Audi’s Marcel Fässler, Benoit Tréluyer and André Lotterer drew first blood in the 2015 World Endurance Championship, ending Audi’s four-race winless streak during a thrilling Silverstone Six Hours.
They headed home the Porsche of Neel Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas and the Toyota of Sébastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima.
Porsche dominated qualifying, with Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley combining to take the first pole of the year ahead of their stable-mates. The Aussie made a perfect getaway on Sunday, while gearshift problems dropped Tréluyer into the GT pack.
As Webber built a sizeable lead over Dumas, the much-improved Audis harried the Toyotas. One of the Japanese cars was effectively removed from contention when Alex Wurz was stranded in the pits as the track went back to green following a full-course yellow. With just one Toyota to chase, Tréluyer and team-mate Lucas di Grassi set a blistering pace to close on third-placed Buemi.
It was yellow to green that scuppered Toyota again when Tréluyer made an opportunistic move around the outside of a napping Buemi at Becketts. Di Grassi followed him through a few corners later at Vale and the Audis, after their own hairy duel, locked crosshairs onto the 919s. For Toyota, it was then about strategy. As the Audis began reeling in the leading Porsches, Webber disappeared into the garage and out of the race with a terminal drivetrain problem.
It will be no consolation to Webber, Hartley and Timo Bernhard that their retirement paved the way for one of the most memorable victory scraps in recent sports car history. Fässler relieved Tréluyer, Jani likewise Lieb, and they delighted the bumper crowd by swapping places – but no paint – almost every lap. The nimbler Audi’s superior braking and downforce allowed it to pass in places it really shouldn’t, and Porsche’s imposing grunt dragged it back into the lead on anything resembling a straight. It was Mini Cooper against Ford Falcon. Utterly scintillating and, when the second Audi joined the battle to unlap itself, even more spectacular.
If it was Fässler and Jani who stole the headlines, it was Lotterer who stole the race for Audi and reasserted his position as the world’s best endurance racer. He did in an incredible triple stint what Fässler couldn’t: break the Porsche shackles. He was as consistent and strong as the Silverstone wind.
When he handed over to Fässler it appeared an unassailable lead, despite still needing a splash and dash. But a late stop-and-go with barely 15 minutes to go, for using too much of the expansive Silverstone run-off, ensured the fittingly close finish the race deserved. Jani closed to within five seconds at the flag and Buemi to within 15.
With Audi more consistent in terms of race pace, Porsche blindingly fast while economical (saving a pit stop on its rivals) and Toyota, as Davidson admitted, with some work to do, they are more than capable of entertaining while we await Nissan.
With LMP1 breathless, it was easy to miss a fascinating GTE Pro battle. The trio of Aston Martins that secured a 1-2-3 in qualifying lost out during full-course yellows, leaving Ferrari and Porsche to do battle. James Calado and Davide Rigon threatened triple world champion team-mates Toni Vilander and Gianmaria Bruni, but the class of the latter pairing shone through. The Porsche of Richard Lietz and Michael Christensen split the Ferraris late on. Jack Phillips