Despite a well calculated but significant aerodynamic disadvantage, Porsche fought for the victory with the 919 Hybrid at the 6 Hours of Silverstone. After six hours of racing in the FIA World Endurance Championship season-opener on the challenging British Grand Prix circuit, the trio of Earl Bamber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley crossed the finish line just 6.173 seconds behind the winning Toyota of Sébastien Buemi,Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima. Buemi had clawed in Hartley in a breath taking final stint with only seven laps to go. The second Porsche 919 Hybrid of reigning world champion Neel Jani, André Lotterer and Nick Tandy finished third.
The first race of the 2017 WEC was accompanied by typical cool and changeable British weather with rather low ambient and track temperatures and occasional light rain. However, this did not hamper the atmosphere with 50,200 fans attending over the weekend.
The Porsche LMP Team leads the manufacturers’ classification after the first of nine championship rounds on 33 points with Toyota second (26.5). In the drivers’ standings, the Porsche crews are currently second and third.
Jani started the No.1 in postion three on the 27-car grid and slips behind the sister car in the first part of the opening lap. After 28 laps Jani pitted for fuel only and continued in fourth.
“I was first in our car and at the start I struggled with some oversteer." said Jani "I had two very big moments on lap one because the rear tires were not warm enough. Then, as expected, we were slower than the Toyotas but not by too much. It was all about managing the traffic on track and I had two situations that cost me a lot of time. On the second stint, when the tires were pretty used, it wasn’t easy to handle the front axle but still it was better than expected.”
At the second regular pit stop (fuel and tires) after 57 laps, Tandy took over and remained in P4. Tandy moved up to third on lap 64 ahead of Toyota No.7 which appeared to have an issue. After 86 laps, Tandy pitted for fuel only and closed on the No.8 Toyota. When the rain set in, Tandy stopped again only three laps later (after 89 laps) to take on intermediate tires.
After 98 laps, Tandy hands over to Lotterer who continues on slicks in P3 behind the lead No.8 Toyota and the No.2 sister Porsche. On lap 117, the No.7 Toyota crashed causing a safety car period that Lotterer used for refuelling.
“It was good to have my first race with the team." said Lotterer "I had no major issues but I’m still obviously in a learning process. The car requires a completely different driving style. Overall it was a positive race and better than expected as we thought we would be a lot weaker against the Toyotas.”
With 141 race laps completed, the tire performance dropped significantly and the team decide to stop early and let Tandy take over again. At his final stop for fuel after 171 laps Tandy only changed the two left hand tires which had been used during qualifying and finished third.
“I felt comfortable with the car and all went well in my opening stint." said Tandy It rained just after we had stopped for fuel. We had to do an extra stop for tires which was a shame and that dropped us down. The car was working well in the dry as well as in the damp. Before I came in to change from slicks to inters, the track conditions were really tough. It was just a matter of trying not to crash. We rolled the dice on strategy with our car in my final stint by taking tires and although the pace was good, I couldn't pull back the time. That said, I'm really optimistic for the future after such a good run with both cars in this set-up.”
Hartley started the No.2 and moved up from his fourth place start to third in the opening corners on the first lap. At the end of lap 29 Hartley refueled and resumed in P3, consistently matching the Toyota lap times.
After 59 laps, Hartley handed the No.2 over to Bernhard, the German rejoining second ahead of Toyota No.7. After 87 laps, Bernhard pitted for fuel only but on short notice, had intermediate tires fitted. He rejoined the race in P2.
“On my stint towards mid-race, it wasn’t really easy to find a good rhythm." said Bernhard "I managed to follow the leading Toyota and the timing to change from slicks to inters was right, but it was pretty slippery out there. The necessary change back to slicks shortened the second half of my scheduled double stint from 29 to twelve laps.”
Bamber took over the car 99 laps into the race, the car on slicksand in P2. During the safety car period triggered by the No.7 Toyota crash, Bamber pitted for fuel after 117 laps.
“I had a good stint and the car was handling well." said Bamber "We had mixed and difficult conditions out there but we survived and managed to keep hanging on to the Toyotas and fight. We were actually competitive on a low downforce kit in Silverstone and this was excellent.”
At 149 laps, Hartley took over again and began to chase the leading Toyota. When Hartley pited for his final refuelling after 178 laps, he led the race by almost one minute. Hartley rejoined the race with a lead of eight seconds with 30 minutes to go in the race. The Toyota not only benefited from better aerodynamics due to the high downforce configuration but also was on fresher tires. On lap 190 of 197, and in light drizzle, Buemi squeezed himself through on the inside of Hartley’s car to take the race win.
“It was an action-packed first lap, getting the jump on Neel around the outside of Turn 3." said Hartley "He gave me room, which was good. I did my best to hang on to the Toyotas while at the same time trying to save a little fuel which would open up our strategy. I was back in the car for the finish and it was very close, closer I think than many thought it would be but I was always optimistic. We took a gamble at the end by not taking tyres to retain track position. Buemi was a little forceful although he'd have got through sooner or later but we can all be happy with second place.”
Fritz Enzinger, Vice President LMP1 closed by saying, “This was a thriller for us as well as for the spectators. Due to our consequent decision for the low-downforce aero package, as expected we couldn’t be a threat in qualifying. Therefore, we are even happier about today’s second and third place with such a marginal gap to the winners. Our low downforce aerodynamic package now has its most difficult race behind it. We can very much look forward to the next race at Spa-Francorchamps. The fans there can expect to see even more from us. Thanks a lot to the entire team.”
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