Porsche confusion costs Spa win

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.”

Ferdinand Magazine Porsche 919 LMP1 racing Spa WEC 2015-2

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.

Ferdinand Magazine Porsche 919 LMP1 racing Spa WEC 2015

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.

Ferdinand Magazine Porsche 919 LMP1 racing Spa WEC 2015-4

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.

Ferdinand Magazine Porsche 919 LMP1 racing Spa WEC 2015-6

 

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.

4 Comments

  • Spyderman says:

    Hi John. I have actually done some number crunching of my own, and here are some of my conclusions: 1 – It is not correct to say that the #18 lost speed in any significant way, as the race went on. If one divides the race into quarters, and uses the S1,S2 and S3 times for each lap as a data source, then one sees that the #18 only took 3 seconds more to complete the last quarter of the race (44 laps) than it did to complete the first quarter.
    2 – If the #18 had spent the same amount of time in the pits as the winning # 7 Audi, it would have won the race by about 15 seconds.
    3- Porsche lost time (in comparison to the # 7 Audi) in the 2nd and 3rd quarters of the race, but it would not have been sufficient for the Audi to make up the time it lost in the 1st and last quarter of the race.
    4 – Porsche lost the race in the box. Were the Porsche to rely only on track performance, car #18 would have been ahead of the Audi by 15 seconds and car#17 would have won the race some 53 seconds ahead.

    Finally – There is no doubt that the Porsche has the pace (and not just over one lap) , but it needs to get on top of its reliability issues (and mistakes). It is true that it also needs to improve its tire-wear issues, but tire-wear was not the main reason it lost at Spa.
    (BTW- the #18 lost time in the box on it’s 2nd and 4th pit stop – I don’t know why).

    Bring on Le Mans!

    • John Glynn says:

      Nice work mate. Lovely data gives us lots of information but for sure there’s no substitute for being in the garage. I hear that front tyre wear due to e-power delivery is a big issue, so the engineers have some work to do.

      • Spyderman says:

        Thanks John. They no doubt have to tackle that beast. Lets hope their is some more improvement before Le Mans.

    • Sizwe says:

      Many thanks for the very strategic comments Spyderman, good food for thought. May be Porsche should employ you as their strategist to counter Audi’s Leena Gade. I think the reason why Porsche had tire issues at Spa was that the 919 had more downforce and drag coefficient than the Audi. You could see it sparking through Eu Rouge. I also think that they would have had more straight line speed if they had as much drag as the Audis and consequently less tire degradation. I think that for Le Mans, Porsche should significantly trim down the 919’s drag to effectively increase their straight line performance down Mulsanne (as well as tire life). Another weakness of the 919 is engine and hybrid responsiveness out of slow and medium fast corners (lateral acceleration). The very nature of its electric power storage (lithium polymer battery = high energy but low power density) and the small V4’s turbo lag vs the Audi’s electric turbo charged V6 (lag free), means that the 919’s is going to have its work cut out at Le Mans’ twisties (from Porsche Curves to the Dunlop Chicane like last year). For me Porsche should trim down the 919’s drag, and try to do something about the responsiveness of its engine and hybrid packages.

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