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Perfection for Porsche

Aero upgrades and more hybrid punch were too much for Audi  | By Gary Watkins

Porsche turned the World Endurance Championship order on its head to claim the manufacturers’ title, and go to the series finale in Bahrain in pole position to take the drivers’ crown as well. A new high-downforce version of the 919 Hybrid gave it an advantage over rival Audi from the start of the second leg of the series at the Nürburgring in August and it quite simply dominated.

Audi had triumphed in the Silverstone series opener in April on a day that its R18 e-tron quattro was superior on a circuit that demands high downforce levels. Its lead trio of André Lotterer, Marcel Fassler and Benoît Tréluyer were on top again in a much closer race at Spa, which suggested that Audi would be back in the hunt on the Formula 1 circuits that make up the bulk of the WEC season after it was vanquished by Porsche in the Le Mans 24 Hours.

Double knock-out

That turned out not to be the case. The revised 919, with what is known internally as ‘kit 5’ aerodynamics, removed Audi’s key advantage and turned it into a disadvantage. From the ’Ring on, Audi was behind in the aero stakes at the same time as it was losing out in hybrid punch. The R18 e-tron quattro competed in the four-megajoule energy-retrieval class in 2015, whereas Porsche had moved up to the highest 8MJ division with the second-generation 919 Hybrid. Now Audi was behind twice over.

Titles for the taking 

Porsche was always going to be in the pound seats after the WEC’s long summer break, and it knew it. Alex Hitzinger, the marque’s LMP1 technical director, has revealed that he brought together the in-house Porsche squad the week after its historic 17th Le Mans victory. His message was that the WEC titles were there for the taking.

“I knew at that stage what aero performance we would have for the second half of the season,” reveals Hitzinger. “We had a little meeting on the Tuesday after the race with the whole team, and I said there was no reason why we could not win every race over the rest of the season. I said that we just had to keep pushing.”

Le Mans was Porsche’s priority for 2015, which explains its early-season compromised aero set-up that was akin to its package for the unique demands of the Circuit de la Sarthe. That left it short of downforce for Silverstone, a race that Hitzinger admits Porsche “sacrificed” for its Le Mans aspirations.

Audi’s nasty surprise

The latest aero wasn’t ready in time for a two-day test at the Nürburgring in July at which Porsche and Audi joined Toyota. That explains why Audi, running the so-called low-drag configuration it had first raced at Spa, was shell-shocked after it was blitzed by Porsche on home ground at the ’Ring, one of the venues where it would have expected to mix it with Porsche based on the evidence of the first two races.

“Our strength was that we had good aero, but now they have that too,” explained Lotterer after finishing a distant third behind the two 919s in Germany. “That’s the big difference between now and the first two races. We are racing against an 8MJ car and can’t compensate for that.”

To compound the bad news, Lotterer and co finished a lap down on the winning Porsche of Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley.

Porsche on a run 

Audi finished second, and on the same lap as the winning Webber Porsche, next time out at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, but the final results sheets masked another dominant performance from the 919. The Porsches would have finished one-two but for a late electrical problem – related to its 12-volt power supply rather than its complex energy-retrieval systems – for Neel Jani, Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb. And the eventual winners would have been a lap clear had not the winning car been penalised a minute for a pitlane infraction at a confused pitstop after Webber overshot his mark.

Porsche took the lead in the drivers’ standings with another one-two, led by Webber and co, at Fuji in October, a race than ran on a wet track for much of its duration. Audi was back in the game, the result more down to the levelling conditions than an aero upgrade for the R18 aimed at reducing the downforce deficit to the Porsche.
But it ultimately fell short once again.

A third one-two for Porsche at Shanghai, another race held in mixed conditions, secured Porsche the manufacturers’ crown and allowed Webber, Bernhard and Hartley to take a 12-point lead for the drivers’ title. Now the destiny of the drivers’ title was out of Audi’s hands: it headed to the season finale in Bahrain on November 21 in the knowledge that a one-two result would not guarantee it the title.

Better in all areas 

The Porsche was now the perfect package for the six-hour races. The 919 could double-stint its tyres when necessary, such as at the ’Ring, a practice that lost it time in year one of the programme in 2014.

Porsche also stole a march on Audi in the pits. A refinement of its refuelling system reduced the time required to fill its tank. Twice the system was stripped by WEC scrutineers – and twice declared legal – before Audi reacted in time for the Fuji race in October.

There was another key area in which Porsche turned the tables on Audi. It was the tactical equal of its rival, if not superior to it. Audi made calls on tyres at both Fuji and Shanghai that lost it any chance of winning those races: Lotterer was given slicks too early in Japan and its decision to single-stint in both the wet and the dry when Porsche didn’t dropped it from contention in China.

Porsche was the complete package in 2015. Not bad for a competition department that had been put together from nothing at the outset of its return to the pinnacle of sports car racing.