Sunday 16 July 2017

FIA WEC - 6 Hours of the Nürburgring: Race report

The subject of discussion this morning was not so much the 6 Hours of Nürburgring but predictions about the future of Porsche in LMP1. We have had heard many rumours since Le Mans but now Porsche have announced that they will be making a statement about it within the next two weeks. If the speculation is true it will be a bombshell for the LMP1-H class.

Our morning drive to the track was grey and drizzly and just as we were getting set-up for the main event there was an entertaining Porsche GT3 race on a wet track which had its share of thrills and spills due mostly to over-enthusiasm and 'optimistic' passing attempts in the wet. By the time the Eurocup Formula Renault race was finished, the rain had stopped and the track was drying out, although the sky was still overcast and the forecast was for more showers.

In case you missed it... in the wake of the excitement of G-Drive Racing's LMP2 pole yesterday, the team had their qualifying time deleted as a result of a technical infringement found in post session scrutineering.. The #26 Oreca 07 Gibson was found to have "the front part of its skid block deflecting more than 5mm, in breach of article 3.5.6 d of the LMP2 Technical Regulations." As a result the car started the race from the back of the grid.

There was drama even before race start as Buemi in the #8 Toyota crawled around the formation lap. Because of the stricken Toyota a 2nd formation lap was announced to allow #8 to make it back to pit lane. Panciatici in the #35 Alpine had a spin on lap 1 and lost ground. Pole sitting #92 Porsche slipped to 4th by 2nd lap and #95 Aston led the early GTE Pro order. In LMP2 the pole sitting  #38 Jackie Chan DC racing Oreca slipped back to 3rd behind the two Valliante Rebellion cars 31 and 13.

In the early part of the race there was great dice in GTE Pro between Sorensen in #95 Aston Martin who fought off Fred Mako' in the #91 Porsche from opening laps until 13:47 when Mako' finally made his way past the Aston in front of the Mercedes Arena and immediately pulled away a healthy gap.

Jani in Porsche #1 took 2nd place briefly from team-mate Porsche #2 after the first round of pit stops but let Hartley by again in #2 after a couple of laps. Jarvis in #38 passed Senna on track in #31 for P2 lead at 14:11. After the first routine stops in GTE Am the #98 Aston led #54 Ferrari and #61 Ferrari. In GTE Pro #92 Porsche led from #67 Ford with #91 Porsche in 3rd.

At 14:11 Jackie Chan DC Racing #38 of Jarvis took the lead of P2 from Senna in the #31 Rebellion, then at 14:17 Hartley passed Lopez on pit straight to put #2 Porsche into lead. A couple of laps later Lopez in #7 Toyota was passed by Jani in Porsche #1. This was to be the defining moment of the race for Toyota as Lopez struggled with tyre degradation for the entire stint.

At 14:43  Dienst in Porsche #77 passed Flohr in Ferrari #54 for 2nd in GTE Am, meanwhile the Tockwith Motorsport Ligier #34 was pushed into pit garage with clutch problem leaking oil into cockpit. It was game over for Tockwith even though the car did reappear after repairs. A few minutes later at 14:51 the sun finally came out and there was no further sign of rain. At 15:00 the #35 Alpine was pushed into its pit garage. It was the beginning of the end for the #35. A minute later the Jani in the #1 Porsche passed Hartley in the #2 on pit straight.

After 2 hours in GTE Am #98 Aston led #77 Porsche with #54 Ferrari in third. In P2 #38 DC Racing Oreca led #31 Rebellion Oreca and #37 DC Racing of Gommendy third. In LMP1 Porsche #2 led Porsche #1 with #7 Toyota in third. By 15:33 the delayed #8 Toyota had made its way back up to 4th overall About 16:00 there was a 6 minute pit stop with gearbox compressor problem for Ferrari #71 putting it 5 laps down on leader of GTE Pro.

At half distance after 3 hours, in GTE Am the #77 Proton Porsche led by 7 secs from #98 Aston with #54 Ferrari 5 secs further back in 3rd. In GTE Pro #92 Porsche led by 2 secs from #51 Ferrari with #91 Porsche 17 secs further back in 3rd. In LMP2 the #38 DC Racing Oreca led by 59 secs from team-mate #37 with #36 Alpine 3 secs further back in 3rd. In LMP1 #1 Porsche led #2 Porsche by 3 secs with #7 Toyota 30 secs further back in 3rd.

At 16:15 the Vaillante Rebellion #31 Of Albuquerque made 2 places up to take 2nd place in P2 & Rao took 3rd in #36 Alpine. Cheng in #37 DC Racing slipped down to 4th after all 3 cars had a rather untidy lap. Calado in Ferrari #51 took the lead of GTE Pro just before Porsche #92 dived into pit entry. The troubled Tockwith Ligier #34 was back out at 16:19 after an 81 minute stop to fix a clutch problem but was back in pitlane again at 16:28 a few minutes later. At this point Conway in 3rd placed Toyota #7 was over 40 seconds behind leading Porsche #2. With two and a half hours remaining Ferrari #51 led GTE Pro by 9 secs from Porsche #92 & 25 secs from Porsche #91. At 16:35 there was a fright for Tandy in the #1 Porsche when there was contact with the Ford GT #67 in the hands of Tincknell at Turn 12 back straight sending the Ford into a short visit to a gravel trap.

At 17:02 Tandy in Porsche #1 took back the lead from Bamber in Porsche #2 as he was impeded by the spin of #24 Manor Oreca at T14-15 chicane. Conway in 3rd placed Toyota #7 was over 65 seconds behind leading Porsche #1. Dalla Lana in #98 Aston passed Ried in the #77 Porsche to take GTE Am lead but after pit stop and driver change, Dienst in Porsche #77 regained the GTE Am class lead after 6 second quicker pit stop than Lauda in #98 Aston Martin. At 17:30 Pla in #66 Ford passed Serra in #97 Aston in the short-cut of the chicane but was instructed by the Race Director to give the place up. In doing so he also let by Priaulx in sister car #67 Ford GT. A few minutes later both Ford GTs had managed to pass the #97 to take 5th and 6th in GTE Am class.

Just before the last hour, at the penultimate round of regular LMP1 pit stops there was an untidy one for the #1 Porsche as Lotterer took over which lost them some time but maintaned a five second lead from sister car #2 Porsche. Kobayashi in the #7 Toyota was at a relaively distant 74 seconds off the lead. In LMP2 the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca led by 71 secs from the #31 Vaillante Rebellion Oreca with sister car Vaillante Rebellion #13 10 secs further back in 3rd. In GTE Pro the #51 Ferrari led by 39 seconds from Porsche #91 with Porsche #92 another second further back in 3rd. In GTE Am the #77 Proton Porsche led by 12 seconds from #98 Aston with #54 Ferrari 7 seconds further back.

As we entered the final hour the sun broke through again and any risk of the promised rain was over. The #26 G-Drive Oreca moved up to 7th place in LMP2 after starting from back of grid and serving 3 minute penalty. There was another entertaining Aston Martin vs Ford duel with 30 minutes to go between Tincknell in #67 attempting to pass Adam in the #97 Aston Martin for 5th in class. With 15 minutes on the clock, Harry Tincknell finally found a way around the Aston Martin.

After a final visit to the pits for a splash of fuel for LMP1-H cars with about 13 minutes to go, the order changed with the #2 Porsche leading the #1 Porsche after a 36 second stop against 56 seconds for Porsche #1. At the chequered flag it was Porsche #2 by 1.606 secs from Porsche #1 with Toyota #7 in third place.

In LMP2 #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca won by a lap from the #31 Vaillante Rebellion Oreca with #36 Signatech Alpine 28.610 secs behind in 3rd. In GTE Pro it was the #51 AF Corse Ferrari by 50.076s from #91 Porsche with #92 Porsche further 8.760 secs behind in third. It was the first win for Alessandro Pier Guidi as a factory driver. In GTE Am #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche won by 4.607 secs from the #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari with #98 Aston Martin a lap behind in third place.

There were 27 classified finishers out of 29 cars on the grid. The #35 Signatech Alpine retired and the #34 Tockwith Ligier was not classified as it did not complete 70% of the class winners distance. The winning #2 Porsche completed 204 laps beating the record of 203 laps in 2015.

Text: Dave Davies
Pictures : Kristof Vermeulen
Podium pictures courtesy of Racing International Pictures.