The curtain came down on the 2017 WEC after the Bahrain 6 Hour race this last weekend, and although the winner of the 2017 WEC LMP1 class was known beforehand, it was nevertheless a cracking race. The Bahrain WEC finale 2017 was everything the spectators and fans had hoped for, with thrills and spills from start to finish.
The #1 Porsche 919 of Neel Jani/Andre Lotterer/Nick Tandy started the final race of the season from pole, with the #2 sister car of Timo Bernhard/Brendon Hartley/Earl Bamber in third place. At the start, the race was rather appropriately green flagged by Matthias Müller, Chairman of the Executive Board of Volkswagen AG. While a win wasn’t possible on the day for the LMP1 team, a second (#2) and third (#1) place finish at the chequered flag gave the team a solid finish to the year.
Bernhard/Bamber/Hartley in the #2 Porsche dropped behind after an early incident but impressively fought back. The sister car (#1), driven by Jani/Lotterer/Tandy also suffered a set-back after a collision and a subsequent penalty. Andre Lotterer clocked the fastest race lap and finished in third position after six hours of racing.
Neel Jani started in car #1 and led the race until lap 19 when he could no longer prevent the #8 Toyota from passing, and on lap 20, the #7 Toyota also overtook Jani. After regaining second spot again due to different pit stop strategies, the #1 car retained this place until lap 130 when it was involved in an accident causing Tandy to pit for a new nose and to replace a punctured tyre. Later, with Lotterer behind the wheel, a penalty had to be served as a result of the earlier accident and the #1 Porsche crossed the line in third place at the chequered flag.
In the #2 Porsche, it was Timo Bernhard who started the race, improving his position from third to second place, but on the third lap he ran over an errant bollard lying on the track. The bollard was stuck underneath the car but it was not obvious to the driver during the safety car period. At the end of lap seven, Bernhard pits to get the bollard removed and the nose changed, and to take on fuel as well, losing almost a whole lap in the process. After 37 laps, while running in fourth place, Bernhard handed over to Hartley. At around the halfway mark, this improves to third place when the #7 Toyota has to undergo some repairs after an accident. With 150 race laps on the board, Bernhard climbed back into the car. Timo Bernhard, the driver who did the initial laps with the very first test chassis of the Porsche 919 Hybrid back in 2013, was given the privilege of driving the last few miles in the 919, bringing to a close an intense chapter in the history of Porsche motorsport. The #2 Porsche 919 finished in second place, one lap down to the race winning Toyota.
Fritz Enzinger, Vice President LMP1: “Today a very successful era comes to an end and this is the right time to say thank you. Foremost I want to thank the Board who had the faith to give me the project, supported me a lot and always gave me the feeling I was the right choice. Thanks to all our drivers who took every chance and delivered the highest performance with 17 wins from 34 races. Thanks to everybody in the team for their relentless work and euphoria for the project. Today is also the right time to pay my gratitude to our Team Principal Andreas Seidl. For the last two years Andreas has mastered the dual role of Team Principal and Technical Director in a superior manner with the first 919 that was developed under his guidance winning the world championship. And finally, it is great that a company like Porsche exists. If I had to put the six years that I have been with Porsche in one sentence it would be: I was allowed to live my dream. Thanks for the project and thanks for the freedom of scope.”
Andreas Seidl, Team Principal: “Over the past four seasons, Toyota has been an incredible competitor, and I congratulate them on today’s victory. Thanks to the whole team here and in Weissach, to our drivers and partners for four sensational years. This definitely was the last race for the 919 Hybrid. We are very proud of the success we were able to achieve with this technology driven car. Next year we will celebrate these innovations with some very special events. But these details will be unveiled at a later date.”
Neel Jani (#1 Porsche 919): “The start was good and at the beginning we could more or less match the pace of the Toyotas, but as soon as we were in traffic, they just had this little bit more than us. I really, really enjoyed playing with the boost today and all of the tactics for the last time. I was very aware that we were doing everything for the last time. It has been an amazing journey to be part of such a big project with so many great people.”
André Lotterer (#1 Porsche 919): “I had a smooth stint. The 919 was good and I really enjoyed driving it today. I’m very happy that I was able to do 50 WEC races and drive these amazing cars. The 919 has been a very successful car and I’ve enjoyed the season racing with Porsche.”
Nick Tandy (#1 Porsche 919): “I enjoyed the race. It was good fighting and we were all pushing really hard. We got ambitious and tried to do a triple stint on one set of tyres, it all looked good. Unfortunately, I had contact with another car in the middle of the race. A clear misunderstanding that ended with punctures for both cars. We knew we had to do everything possible to take the fight to Toyota today. It was a pleasure to drive with Neel and André over this season and to be part of this team.”
Earl Bamber (#2 Porsche 919): “We were on the back foot after Timo unluckily had to make an early pit-stop, but we never gave up and kept things clean. I just ticked the laps off and enjoyed my time in this monster for the last time. Porsche came up with the crazy idea of putting a little guy from the Carrera Cup in the 919 Hybrid for Le Mans. So, I must thank everyone at Porsche who believed in the pyramid system which gave me that opportunity. It has been an honour to drive for Porsche at the highest level of motorsport.”
Timo Bernhard (#2 Porsche 919): “I had a good start, got past one Toyota and kept up with Neel. But then unfortunately I picked up that bollard and the extra stop dropped us far behind. But the race result is secondary today. It is the end of great era, and I’m honoured to have been part of this programme from the very beginning until the last lap. A great crew, great people and great team mates. I will miss them. This programme definitely is the highlight of my career.”
Brendon Hartley (#2 Porsche 919): “We were out of contention early on today, Timo was really unlucky and to hit this bollard in the middle of the road, it wasn’t his fault at all. It is good to have both cars on the podium today but it is with mixed emotions. I’m honoured having been part of this programme and I will miss it.”
GTE Pro & Am class
In the GTE Pro class, Richard Lietz and Frédéric Makowiecki (#91) secured second place in the Sports Car World Endurance Championship WEC, when they finished fourth in the Bahrain finale. For Michael Christensen and Kévin Estre in the #92 911 RSR, it was a very disappointing DNF.
The two 911 RSRs made a somewhat cautious start to the last race of the year. It was only when the engineers sent the #92 car out after the first pit stop with a new tyre strategy that the 911 RSR demonstrated the desired performance. Pulling out all the stops, Estre passed two Ferraris in a spectacular overtaking manoeuvre and worked his way up the field, one position at a time, until after two hours, he was in the lead. After a driver change, his teammate Christensen rejoined the race in third place and quickly moved up into second with his sights on the frontrunner. However, after half distance, an LMP1 Toyota squeezed past the 911 RSR in the blind spot and roughly shunted the #92 Porsche into retirement. All prospects of the new 911 RSR claiming its maiden victory in the world championship were destroyed.
Following this disappointment, Lietz and Makowiecki rose to the challenge, and with 90 minutes left to the flag, Fred Mako had fought his way up to second behind the leading Ferrari. However, in the last hour of racing, he was unable to maintain this level of performance. Despite his determined efforts to defend his position, he ultimately had to let the second Ferrari and then a Ford pass him. Their fourth-place finish was however sufficient to secure the runner-up spot in the drivers’ classification of the world championship.
Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser, Vice President Motorsport and GT Cars: “We were only narrowly beaten in the debut season of the 911 RSR. Like the last race of the season, all the other races in the GTE-Pro class were extremely competitive. In 2018, we’ll return with the goal of winning the world championship. Congratulations to our Dempsey Proton Racing customer squad for securing second place in the drivers’ classification of the FIA Endurance Trophy.”
Richard Lietz (911 RSR #91): “We did a lot of things right with the new 911 RSR in this first season. Ultimately, we were in a position to fight for the drivers’ world championship. For the 2018/2019 season, we will have to prepare even more intensively.”
Frédéric Makowiecki (911 RSR #91): “Congratulations to the whole team for a great season. We faced very strong opposition with a completely new car and with big expectations. And in this first year we’ve achieved several commendable successes and learned a great deal. But this season has underlined that we have to keep pushing.”
Michael Christensen (911 RSR #92): “We fell behind in the first stint. Our engineers then opted for a different strategy – and Kevin drove an incredible stint. It was fantastic to watch how he fought his way to the top. I rejoined the race in third place, overtook the first Ferrari and had a collision with the Toyota. He came out of nowhere, completely unexpectedly, I couldn’t see him in the blind spot and so I had no chance to avoid the collision. Obviously, this is a disappointing way to finish the season.”
Kévin Estre (911 RSR #92): “The first stint wasn’t good so our engineers sent me back out onto the track with a modified strategy and that worked brilliantly. I managed to come from the very back of the field to first place. Michael also drove a strong second stint, but he was hit by the Toyota, unfortunately. The LMP1 guys sometimes try to overtake off the racing line and no one can anticipate that. Unfortunately, that was the end of our race.”
For the Porsche customer team, Dempsey Proton Racing, Christian Ried, Matteo Cairoli and Marvin Dienst finished the season in second place in the FIA World Endurance Trophy. In Bahrain, they took the flag in fourth place driving the 2015-spec 911 RSR, having won their class at the Nürburgring and in Mexico.
After a hard year, the #86 Gulf Racing UK Porsche 911 RSR (2015) driven by Michael Wainwright/Ben Barker/Nick Foster, finished the Bahrain race in fifth place.
The 2017 WEC season is now behind us, a season that has been both thrilling and disappointing for the various Porsche teams. Porsche Road & Race would like to congratulate those who have competed and won, and to the personnel and crew involved at all levels. Motor racing can be cruel sometimes, but winners are those who get up to run again after a fall, and we have seen plenty of that this year. The 2018/2019 season will be quite different, so there will more news on that as it comes to hand.
Edited by: Glen Smale
Images by: Virtual Motorpix/John Mountney