“I tell you what,” said Mark Webber with a smile. “We’re going to have some good races this year.” His first taste of the World Endurance Championship had been the tonic he’d hoped for after the grind of Formula 1, but after a debut podium in the new Porsche 919 Hybrid shared with Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley his prediction can surely be judged a wry Aussie understatement.
As this month’s cover story highlights, the return of Porsche to the top class of sports car racing is the most exciting comeback since ’68-spec Elvis clad in leather – and it’s all the sweeter for the battle with both Audi and Toyota. The Silverstone 6 Hours was our first glimpse, and while it raised more questions than answers, it did at least confirm what we’d hoped: it’s super-close between the three main players.
Toyota scored a historic 1-2 in front of a decent-sized crowd, with Anthony Davidson relishing his addition to the RAC Tourist Trophy alumni alongside team-mates Sébastien Buemi and Nicolas Lapierre.
The sister car had beaten Audi to pole – by just 0.005sec over the four-lap average! – after a great effort by Kazuki Nakajima, team-mate Alex Wurz securing the lead at the start of the race. Early skirmishes between the Toyota TS040s and Audi’s pair of R18 e-tron quattros were breathtaking, as the Porsches held a watching brief, before a combination of changing weather and Toyota’s unforgiving tactical calls dictated the outcome.
At the first sign of rain, the Cologne-based team chose to split its cars’ strategies: Wurz was given full wets, Buemi Michelin’s clever untreaded intermediates. Both drivers knew the latter was the rubber to have, but Wurz grudgingly accepted the team’s decision to hedge its bets.
“It was a surprise,” he said. “The strategy call didn’t favour us, but for the team it was the right decision to put its eggs in two baskets – especially at Easter. It’s just a shame the right egg wasn’t in our basket…”
The Davidson car would gain a lap on its sister during a safety car period called due to the demise of the second Audi, on a bad day for Ingolstadt. Lucas di Grassi, who has replaced the retired Allan McNish with world champions Tom Kristensen and Loïc Duval, had already dropped his R18 at Woodcote when the drizzle began. The Brazilian nursed his mount back to the pits, but the front-end damage was such that he went no further.
The no 2 car was delayed by André Lotterer spinning into the Stowe gravel. Then towards the close of the third hour, Benoît Tréluyer lost its tail on the entry to Copse, snapping the nose into the barrier on the inside of the fast corner. His increasingly desperate attempts to leave the gravel trap were in vain as Audi marked its first total non-finish since Petit Le Mans 2011.
Porsche thus benefited from Audi’s own goals to score its podium. But Webber’s stint in the dry had shown the 919’s pace is genuine when he caught and passed Sarrazin before a scheduled stop dropped him back to third. The point had been made.
Heavy rain swept across Silverstone in the final hour, forcing a safety car and an early conclusion, red flags halting the action after five hours and 22 minutes.
In truth, the tension had already been spent in the top class, but we’d seen enough to be left wanting more.
Porsche’s 911 RSR and Ferrari’s F458 Italia engaged in a battle royal for GTE Pro honours. Fred Makowiecki lucked in with a timely pit stop as the weather turned to secure victory in his first World Endurance Championship start for Porsche, sharing with Richard Lietz and Marco Holzer. Damien Smith