Wednesday 2 September 2015

Clean sweep for Porsche in LMP1 and GTE-Pro at the Nürburgring.

After dominating the final practice session and qualifying on Saturday, Porsche delivered at their home race in Germany. 62.000 race fans saw them take both top spots in LMP1 and GTE-Pro after a very entertaining 6 hour race.

Neel Jani in the #18 Porsche 919 Hybrid kept his lead into the first corner and managed to create a comfortable gap between him and the #17 sister car of Timo Bernhard. Due to a faulty sensor in the #18, they couldn't manage the fuel flow decently which resulted in 3 stop-and-go penalties (5, 30 and 60 seconds), eventually costing them 2 laps. This opened the way for the #17 car on to their first team victory. Behind the leading Porsche, the 2 Audi's were lapping consistently, but lacked pace to stay close to the 919. In the second part of the race, Marc Lieb and Neel Jani put their foot down and managed to catch both Audi's in front of them with less than an hour to go. Clean sweep for Porsche, ahead of the 2 Audi's, with the #8 letting the sister car through by the end of the race to score maximum championship points.

The two Toyota Gazoo Racing TS040 Hybrids had a steady and reliable pace, but lacked the outright speed to compete with Porsche and Audi. The defending champion came in 5th with the second Toyota  in 6th position. Rebellion racing, who entered their first 6 hour race of the season, had quite an eventful afternoon. The #13 car of Abt, Kraihamer and Imperatori hit trouble in the first lap and was the only car who didn't make it to the finish this race, while the #12 driven by Heidfeld, Prost and Beche also had its share of mechanical glitches, getting no further than 20th after 6 hours. ByKolles got their car at the finish in 18th place overall, even after losing their rear wing on the straight, giving the Austrian team their first points of the season.

Mark Webber who scored his first win in F1 here at the Nürburgring in 2009, was obviously delighted with his maiden win in WEC at the same track. “When I made the decision to continue to drive after my retirement in F1, it was a no-brainer to drive for a famous brand on and off track like Porsche. We're still a new team and learning every day but it's a team effort and racing with these guys is a real pleasure”.

KCMG, with Le Mans winner Nick Tandy at the wheel of their Oreca 05-Nissan, dominated the LMP2 class and took back to back wins after their victory in Le Mans. Leading the race almost flag to flag, except after their first pitstop, they won it over both G-Drive Ligier-Nissans. SARD Morand came in fourth, an encouraging result after their problems on Thursday evening, when the car was impounded for a short time.  The promising debut of the Strakka Gibson didn't get through in the race, with only a seventh place at the finish after speeding in the pitlane twice and a late race contact with an Aston Martin.

In GTE Pro, the Manthey run Porsche works team were eager to get a good result in their backyard. When the pole sitting AF Corse Ferrari #51 of Bruni and Vilander got caught by electrical gremlins after only 15 minutes in the race, the #91 Porsche 911 RSR moved up to take the lead from fouth position on the grid. Michael Cristensen and Richard Lietz continued to lead the GT field thoughout the race . The #92 Porsche's race was less smoothly. Fred Makowiecki had a jump start, with a stop-and-go penalty as result. He came back out in last position and started an impressive charge to the field together with Patrick Pilet. After a mouthwatering fight with the #71 AF Corse Ferrari, they took second place around mid course and never looked back. The #71 F458 Italia held on to third place ahead of the Aston Martin armada, even after they suffered a puncture near the end of the race.

GTE Am was won by SMP Racing with the #72 Ferrari on top with Bertolini, Shaytar and Basov behind the wheel. Second victory in a row for the Russian after Bertolini took the lead nearly half way the race from the #98 Aston Martin. Behind the 2 leaders, Dempsey Proton Racing and AF Corse battled it out for the third spot on the podium. At the end the #83 AF Corse held its advantage, despite a late charge by Patrick Long in the #77 who just came 3 seconds short for a podium finish.

Great (hot) weather on race day, 62.000 fans during the weekend, packed grandstands, great atmosphere in the paddock ... the Nürburgring showed that they deserve their place on the WEC calendar. As Dr. Ullrich said on the startgrid “Germany was waiting for this race. The fans to see those cars on a German track, the local manufacturers to show their cars and technology to their home crowd”. The 2016 schedule will be presented at COTA in a few weeks, let's see/hope there's a place reserved for an extra race at the 'Ring next year.

The WEC now goes overseas and heads on to the Lonestar Le Mans at COTA in Austin, Texas on September 19th.  But first, we're heading to Paul Ricard this weekend for the fourth round of the ELMS championship.

Kristof Vermeulen.