‘Splash and Dash’ and whilst Jani was expected to close in on Fassler during the final stint, the Audi was never really troubled.  It had been a great drive by the #7 Audi which reminded me very much of their mighty performances against the super fast Peugeot not so long ago.  Such a shame therefore that they were excluded for an over-worn skid block.  Rules are rules however.

Winners_Stowe

Elsewhere Bruno Senna, Ricardo Gonzalez and Filipe Albuquerque put in a great performance in the RGR Ligier to defeat the similar Sebring and Daytona winning ESM machine and claim LMP2 honours with 5th position overall.

Meanwhile AF Corse Ferraris dominated the GT ranks where the PRO machines will be lucky to escape a balance of performance adjustment for Spa; the #71 of Sam Bird and Davide Rigon leading from start to finish whilst the #51 of Gianmaria Bruni and James Calado ovecame starting from the very back of the grid and a 3 minute stop and go penalty to claim 2nd!  Further back the 458 of Francois Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard and Rui Aguas topped the AM machines.

GTWinners

GALLERY
WEEKEND THOUGHTS

It would be fair to say that whilst I thoroughly enjoyed both days of competition, I much preferred the ELMS action at last year’s event.  Whilst I appreciate it would be difficult to beat the epic finale to the 2015 opening round, I definitely had a feeling that the Prototype, GT balance has stepped too far in the direction of the former.  In my view GT cars are a vital part of any endurance race and 9 from 44 is too low a ratio for me.

The WEC on the other hand felt like a massive step forward.  Aside from 3 relatively closely matched LMP1 manufacturer teams, we also saw a revitalised Rebellion on the podium and what must be the best quality LMP2 line-up I have ever witnessed.  Throw in the Ford to the GTE PRO ranks and we have a phenomenal formula for success.  The only thing missing is a works Corvette.

Other notable points from the weekend ….

POSITIVES
  • £40 for a weekend pass is incredible value for World level Motorsport.  It costs near £100 to watch Wales Rally GB with zero facilities!
  • Showsec security are a breath of fresh air in comparison to the G4S of old.
  • The array of talent in all 4 classes of the WEC in unbelievable.  When you consider the likes of Bruno Senna, Roberto Mehri, Will Stevens and Nic Lappierre feature the second class of competition you know that the FIA and ACO are doing something right.
  • The straight line pace of Toyota bodes well for a 3 way fight at Le Mans, lets face it, the one event that matters in the endurance racing season.
  • Audi managing to hold their own against their World Champion counterparts.
  • The ability to walk the entire Silverstone circuit, inside and out.
NEGATIVES
  • £4 for a can of Guiness?  Are you having a laugh?  I can get 4 cans from Tesco for the same price!
  • The disappointing engine note of the new turbo engined Ferrari 488!
  • Disqualification of the winning car several hours after the podium.
  • The awful warm up act on the PA system and the lack of Radio Le Mans pre race.
  • The removal of the GTC class from the ELMS ranks.
  • The lack of varierty in LMP3.
  • The stone-age Silverstone ticket ordering system which still doesn’t allow race tickets to be sent to a different address to where the card is registered!
  • A lot of hanging around on Sunday morning.  Is there really no room for more support races?

However, the positives far outweigh the negatives.  Bring on the big one in June.  It could be a genuine three way battle at the front …

All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)

Lucky Number 17 for Porsche

17 years on from the German marque’s last win, Porsche recorded their 17th overall Le Mans 24 hour race victory as Nico Hülkenberg, Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber drove a faultless race to take the flag 1 lap clear of their more fancied team-mates.

Winners Whilst no one was surprised by the qualifying pace of Porsche,  Audi’s performances at both Silverstone and Spa cast doubt over whether they could defeat their sister brand in the race.  After-all, qualifying 1, 2 and 3 means very little over a race distance of 24 hours. PoleWinners And so it was no great shock that Neel Jani’s stunning 3:16.887 early on in qualifying 1 was enough to grab pole; teams deciding to forgo grid position in preference for race set-up over the remaining time available.  With no real contest for pole, off-track discussion centred around how fast Porsche could actually lap circuit de la sarthe with some even suggesting that a gentleman’s agreement was the only thing standing in the way of the 3:15 barrier!  Regardless, a 249kph average lap time is incredibly quick and nearly 6 seconds quicker than the fastest lap achieved in 2014!

Thankfully Saturday was warm and dry which seamed to suit the #17 Porsche as it climbed to the top of the time-sheets in the hands of Timo Bernhard; the long time factory driver managing to hold the Porsche mantle as the sister cars fell behind the fast charging Audis.  Brendon Hartley would later carry on the good work only to be charged with a 1 minute stop go penalty for speeding in a slow zone; a penalty later served by Mark Webber, hampering the Australian ex F1 star’s continued search for a maiden Le Mans victory.

As darkness engulfed the circuit des 24 heures, Romain Dumas found himself in the Mulsanne Corner tyre wall; a feat later replicated by Neel Jani as the #18 pole sitting Porsche drifted out of contention.  But just as the #17 and #18 cars were faltering, the #19 crew were finding their rhythm.  After struggling early on, Nico Hülkenberg , partially aided by a safety car, was able to bring the white Porsche right back into contention and was leading the event by the time he had handed over to Nick Tandy on lap 146.

The Englishman then, quite possibly, put together the stint of the race to pull away from the the chasing Audi’s.  Not only did the Porsche have the pace, but like Hülkenberg previously, Tandy was able to quadruple stint the tyres in the now cooler conditions.  And when New Zealand’s Earl Bamber jumped into the car some three hours later at just after 3am, the lead was hovering at around the 1 minute mark.

With Audi expected to have the upper hand as daylight broke through, we appeared to be in for a grandstand finish.  Having suffered from fading battery power previously, could Porsche maintain their reliability and manage to keep the likes of a chasing Andre Lotterer at bay? …

Ironically it was the usually bullet proof Audis which ran into trouble on Sunday with the #9 suffering Hybrid issues and the #7 losing an element of it’s rear body work.  A messy race for the Andre Lotterer, Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer Audi, which had seen the pre event championship leaders drop back courtesy of an early puncture, worsened as Fassler was penalised for a safety car infringement.  With the #17 now back up to second position, Porsche just needed to keep going to claim a famous 1-2.

And that they duly did.  The #19 car had run like clock work for the entire race.  Whilst their rivals had all hit trouble, the conditions came to the rookie crew; all three drivers able to string together consistently quick lap times and claim one of the most famous and unexpected victories in recent times.  It may not have been the close finish we were anticipating, but this will be remembered as one of the great Porsche victories; especially given it was the less favoured ‘3rd’ car that took the spoils.

LMP2

P2Winners A winning margin of 48 seconds for the KCMG Oreca of Richard Bradley, Nic Lapierre and Matt Howson tells a misleading story of the race.  As it was, the fantastically liveried KCMG machine was utterly dominant throughout qualifying and the 24 hours, with Richard Bradley setting the scene for Nic Lapierre to make a classy return to the cockpit.  In fact, such was the pace of the Hong Kong based team that they remained in the class lead despite two separate ‘straight on’ incidents at Arnage and a drive through penalty in the first half of the race for a yellow flag infringement.

Things may not have been so easy for them had last year’s winners, Jota Sport, not encountered early problems which caused them to lose more than a lap to their rivals.  Oliver Turvey, Mitch Evans and Simon Dolan subsequently went on to put in a phenomenal drive; Turvey passing the #26 Ligier of Sam Bird to claim second in the final hour and miss out on the win by less than 1 minute.

GTE

Comparable to Silverstone, Aston Martin showed bucket loads of promise in qualifying but faded as the race progressed; their hopes disappearing entirely as the leading #99 Aston Martin collided with the Thiriet by TDS Racing Oreca in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Instead, as daylight appeared, the GTE-PRO battle was being fiercely fought out between the sole remaining #64 Corvette and the #51 AF Corse Ferrari.  Down to a single entry following Jan Magnussen’s heavy crash in qualifying, it was with some surprise that the Pratt and Miller ‘Works’ Chevy was dicing with the vastly experienced Ferrari crew.

At around 17 hours in, the Corvette crew gambled on changing the brakes during a safety car period, a risk which appeared to have failed when they missed their intended safety car slot by 10 seconds, losing a minute to their rivals as a result.  However, only a fool would suggest the race was over with 7 hours still to go and unexpectedly the usually reliable Ferrari hit trouble in the final stages, leaving the way clear for Oliver Gavin, Jordan Taylor and Tommy Milner to take a famous class victory for the American team; their first since 2011. GTEPRO_Winners The #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Mathias Lauda and Pedro Lamy was hot favourite in the GTE-AM class, and while it took a while for them to rise to the top, they held a clear advantage entering the final hour.  But then, disaster struck with Dalla Lana appearing to make a mistake at the Ford Chicane and suffering a big impact with the drivers left tyre wall in front of the packed grandstands.  There was no way back to the pits for the badly damaged Aston, leaving the desperately unlucky Canadian with nowhere to hide.

The SMP Racing Ferrari of Victor Shaytar, Andrea Bertolini and Aleksey Basov had kept the British team within touching distance throughout the race and whilst somewhat fortunate to inherit the win they were fast enough to cross the line in 20th position overall, the second GT car home, and just 5 laps down on the GTE-PRO winning Corvette.  Pretty impressive stuff by the Russian based squad. GTE-AMWinners

TALKING POINT – NICO HULKENBERG

In the 50’s and 60’s it was common place for F1 drivers to take part in the world’s greatest endurance race, but since then very few drivers have combined both; partly due to an increased number of Grand Prix but mainly due to restrictions imposed by the F1 teams.  It was therefore a breath of fresh air to not only hear that Nico Hülkenberg had approached Porsche about taking part, but more importantly Force India had allowed him to take up the opportunity.

With such strong factory driver line ups, Hülkenberg, Tandy and Bamber, having not much experience of racing together, would not have featured in many peoples winning predictions.  But whilst everyone loves an underdog, not all are seeing a current F1 driver standing on the top step of the podium in a positive light.

Social Media jokes along the lines of “Weekend off, won Le Mans” taken out of context could suggest that the great race is too easy as well as undermining the contribution of Tandy and Bamber.  However, the way I see it, a driver of Hülkenberg’s calibre winning Le Mans can only help promote the event and the WEC in general.  Casual F1 fans with previous vague understandings of Le Mans may delve further into the concept and the traditionally none motorsport press are more likely to report it.  The more interest, the more likely current manufacturers will stay around and the greater potential for others to be attracted.

After-all, this wasn’t just any F1 driver who claimed 24 hour glory but in the eyes of many (myself included) one of the most under-rated drivers in the F1 paddock.  Of the current crop, the tall 27 year old is the only man to boast a better junior formula record than Lewis Hamilton.  And combined with his F1 performances, his height is perhaps the only thing stopping the likeable German from obtaining the top level seat he deserves.

Tandy and Bamber may well not achieve the same column inches as their illustrious team mate, but then they haven’t had the same level of prolonged success.  What really matters is that those in the know, especially those in the Sportscar press appreciate the fact that Sportscar Racing is most definitely a team sport, more so than any other motorsport formula.  Rightly so, Tandy was many people’s star of the race for his demon Saturday night and Sunday morning stints, whilst it was Bamber who set the car’s fastest lap and none of it would have been possible without the slick work of their pit crew.

Overall I was most impressed by how well the trio gelled together in such a short space of time; creating a setup which clearly worked for all 3 drivers during the race and going on to achieve one of the greatest feats in recent endurance racing history.  The winning driver line up formed from 3 Le Mans LMP rookies with just 4 starts between them.  I just hope they get the chance to defend their crown!

GALLERY

All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)