Porsche driver, Mark Webber, had every reason to be disappointed after round two of the 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship at Spa-Francorchamps. From a dominant qualifying performance, where Porsche claimed the first three grid positions for the start of the race, Audi outraced the Porsche 919 LMP1 Hybrids to take its second win of the 2015 season.
“Ultimately there were too many own goals that put us on the back foot, like the problem with the rear suspension that cost us two and a half minutes,” Webber told Motorsport.com at the finish. “But that’s how it should be. The level is so high now and the championship is red hot; we don’t want to be gifted any results having not performed at a high level. A two-three for Porsche is good, but we leave here a little bit disappointed.”
Despite disappointment for Porsche fans, Spa was another incredible race. The 919 Hybrids stormed off the grid, setting a strong early pace. In the all-new number 19 car, Nick Tandy outran highly regarded F1 teammate Nico Hülkenberg, clocking the car’s fastest race lap on lap 5 with a 1:58.052. The following lap, the LMP1 cars caught the GTs, who were also enjoying some speed. Enter confusion for Porsche.
As Tandy piled in some increasingly fast laps, fellow Porsche “newbie”, Kévin Estre, was flying in the number 91 RSR. Locked in battle with the Astons, Estre clocked the highest top speed of the GTE-Pro class for the entire race on lap 6, hitting 266.7 km/h (165.71 mph) along Spa’s Kemmel Straight. As the two groups descended the hill towards Pif-Paf, Tandy spotted the hint of a gap between Estre and the apex, and squirted 19 straight towards it.
By the time he arrived, it was gone. The two cars collided with disastrous consequences. Porsche’s LMP1 chief, Fritz Enzinger, described it as “an unlucky accident”, but the stewards thought differently, hitting Estre (below) with a penalty. “Totally undeserved” was the verdict amongst the racers watching the race on my iPhone in the Donington pit lane.
As the race continued, more issues befell the Porsche racers. Brendon Hartley – again the quickest man in Porsche’s LMP1 squad – set the fastest lap of the race early on: a 1:57.972 on lap five. Audi would later come very close to beating that, but Hartley’s early speed would not last forever. Losing the brakes into the final chicane and heading deep into the runoff, Brendon took a sweet little shortcut back to the track, but unfortunately ran too close to the marshals for the race director’s liking. A stop and go penalty with subsequent damper failure put the leading car out of contention.
All hopes then landed on Marc Lieb’s shoulders. The master of understated speed soaked it all up and drove some incredible laps. Now in his sixteenth year as a Porsche driver, Lieb’s early pace proved better than Tandy’s: 1:58.025 on lap 3 was just a few hundredths short of Hartley’s best effort. But the 919 was not kind to its tyres, which Lieb would later point out.
Porsche 919 LMP1 Hybrid Spa: a story of tyre wear
“Because of regulations limiting the supply of tyres, we did a double stint, but it didn’t quite work out with the tyre wear,” said Lieb. “It was a great battle with Ben Tréluyer and quite a moment when he hit me in the rear going down to turn nine, but that’s racing. To strike back we have some work to do in terms of tyre management.”
When the chequered flag fluttered, Audi number 7 (Fässler/Lotterer/Tréluyer) crossed the line in front of Porsche number 18 (Dumas/Jani/Lieb) by less than a quarter of a minute. Audi number 7 had spent a total of 7 minutes 36 seconds in the pits, with Porsche 18 clocking 8 minutes 12 seconds across the same distance. The 919 had shown more than 10 km/h top speed advantage in FP3, but the Audi was sweeter on its tyres, holding on for two and half stints towards the end of the race.
Aston Martin took overall GT victory, but (surprisingly in the dry) the Porsche 911 RSRs matched their top speed and were close on ultimate lap times: fastest 2:19.189 for the winning 99 Aston was just two-tenths ahead of the number 92 911. The Porsche needed one extra pitstop, spending 23 seconds more on pit lane for the race, and losing by just less than 30.
Two Porsches finished on the LMP1 podium, and two more finished in the GTE-Pro top three, but no doubt the winners deserved it. The Macdowall/Rees/Stanaway Aston was on awesome form and what can one say about that Audi, its incredible trio of drivers, a brilliant revised aero package and the supreme race strategies of engineer Leena Gade.
Porsche at Le Mans 2015
While the Porsches lost speed as the race wore on, the Audis set their quickest laps later in the race: lap 49 was number 7’s fastest tour. It was a similar story at Le Mans last year: Porsche’s quickest time was set on lap four, while Audi’s best came on lap 317. The Porsche team will need to find some endurance if it wants to win in France.