This last weekend saw a convincing performance by the factory Porsches, in both the LMP1 class and GTE Pro class at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas in round 6 of the World Endurance Championship (WEC). The 919 Hybrids romped home in first and second place and in the GTE Pro class the #92 911 RSR came home in second place. It was only in the GTE Am class that the #77 911 Dempsey Proton Competition RSR (2015) and the #86 Gulf Racing RSR (2015) did not fare that well.
The six-hour race was expected to be held in demanding heat, and those expectations turned out to be accurate. In recent years, the race has started at 17h00 and ended at 23h00 which meant half the race took place after dark in cooler temperatures. For 2017, it was rescheduled to start at noon and finish at 18h00.
After positive laps in both practice and qualifying, the 919 Hybrids performed well which resulted in both Porsches locking out the front row of the starting grid. The reigning world champion Neel Jani, André Lotterer and Nick Tandy in the #1 car started from pole position while Earl Bamber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley qualified second in the #2 Porsche. In the WEC, the average of the two fastest laps of two drivers in each car counts towards the qualifying result, and interestingly, all four 919 drivers in 2017 were inside last year’s top qualifying time by almost a full second. This pole position marked the 18th pole position for the Porsche 919 Hybrid since its debut in 2014.
In conditions which saw 33° Celsius ambient temperatures, the drivers and team personnel performed at a high level in order to keep everything on track. Due to the excessive heat, the maximum consecutive time for a driver at the wheel was limited by regulation to just 80 minutes. It was thus clear before the start that no double stints would be possible in the race.
During the race, there were no incidents of any significance that affected the Porsche LMP1 cars, and the positions at the front were determined by pit stops and tyre changes. Lotterer, driving the #1 Porsche was touched by the #7 Toyota during the race, but both cars were unaffected, and continued on their way. Bernhard started from P2 in the #2 car, but lost two positions to the Toyotas on the first lap. Both cars had to double stint their tyres as the teams have two sets of tyres less per race than they did last year. It was because of this double stinting by both Porsche and Toyota, that the positions changed so markedly, as the #2 Porsche found itself down in fourth place when the Porsche changed rubber and Toyota didn’t. The positions would then be reversed when Toyota stopped for new tyres and Porsche did not. Around the 100-lap mark, the safety car was deployed and this closed up all the gaps around the circuit, which at that stage benefitted Porsche.
Although Jani/Lotterer/Tandy were on pole in the #1 car, when they found themselves leading the race with four laps to go, they let their sister car through as the #2 trio of Bernhard/Bamber/Hartley are currently better placed in the championship. On lap nine Neel Jani set the fastest race lap of 1:47.149 minutes. The result marked the Porsche 919 Hybrid’s 17th race win and the seventh one-two victory since its debut back in 2014.
Andreas Seidl, Team Principal, said after the race, “Today we experienced a very close race with Toyota, but thanks to an errorless and perfect performance of drivers and team, faultlessly working cars and the right decisions at the right time, we managed the day despite the high temperatures. Our joint hot weather test with tyre partner Michelin in Barcelona paid off. For the entire weekend, we’ve had the better package. Now we are preparing for Fuji, where we expect another close battle with Toyota.”
In the GTE class, the factory Pro team cars entered the race at COTA looking for their first win and to challenge for the championship lead. In the Am class, the #77 Dempsey Proton team arrived in Austin as the class leaders. After qualifying, the #91 and #92 factory cars started in seventh and eighth places in the GTE Pro class while the #77 and #86 RSRs started from fourth and fifth places in the GTE Am class.
Kévin Estre in the #92 911 RSR put in a brilliant start. Estre, who started from the back of the GTE-Pro field after a difficult qualifying session, immediately overtook four cars and came around after the first lap in fourth place. Starting from the seventh grid spot, Frédéric Makowiecki in the #91 sister car gained two positions and was right on Estre’s bumper. After the first safety car phase in the third hour of racing, Kévin Estre swept into the lead with a spectacular overtaking manoeuvre. Although victory seemed possible towards the end, it was not to be, and the #92 Porsche crossed the line in second place just five seconds behind the winning Ferrari.
The #91 team were not quite so fortunate, and two drive-through penalties put paid to their chances of a podium result. The first penalty came as a result of exceeding the track limits and the second was handed down to Makowiecki for spinning the tyres on leaving his pit box. As a result, a sixth-place finish was the best they could manage.
In the GTE-Am class, the #77 Dempsey Proton Competition 911 RSR retired with 148 laps on the board because of a drive shaft problem. Unfortunately, the #86 Gulf Racing RSR spun and hit the barriers while being driven by Michael Wainwright, the car was retired having completed 92 laps.
After 6 of 9 rounds in the 2017 WEC, the points position is:
FIA World Endurance Manufacturers’ Championship
GT FIA World Endurance Manufacturers’ Championship
FIA Endurance Trophy for GTE Am Teams
|GTE Am||Aston Martin||#98||136|
|Dempsey Proton Competition||#77||132|
|Spirit of Race||#54||77|
|Gulf Racing UK||#86||61|
The next round of the WEC will be Round 7, the 6 Hours of Fuji, on 13-15 October 2017.
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Virtual Motorpix/John Mountney