What a wave of jubilation must have swept through the pit garage of the #92 Porsche RSR of Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre when they realised that they had secured pole position in the 2017 Nürburgring 6 Hour. Class pole was set by Christensen on Saturday with a time of 1:54.007, while Fred Mako was in third place with a time of 1:54.518, making it the first time since Bahrain in 2013, that a 911 has claimed class pole. In the LMP1 camp it was the #2 Porsche 919 that was ahead of the sister #1 car, filling positions two and three on the grid respectively.
As a result, the surge of enthusiastic support from Porschephiles on Porsche Road & Race’s social media radar was quite unexpected, which just shows that supporters of the Stuttgart manufacturer have had their fill of unfavourable BOPs over the years. The new method of calculating BOP, as from Round 4 at the Nürburgring, is now objectively done by computer rather than by a human. This new method was agreed to by all the manufacturers at the beginning of the year and is far fairer, although the ACO will still have the final say as regards BOP for the Le Mans 24 Hour.
At the start of the race, the #7 Toyota which was on pole, maintained its position at the top of the leaderboard for the first hour of the race. In fact, the first three cars on the starting grid were still the first three at the end of the first hour, but the #1 (Lotterer) and #2 (Bernhard) Porsches had swapped places. The #8 Toyota of Sébastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima suffered early technical trouble when a fuel pump failed on the grid, and the repair cost it five laps.
In the GTE Pro class, the #92 was in pole position with the #91 in third place, but Christensen found himself down in fourth place after making a braking error. After 60 minutes, it was the #91 car that led the race but this had more to do with pit stops. With two hours completed, the #2 Porsche led the race with the #1 Porsche just behind in second. Up until the halfway mark (three hours), there was still no sign of rain, but the threat for rain was ever-present. Just after the halfway mark, the #51 Ferrari slipped past the #92 Porsche but in fairness Christensen was coming in for fuel. The Danish driver stayed on board and rejoined the race in third place, just behind the #91 car.
With three-and-a-quarter hours on the clock, Bamber (#2) slipped past Tandy (#1) and it appeared that the #1 car was slowing, but this was down to traffic getting in Tandy’s way, allowing Bamber through. In the GTE Am class, the #77 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR was leading the class at this point with the #86 Gulf Porsche down in fifth place (last) but with all cars very close together.
At the top of the LMP1 class, the order was the #2 Porsche followed by the #1 sister car with two hours left to run, with the #7 Toyota a minute back in third. The GTE Pro battle was close, with the Ferrari stretching its lead slightly with the #92 and #91 Porsches not far behind at this stage. In the Am class, it was still the #77 Porsche of Christian Ried in the lead but the #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana was all over the back end of the Porsche. It was all change in the Pro class too, as Fred Mako got ahead of Christensen and up at the top in LMP1, Tandy slipped past Bamber who was baulked by a spinning LMP2 car.
With just five minutes to run the #2 Porsche led the #1 Porsche by 2.2 seconds, with the #7 Toyota a lap down. In the GTE Pro class, the #51 Ferrari was stretching its lead from the two Porsches, the tyres providing better longevity on the Italian car. Richard Lietz in the #91 was followed by the #92 car with Kevin Estre at the wheel, nine and half seconds down – this is the way the race finished. In the Am class, the #77 Porsche held station from a charging #54 Clearwater Ferrari. So, in all of these classes, competition was extremely tight.
As the race came to a close, the #2 car driven by Timo Bernhard crossed the line first from the #1 car with Andre Lotterer at the wheel. After six hours of intense racing, the two cars were separated by just a second-and-a-half.
Porsche’s victory at the Nürburgring this weekend gave them a hat trick at the circuit, which, coming just a month after their win in the Le Mans 24 Hour race, was particularly sweet. This marked the third time that Bernhard and Hartley had won at the Nürburgring, but this year were joined by Earl Bamber. This victory marks the fifth one-two finish for the Porsche LMP1 team since its introduction back in 2014. This means that Porsche extend their lead in the LMP1 class to 154 points (39.5 points ahead of Toyota). Timo Bernhard said, “In the end it was a fantastic day for Porsche, recording a one-two race win on home soil. Either Porsche could have won today – it was very close from the start right through until the end.”
The GTE Pro class was won by the Ferrari by fifty seconds from the two 911 RSR cars, with Richard Lietz in the #91 car a mere eight seconds ahead of Kevin Estre in the #92 Porsche. In the Am class, the #77 Proton Competition Porsche won by a gap of just 4.6 seconds, with the #86 Gulf Porsche two laps down on the class winner. The win by the #77 Proton Porsche was the first this season for the Christian Ried/Matteo Cairoli/Marvin Dienst trio. “[It was] A dream came true for me today. The last laps with the Ferrari breathing down my neck were the toughest in my racing career. I knew that he was only seconds behind me. Thank you to the entire team and to my teammates for their tremendous support,” a thrilled Cairoli said afterwards. This is a young man to watch in the future!
Talk in the paddock was that Porsche was going to make the 2017 Porsche 911 RSRs available to its customer teams next year, something that Ford have said they would also do. Ford resisted making its car available to customer teams after its first year in competition, and Porsche said at the start of the season that this mid-engined 911 was only going to be a factory car. Either the ACO has been very busy persuading these two manufacturers to reconsider, or this was always going to happen, and we were just intentionally being thrown off course. Either way, it’s good news!
The rumour mill began prior to the race in Germany, as the Porsche Road & Race ‘mole’ had informed the editorial team at the beginning of the week that Porsche might not be racing in LMP1 in 2018. As was reported back in 2015, the Porsche LMP1 programme was to be funded through until the end of 2018 pending the publication of the new regulations. Those regulations are now out, and they have not been welcomed by the manufacturers. Porsche will make a decision at a board meeting in the near future to decide whether they will be participating in LMP1 next year. If Porsche decide not to continue, you are likely to see Toyota making an exit as well which will mark the end of LMP1. What has the FIA/ACO got up their sleeve to counter this possible scenario?
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Virtual Motorpix/John Mountney