It was a dry day at Silverstone on the first day of practice for this year’s WEC opening round at Silverstone. This, you would think, would give the teams the best chance of testing their steeds, but in reality, very few teams were willing to show their hand at this early stage.
On Saturday 15 April, there was one more practice session (FP3) in the morning followed by two qualifying sessions around midday, one for the Prototypes and one for the GTE cars. FP3 may reveal some potential between the teams, but it is in the qualifying sessions where the teams will have to show their speed if they want to be at or near the top of the grid.
During FP1 and FP2 one could reasonably expect to see improvements in times as the teams began to wind up their performance, but in the case of the Porsche LMP1 cars, they had other reasons for being off the pace. In 2017, the LMP1 teams are limited to just two aero packages during the year, a low downforce and a high downforce package. By their own admission, Porsche do not expect to be fast at Silverstone, a circuit that requires a high downforce set up, and so they have spent the two FP sessions trialling their low downforce package, which will be in use later in the year.
Porsche spent the day focusing on race preparations and have deliberately not simulated qualifying speeds. Andreas Seidl, LMP1 Team Principal said, “We’ve had a very productive first day. Both 919s ran absolutely trouble free and the drivers were happy with the handling. However, today’s lap times are not really comparable because we focussed on race preparation and didn’t simulate qualifying.”
On the GTE front, the all-new RSR boasts an ‘optimised’ engine position, which sees the engine located ahead of the rear axle instead of behind it. This new 911 racer celebrated a successful debut in January at the 24 Hours of Daytona when it finished second in class. Silverstone will be the car’s first race in the WEC series, and so it will be an interesting debut in Europe.
Out on the track, both of the 911 RSRs did well and finished fourth and fifth in class in FP1. This was early days though as the FP1 sessions are generally just to check that everything is working well, and the car is delivering acceptable lap times. In FP2, the #92 of Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre led the class, with the #91 car down in seventh place.
In GTE Am, the 911 RSRs (2016) faired well finishing in second and third place. Later in the day in FP2, the #86 Gulf Porsche 911 RSR finished top in the Am class with a slightly better time than in FP1. The second 911 in the Am class still held onto third spot in class in FP2.
Rule changes in GTE this year require that the cars use four sets of tyres per race instead of the previous six, forcing the teams to double stint their tyres. Just to complicate things, the grip level on the Silverstone Circuit is very high and this puts very special demands on the setup.
The new RSR will be a challenge on the different circuits this year, as this car is the first 911 not to have the engine hanging over the back axle. With its repositioned engine ahead of the rear axle, this has significantly altered the weight distribution which in the 911 means that all the drivers will have to get used to driving a very different car. As the races are reeled off during the year, we will witness the success of this new racer, serving as a reminder of Porsche’s GT victories of old.
At the ‘meet the team’ media event, it was clear from all the drivers of the new RSR as well as Dr Frank-Steffen Walliser, that the car has much to offer, both now and in the future. The car’s development potential is significant, and if the smile on the driver’s faces is anything to go by, they all like the newcomer. Walliser said of the new car, that it is much lighter on tyres than its predecessor, and this is good news for the team. The drivers all mentioned an improvement in the car’s consistency of performance, and this has resulted in better lap times overall. One driver in particular, Fred Makowiecki, went on further to say that where last year’s car might become unsettled on bumps when braking and then turning into a corner, the new car is far smoother, enabling a more efficient action in such circumstances.
Although the qualifying lap times were somewhat down on what Porsche had hoped for, they were in fact pretty much what was expected. The main reason for being just under two seconds off the class leading times, as Walliser and the drivers said, was that the tyres used in Qualifying formed part of the four sets of tyres allowed per team per race. It therefore made sense to preserve these tyres and not to wear them out unduly in Qualifying just to secure pole position, which in a six-hour race, is not as important as in a short sprint race.
Qualifying positions for tomorrow’s race are as follows:
3rd #1 Neel Jani/Andre Lotterer/Nick Tandy
4th #2 Timo Bernhard/Earl Bamber/Brendon Hartley
7th #91 Richard Lietz/Fred Makowiecki
8th #92 Michael Christensen/Kevin Estre
3rd #77 Christian Ried/Matteo Cairoli/Marvin Dienst
5th #86 Michael Wainwright/Benjamin Barker/Nicholas Foster
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Virtual Motorpix/Glen Smale and John Mountney