Porsche secured its fifth win of the season at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas on 17 September 2016, extending its lead in the manufacturers’ standings of the FIA World Endurance Championship.
Starting from third position on the grid at the sixth round of the championships, the reigning world champions, Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and Mark Webber scored their third consecutive victory in tropical weather conditions. Coming from fifth on the grid, this year’s Le Mans winners, Romain Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb, experienced a rather mixed race finishing fourth in the six-hour race.
With an ambient temperature of more than 35ºC, the race got underway at 5pm local time, but the cooler it became after sunset, the better the Porsche 919 Hybrid performed. Thanks to a well-managed pit stop strategy, the winning trio took the lead after mid distance, giving the Porsche 919 Hybrid prototype its twelfth victory since its debut in 2014 and its seventh for the Bernhard/Hartley/Webber trio. At this stage Porsche leads the manufacturers’ standings with 238 points ahead of Audi (185) and Toyota (137), with Dumas/Jani/Lieb leading the drivers’ standings by 37.5 points ahead of the best Audi trio.
From his P3 start, Webber improved to P2 but had to let the two Audis pass before handing over to Hartley after 28 laps in P3. Hartley dropped back to fourth and after a spirited fight with Davidson in the Toyota, he regained P3. Bernhard took the wheel after 57 laps but pitted early during a Full Course Yellow, allowing Webber back in but then he too had to pit early on lap 94 for yet another FCY. Hartley maintained the Porsche in P3 and is promoted to second when the Audi was delayed in the pits. The third FCY saw Bernhard back in the seat after a pit stop and he is able to leave the pits in the lead. After an accident involving the #7 Audi on lap 133, another FCY allows Webber to maintain his lead. With 164 laps completed, Bernhard again takes the wheel to bring the #1 Porsche home to victory.
Shortly after the start, Dumas manages to get past Mike Conway’s Toyota and improves from P5 to P4, but on lap four he is overtaken by Sébastien Buemi in the sister Toyota and is back in P5 again. After 27 laps Jani takes over and successfully overtakes Davidson on lap 35 to retake P4. After 112 laps Jani is due to have an extra stop because of a slow puncture and he stays in the car continuing in P5 before the Audi’s mishap promotes him to fourth. After 134 laps, Jani hands over to Lieb, and in turn he vacates the seat for Dumas after 161 laps. With just 12 minutes to go, the Frenchman has to pit for tyres because of another slow puncture, but brings the car home in fourth position.
Fritz Enzinger, Vice President LMP1, said, “We knew during the event that these high temperatures were difficult for us. The fact we still managed to win such a race gives us hope for the remaining three rounds and our target to defend both championship titles. Soon we will be heading to Japan where we can clearly expect cooler conditions, which should help. All I can say is: Thanks to the team here on site and to our colleagues back home in Weissach. We have made another step on the path to winning the title again.”
Andreas Seidl, Team Principal, said, “Congratulations and a big thank you to the entire crew for this great team effort. At the beginning of the race, when the tarmac was extremely hot, we didn’t have the pace of the Audis. But thanks to a strong and error-free job by our drivers, the fastest pit stops of the field, dead right strategic decisions, we have earned and deserved this win. On car number 2 we lost front downforce early in the race, and this prevented them from fighting for a top position. We will use the next three weeks to prepare for the final three races.”
Timo Bernhard (#1 Porsche): “I think it’s mega that we won our third consecutive race. We had a difficult start to the season, but today delivered another error-free race. It was really hard work today! On my first stint the sun was very low and blinding, which wasn’t nice. But the longer the race went and the cooler it became, the more we improved.”
Brendon Hartley (#1 Porsche): “For us the race went very smoothly. It was clear to us that Audi would have an advantage in the high temperatures at the start, but we were hoping the race would come back to us, and it did. After dark the competition with Audi was much more even. We got the strategy with the Full Course Yellow absolutely right.”
Mark Webber (#1 Porsche): “After the start we got into a rhythm and in the middle of the race the situation looked stable. The Audis in front were extremely quick in the heat, but this was no surprise. We knew we had to do a clean race and if they had stayed that strong we would have pushed them over the line, but then Audi had a problem. Despite the heat, our guys in the garage did a great job again in the pit stops.”
Romain Dumas (#2 Porsche): “I drove at the start and on my first stint in the afternoon’s heat the car felt like driving on slicks in the wet. In total two slow punctures plus the nose change were time consuming. The result is good for the championship and for Porsche, but for us the race wasn’t nice. At Le Mans we were very lucky to win, perhaps it is pay-back time for this.”
Neel Jani (#2 Porsche): “I had a nice battle with the Toyota early in the race during my first stint and it was good to overtake. But grip was really difficult today, because of the different rubber from the other races before us. At some point our car was almost undriveable, and the understeer was brutal. We lost a lot of downforce at the front and didn’t know why. Only after we had changed the nose cone did it get better. On top of that I had a slow puncture that cost more time.”
Marc Lieb (#2 Porsche): “On my first stint I lost time because the car was understeering. My second stint was a lot better. After we changed the front part of the car we got rid of the rubber pick up and the understeer. Although I had mixed tyres on the car – used ones and fresh ones – it was so much better to drive afterwards. It wasn’t our day, but the 919 ran reliably despite the heat.”
Edited by: Glen Smale
Images by: Porsche