Tag Archives: Victor Shaytar

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)

Lotterer Leads Audi to Silverstone Glory

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.

Winners

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.

PolePosition

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.

LMP2

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.

LMP2

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.

GTE PRO

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.

GTEV2

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.

GTE AM

GTE-AM

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.

GALLERY
FULL RESULTS
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.

For JPEGS or any other enquiries please get in touch via paul.commons@yahoo.co.uk

All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)