The Porsche LMP1 team scored the perfect result in Mexico at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, with a 1-2 finish for the two 919 Hybrids. In the GTE Pro class, Richard Lietz and Frédéric Makowiecki (#91 911 RSR) crossed the line in third place. The #77 911 RSR of Christian Ried, Matteo Cairoli and Marvin Dienst were the winners in the GTE Am class, with the similar #86 car of Ben Barker, Michael Wainwright and Nick Foster finishing in third place in class.
Mexico was the first race on the calendar after the summer break for all the teams, and it was also the first of the fly-away races, being the fifth of nine rounds of the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship. Although this was the second time that Mexico has hosted a WEC round, it is by all accounts, probably the last as Mexico City does not appear on the new-look 2018/19 calendar.
After torrential rain fell earlier in the week which saw the airport closed, flights diverted, major delays for drivers and team members. The first practice session, though, was held on a wet but drying track early Friday evening, and the race itself was run in dry conditions. In the WEC, the average of the two fastest laps of two drivers counts for the qualifying result. Here, Bernhard and Hartley achieved an average time of 1:24.562 minutes in car #2, while Lotterer and Tandy in car #1 managed a time of 1:24.710 min. It was Hartley who set the outright fastest qualifying lap of 1:24.459 minutes which topped last year’s best time of 1:24.763 minutes set by Lotterer in an Audi.
Both Porsche 919 Hybrids started from the front row of the grid at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, named after the brothers Pedro and Ricardo Rodríguez. The championship leaders and this year’s Le Mans winners, Earl Bamber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley took pole position on a dry track. It is the 17th pole position for the Porsche 919 Hybrid since its debut in 2014 and the second this year after Jani and Lotterer had been fastest in the Spa qualifying. The last front row lock-out for Porsche dates back to the 2016 Le Mans 24 Hour race. Since Porsche’s return to the top category of Le Mans Prototypes in 2014, the Porsche 919 Hybrid has won 15 races.
Team Principal Andreas Seidl shared his thoughts after qualifying, “The most specific feature is the altitude of 2250m above sea level. Thin air with less oxygen makes appropriate cooling of the power train and brakes difficult and also has a huge influence on aerodynamics. Lower drag leads to less downforce and stability in the corners. On the other hand, top speeds on the 1.2km long straight tend to be high.”
How the race went for car number 1
Tandy started from P2 and stayed on the heels of the leading sister car, refuelling after 40 laps and handing over to Lotterer after 80 laps. Because Tandy had exceeded the pit lane speed limit, Lotterer had to serve a stop-and-go penalty at the end of lap 91 costing around 20 seconds, and causing the car to lose contact with the leading #2 Porsche. Lotterer then refuelled after 120 laps and handed over to Jani after 160 laps who was able to lap the #8 Toyota while still in pit lane. Jani refuelled again after 181 laps and picked up fresh tyres, taking advantage of a full course yellow phase and on lap 190, he also lapped the #7 Toyota. The team again used a full course yellow to refuel after 200 laps. After 237 laps, Jani stopped for a splash of fuel and finished the race three laps later in second position.
How the race went for car number 2
Hartley took a solid lead from pole position, and on lap three set the fastest lap of the race of 1:25.730 minutes. He refuelled after 39 laps and then handed over the 919 to Bamber after 79 laps. The team’s second Kiwi refuelled after 119 laps and at this stop, a defective fuel flow meter sensor that controls the petrol consumption, was replaced. On lap 121, mid-distance in the race, Bamber lapped the first Toyota and then on lap 136 he lapped the second one. After 159 laps, Bamber handed over to Bernhard. For the German’s first stop the team used a full course yellow period for refuelling and fresh tyres after 182 laps and when the next full course yellow arose, the team again decided for an early stop, and refuelled after 199 laps. Bernhard continued to lead the race by the substantial margin of half a minute. After 238 of 240 laps, he stopped for a final splash of fuel before claiming a dominant victory.
After the race, Fritz Enzinger, Vice President LMP1, was ecstatic, “The 919 Hybrid was never more dominant than here. We have been fastest in free practice and qualifying and now we’ve got a one-two race win. We have experienced an impressive performance of our prototype and a sensational team effort.”
In the GTE Pro class, Michael Christensen and Kévin Estre (#92 RSR) clocked the sixth fastest qualifying time while their teammates, Richard Lietz and Frédéric Makowiecki, claimed the eighth grid spot in the #91 car. Pole position in the GTE-Am class went to the #77 Dempsey Proton Racing customer team while the second 911 RSR (#86), Gulf Racing, posted the third quickest time.
As a dark cloudbank moved over the track and a few drops of rain began to fall, the race seemed to be at a tipping point. With just 40 minutes left to the flag, a rain shower so close to the finish would have opened the door wide to chance. As it happened, the rain stayed away and the Porsche GT team scored its fourth podium result this season when Richard Lietz and Frédéric Makowiecki crossed the finish line in third place in the GTE-Pro class.
In the second 911 RSR (#92), the pair ended up in fifth place after a far from ideal race. When Michael Christensen tried to overtake an amateur-class Ferrari in the first hour, the Ferrari shunted the #92 car from the side. Later, when a caution phase towards the end of the race thwarted their strategic plans, all hopes of catching up were dashed.
Richard Lietz (911 RSR #91): “That was a strong performance from the whole team. I would like to dedicate this podium result to my grandfather who passed away peacefully last week. He used to race Porsches and he was the biggest Porsche fan I knew. As much as we’re delighted with second in the world championship rankings, it’s nothing more than a snapshot. The final score is always settled at the end.
Frédéric Makowiecki (911 RSR #91): “That was a tough race that ended well for us. As always, the team gave us great support and Richard’s performance today was sensational. I’m proud to be his teammate.”
In the GTE-Am class, the #77 Dempsey Proton Racing the 2015-spec 911 RSR clinched its second win of the season in the hands of Christian Ried, Matteo Cairoli and Marvin Dienst. Ben Barker, Michael Wainwright and Nick Foster (#86) climbed the podium for the first time after securing their best result of the season for Gulf Racing with third place.
Matteo Cairoli (#77, Dempsey Proton Racing): “That was a perfect weekend for us. First pole position and then victory – it doesn’t get better than that. The race was not as easy as it may have seemed, but it went very well for us. Thank you to the entire team who made this success possible.”
Ben Barker (#86, Gulf Racing): “What a race, at last the monkey’s off our back. The whole team deserves this podium. We’ve worked long and hard for it and this success will be duly celebrated.”
WEC points table after Mexico
|1||LMP1||Porsche||Porsche LMP Team||198|
|2||Toyota||Toyota Gazoo Racing||141.5|
|1||GTE Pro||Ford||Ford Chip Ganassi Racing||96|
|2||Porsche||Porsche GT Team||88|
|1||GTE Am||Porsche||Dempsey-Proton Racing||120|
|3||Aston Martin||Aston Martin Racing||110|
Edited by: Glen Smale
Images by: Porsche