During the closing stages of FP2, I was photographing at Club Corner, just as the cars entered the start/finish straight. The #91 Porsche came past me a few times and as it accelerated up the straight, the engine sounded like it was misfiring. On Saturday evening after Qualifying, in the Porsche ‘Meet the Team’ interview session, I asked Gianmaria Bruni if this was the case and he said that they had changed the engine on Friday night because there had been a problem with it. I later asked Dr. Walliser the same question, and he confirmed that they had indeed changed the complete engine, and that my observations had been correct which earned me a nod and a pat on the shoulder. Here is our WEC Round 3 Silverstone 6 Hour wrap up.
However, this fact did not enable the #91 Porsche to post a strong Qualifying time on Saturday as tenth and last place in class was the best they could do. As disappointing as this might look, Bruni reminded me that two years ago he had also qualified last in class with Ferrari, and they had finished second in the race. The important message to take away from this chat with Bruni, is that while Qualifying was just 20 minutes long, the race was a 6-hour race. The problem Porsche found out was that the tyres would not get up to and retain their temperature, resulting in them being less effective. The #92 Porsche of Christensen/Estre qualified in fifth place in class.
Race day broke with a chilly wind blowing over a Silverstone that was under a blanket of cloud. As the pre-race festivities unfolded, we were treated to an aerial display by someone – was it a bird, was it an aeroplane, no…and it wasn’t even Superman – it was flyer on a flyboard. An amazing contraption that makes an awful lot of noise, but the antics he got up to on this flying skateboard were quite remarkable. I’m not entirely sure whether he would be called a pilot or an aerial skateboarder, but one thing is for certain, he was a brave dude. Maybe a flyboard is what we need to get around the circuit with your camera gear – maybe one day…
At the start, the two Toyotas tore off into the lead followed by a bunched group of LMP1 and LMP2 cars. As the group entered turn 1, just past the end of the Wing building complex, two rather over-enthusiastic LMP1 drivers came together – the #3 TVR Rebellion and the #17 SMP Racing – one spinning off the track to the left and the other to the right. This required the following hoard of LMP2 cars and the GTE Pro cars immediately behind, to take drastic and very quick action to avoid piling into one another. Leading the GTE Pro class after Qualifying were, in order: #66 Ford, #97 Aston Martin, #95 Aston Martin and the #67 Ford, followed by the #92 Porsche in fifth place. Thanks to this kerfuffle between the two LMP1 cars and the resultant avoiding action by the leading four GTE Pro cars, Kévin Estre in the #92 Porsche was able to thread his way through the confusion unfolding before him. On the first lap then Estre (#92 Porsche) had gone from fifth place to first in class, while in second place was the #95 Aston Martin and in third place, the #71 Ferrari.
This event really shaped the race that followed until, for Porsche, their tyres once again began to go off. It was clear to see how, around midrace, the following pack of GTE Pro cars were making their way back up through the field and soon the #71 Ferrari and the #67 Ford had dispensed with the Aston Martin, and set their sights on the struggling Porsche. Before long, the two visibly slowing Porsches were back in the middle of the pack with the two Fords leading in the order #67 and #66, with the #71 Ferrari in third.
In the GTE Am class, the #56 Project 1 Porsche, which had grabbed an excellent pole position in Qualifying (Bergmeister and Perfetti), led its class for much of the race. I asked the affable Norwegian Egidio Perfetti before the race, where he had found the extra speed with which to pedal the striking yellow/black Porsche that much quicker in Qualifying, and he just smiled and said that it was just in putting together a balanced lap. This is the first full season for the Project 1 team in the WEC series, and apart from a couple of promising laps and stints at Spa and Le Mans, the #56 car hadn’t really produced the goods. Silverstone was where it was all coming together, and the Bergmeister/Lindsey/Perfetti trio were putting in some good laps.
But as we know, endurance racing is all about being consistently strong over the full distance, in this instance, for six hours. It was during the middle third of the race that the two works Porsches lost position, and wallowed around in midfield, but when the tyres were changed around the end of this time, that the new rubber began to work for both cars. Soon the Porsches were able to deliver the performance that they were capable of, and they began carving their way up through the GTE Pro field. As the laps were consumed, and the end of the race came into sight, it was the #91 Porsche that was lying in second place behind the #71 Ferrari, with the #67 Ford in third place and the #92 Porsche in fourth place. This was the order in the GTE Pro class at the end of six hours, but this was not the way it was to finish.
The GTE Am class had its twists and turns too, and while the #56 Porsche had performed so valiantly throughout the race, a 75 second stop/go penalty put them out of the running for a podium finish. The penalty was for entering the pits under safety car conditions and while this was something that was avoidable, it is part of racing, and as a result the car slipped to fifth place which was a hard lesson to learn, especially having led the class for so long. However not all was lost, as an inspired drive by the wily Bergmeister ensured third place, giving the team its first WEC podium finish.
While much adulation deservedly went the way of the #56 team, the GTE Am class was won by the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche, ably driven by the Christian Ried/Julien Andlauer/Matt Campbell trio. It was the talented young Australian driver, Campbell, who drove the final stint to bring the #77 car across the line first in class – this is a driver to watch in the future. A hearty congratulation must go to the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche team who finished fourth at the season opener at Spa, then they won their class in the Le Mans 24 Hours, and again at Silverstone.
The #86 Gulf Racing Porsche, driven by Michael Wainwright/Ben Barker/Alex Davison, finished sixth in class having qualified ninth and last in class on Saturday. The #88 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche, which was driven by the father and son duo of Gianluca and Giorgio Roda and Matteo Cairoli, finished eighth in the GTE Am class. Neither of these two teams lacks any experience in endurance racing, so their lowly finish is an indication of the very high level of competition within the class.
The podium formalities got underway and everybody underneath got a good spraying of champagne as is the tradition. In the GTE Pro class, Lietz and Bruni were awarded second place but after the cars were scrutineered by the stewards afterwards, the #91 Porsche was found to have a ride height irregularity, and it was summarily disqualified. The result of this decision by the stewards, saw all the cars in class from second place back, being promoted one position further up the ladder. And so it was that the #92 Porsche was moved up from fourth place to third place, at the expense of the #91 car.
The Silverstone track was resurfaced at the beginning of 2018, from start to finish, the first time that this had been done since 1996. Along with this makeover, the kerbs received new profiling, and this contributed to the #91 having its underbody board damaged which affected its ride height – the ground clearance after the race was 48 mm instead of 50 mm. In the same way, both Toyotas were disqualified from overall positions 1 and 2 (!!) which would not have gone down well behind closed doors back at Toyota Motorsport HQ.
There is a break in racing again until Round 4 at Fuji from 19-21 October.
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Virtual Motorpix/Glen Smale