Toyota Narrowly Edges Porsche In Silverstone Six-Hour LMP1 Battle
Porsche also picked up podium positions in GTE Pro and GTE Am.
LMP1 Race Results -
Porsche went into this weekend knowing they'd be on the back foot because of their aerodynamic choices for the season. It boils down to the team electing to run Le Mans-spec aero with very little downforce at Silverstone and Spa, the two rounds prior to the Le Mans 24 hour race. They've done this because the FIA has seriously limited the number of wind-tunnel testing hours that teams can use this season in an effort to cut costs. Without the ability to develop their low-drag aero kit in a wind tunnel, they have to run it on race weekends. Porsche obviously values a Le Mans victory over a Silverstone 6-hour victory, thus choosing to give themselves a disadvantage at this less meaningful race in order to gain an advantage in the big race.
With all of that said, Porsche still led the 6-hour race this morning for a good portion of the event, only losing the lead for the final time 12 minutes before the checkered flag fell. While Porsche qualified third and fourth out of four cars in LMP1-H (Toyota locked out the front row) nearly two seconds off the pole time, during the race both cars were able to find a bit more long-distance pace than the Toyotas could. Race pace versus race pace, the Toyota still had an advantage, but it was halved to just under a second per lap. And with one of the Toyotas crashing out of contention in a sudden fit of rain, Porsche was able to capitalize on points, putting two cars on the podium.
With excellent driving, longer fuel stints, and stellar pit work on their side, Porsche managed to play their strengths against Toyota's weaknesses to gain advantage through the final stint. As it came down to the end, the #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid had over 8 seconds in hand with just 30 minutes remaining. The Toyota, with more downforce, was able to attack with maximum effect through a slight drizzle and closed the gap in about 15 minutes. The thrust-and-parry of the race came down to a final 7 lap shootout where Toyota managed to get ahead and open up a 6-second gap by the time they got to the finish. It was an exciting race, and Porsche fought until the very end. Bamber/Bernhard/Hartley took second position, while Tandy/Jani/Lotterer settled for third.
This showing bodes well for the full season, as Silverstone is a typically high-downforce track, which played to Toyota's non-Le Mans aero. If Porsche can manage to be this close to them at the end of six hours on their low-downforce aero, then they should be set up well. A well-developed low-drag aero kit will play well at Spa and Le Mans. Porsche plans to introduce their high-downforce aero kit at the fourth round of the championship, 6 hours of the Nurburgring, and continue running it through the end of the season. If their high-downforce kit can gain them back that one second per lap, then they'll be looking great in the final 6 rounds of the season where downforce really matters. Similarly, Le Mans is worth a lot of points and having a well-developed aero kit there can make or break a championship effort.
Quotes from the team after the race -
Fritz Enzinger, Vice President LMP1:
“This was a thriller for us as well as for the spectators. Due to our consequent decision for the low-downforce aero package, as expected we couldn’t be a threat in qualifying. Therefore, we are even happier about today’s second and third place with such a marginal gap to the winners. Our low downforce aerodynamic package now has its most difficult race behind it. We can very much look forward to the next race at Spa-Francorchamps. The fans there can expect to see even more from us. Thanks a lot to the entire team.”
Andreas Seidl, Team Principal:
“Today’s second and third place feels like a race win. I am very proud of every single team member in Weissach and here on site – it is amazing what this team achieved today. Despite the decision to come here with little aerodynamic downforce, both our cars were 100% reliable and very competitive. Additionally, our six drivers have again underlined what a high and balanced level they operate on. Congratulations to Toyota for a well-deserved race win.”
Neel Jani, Driver, Porsche 919 Hybrid LMP1 #1:
“I was first in our car and at the start I struggled with some oversteer. I had two very big moments on lap one because the rear tyres were not warm enough. Then, as expected, we were slower than the Toyotas but not by too much. It was all about managing the traffic on track and I had two situations that cost me a lot of time. On the second stint, when the tyres were pretty used, it wasn’t easy to handle the front axle but still it was better than expected.”
André Lotterer, Driver, Porsche 919 Hybrid LMP1 #1:
“It was good to have my first race with the team. I had no major issues but I’m still obviously in a learning process. The car requires a completely different driving style. Overall it was a positive race and better than expected as we thought we would be a lot weaker against the Toyotas.”
Nick Tandy, Driver, Porsche 919 Hybrid LMP1 #1:
“I felt comfortable with the car and all went well in my opening stint. It rained just after we had stopped for fuel. We had to do an extra stop for tyres which was a shame and that dropped us down. The car was working well in the dry as well as in the damp. Before I came in to change from slicks to inters, the track conditions were really tough. It was just a matter of trying not to crash. We rolled the dice on strategy with our car in my final stint by taking tyres and although the pace was good, I couldn't pull back the time. That said, I'm really optimistic for the future after such a good run with both cars in this set-up.”
Earl Bamber, Driver, Porsche 919 Hybrid LMP1 #2:
“I had a good stint and the car was handling well. We had mixed and difficult conditions out there but we survived and managed to keep hanging on to the Toyotas and fight. We were actually competitive on a low downforce kit in Silverstone and this was excellent.”
Timo Bernhard, Driver, Porsche 919 Hybrid LMP1 #2:
"On my stint towards mid-race, it wasn’t really easy to find a good rhythm. I managed to follow the leading Toyota and the timing to change from slicks to inters was right, but it was pretty slippery out there. The necessary change back to slicks shortened the second half of my scheduled double stint from 29 to twelve laps.”
Brendon Hartley, Driver, Porsche 919 Hybrid LMP1 #2:
“It was an action-packed first lap, getting the jump on Neel around the outside of Turn 3. He gave me room, which was good. I did my best to hang on to the Toyotas while at the same time trying to save a little fuel which would open up our strategy. I was back in the car for the finish and it was very close, closer I think than many thought it would be but I was always optimistic. We took a gamble at the end by not taking tyres to retain track position. Buemi was a little forceful although he'd have got through sooner or later but we can all be happy with second place.”
GTE Class Race Result -
In either GTE category Porsche didn't hold much hope of placing anywhere near the podium. They had qualified last and second to last in both GTE Pro and GTE Am, and thought they'd run there or thereabouts throughout the race. As it happened, however, Porsche managed to capture podium placings in both categories with one car each, both in third, but there at the end regardless. With strong competition from Aston Martin, Ferrari, and Ford, this result was about the best Porsche could hope for.
As we've already mentioned, one of those 911 RSRs in the GTE Pro category ended up bursting into flame. However, the other 911 RSR entry, the #91 car of Richard Lietz and Fred Mako snuck their way onto the podium. With just four sets of tires allocated for the entire race weekend, Porsche opted to run fewer laps in qualifying in order to maintain their tire allocation for the race. With fresher tires, Mako started the race with an advantage over the competition, jumping up three positions in just one lap. After the first half-hour of the race had passed, Mako had already made his way up to second with teammate Michael Christensen following behind in third.
Fred Mako did manage to take the lead, which he traded with the Ford GTs at the front for much of the race, depending on pit strategy, and teammate Richard Lietz managed to do the same over the course of his stint. Porsche decided to put Fred back in the car for the final two hours to the finish, but the way the race's single full-course yellow fell, Mako couldn't quite take his lead to the finish, and was forced to pit from first for a splash of fuel with a handful of minutes remaining. When he returned to the circuit in fourth, the team thought that was the best they could muster, but Makowiecki had other plans, and pushed the competition with everything he had to jump back up into third. Great race, and a great recovery for the GTE Pro team.
In the GTE-Am class as well, Porsche had every reason to celebrate. With the 911 RSR campaigned by the customer squad Dempsey Proton Racing, the Porsche Young Professional Matteo Cairoli joined forces with Christian Ried and Marvin Dienst to claim third place after a dramatic final lap. As that lap began, Cairoli was sitting in fourth position behind an Aston Martin and a pair of Ferrari 488 GTEs. On the final corner of the final lap, the second placed Ferrari and the leading Aston had a clash that saw both cars spin off the circuit. The Aston managed to recover from the spin and run to the flag to take the win, but that Ferrari was stuck out on track and could not make it to the checkered flag. Per the rules, that Ferrari was not classified in the final standings, elevating the Dempsey Proton car to third in class.
Quotes from the team after the race -
Dr Frank-Steffen Walliser, Head of Porsche Motorsport:
“That was a great race in the GTE-Pro class; extremely close and with spectacular overtaking maneuvers. It was a great advertisement for our sport. The spectators were truly given their money’s worth. Strategically, it was a very tough race, which was made even more interesting by the caution phases. It’s a shame that our number 91 contender had to retire with a technical problem, which is as yet unidentified. But basically we have the pace and that makes us confident for the next race. The GTE-Am class was also gripping from start to finish. In the final dramatic lap, our Dempsey Proton Racing customer team also clinched third place, and they were rewarded for their strong team performance.”
Richard Lietz, Driver, 911 RSR #91:
“It was a very difficult race, particularly my stint with slicks in the rain. We can be very pleased with a podium place. Still, it was definitely a great and promising start to the WEC season.”
Frédéric Makowiecki, Driver, 911 RSR #91:
“We concluded this extremely tough race with a well-earned podium spot. In some situations we simply had luck on our side, but that’s just part of a strong and balanced field. Finishing third is more than we could have expected after our qualifying. Now we can build on this performance for the next races.”
Kévin Estre, Driver, 911 RSR #92:
“We were running well with our 911 RSR right from the start. Our strategy was to conserve our tyres until the last two hours of racing. Everything actually ran according to plan. But towards the end of my double stint I suddenly lost power. A short time later I saw smoke and flames. It’s a shame that our first WEC race ended like this for our new 911 RSR.”
Michael Christensen, Driver, 911 RSR #92:
“The race started really well for us. Our strategy to use the qualifying to prepare for the race and save our tyres worked brilliantly. This put us in the position to overtake several competitors and then match the pace of the frontrunners. At times we were in third place. That was all very positive. So we’re now looking ahead and we’re excited for the next race at Spa.”
Matteo Cairoli, Driver, 911 RSR #77 (GTE Am Category):
“What a way to start my first WEC season. The race was a fantastic experience for me. I’m totally thrilled with third place. In the last lap we had a little luck on our side, but we all deserved this podium result.”