On the podium at last, but priorities must now change
Loïc Duval, Lucas di Grassi and I headed to the Nürburgring World Endurance Championship race full of confidence that we could challenge for victory and really kick-start our season. Porsche, however, had other ideas, bringing a heavily revised high-downforce car and taking a major step forward.
At the start of the 2015 campaign it was clear that Porsche and Audi had differing strengths. Porsche opted for huge boost (8MJ hybrid) and an incredibly strong straight-line speed, while the Audis had an aerodynamic advantage in the high-speed corners and an ability to look after their tyres.
At the Le Mans 24 Hours we’d already seen that Porsche had improved significantly in the areas we’d previously considered to be its weakest. It thus came as quite a surprise to see the team introduce yet another aero update in Germany, and in the process negate any high-speed cornering advantage we’d previously enjoyed.
With its incredible top-end speed, Porsche now had the luxury of running higher downforce while at the same time maintaining an advantage on the straights.
After our tough start to the year in the no8 Audi R18 e-tron quattro, we were still hopeful of fighting back in the championship. With the clear performance advantage that Porsche has evolved, however, and a sizeable points gap to our ‘sister’ Audi, it has become an unrealistic goal. We will henceforth support our team-mates in their attempt to win the championship while at the same time trying to show our full potential.
I never imagined when I stepped up to Audi’s full-time WEC seat that it would take so long to stand on the podium, but at the fifth race of the season in Austin we finally achieved it. Expectations at the start of the year were certainly much higher, but we’ve had some bad luck and the competition has been strong, so finally standing on that podium felt good. Not just for us as drivers, but most importantly for the mechanics and engineers. I imagine the general public is unaware of the dedication and incredibly long hours the team puts in throughout the year. In Austin we gave it absolutely everything and, without the one-minute stop-go penalty for a minor pitstop infringement, who knows what might have been possible?
It’s incredible to think that last year in Austin Toyota had the fastest car, took pole position with a four-lap qualifying average of 1min 49.093sec and was the only manufacturer to break the 1min 50sec barrier. And yet this year Toyota qualified with a best position of fifth, 2.7sec shy of the pole-sitting Porsche. That gives a small insight into the incredible rate of development that is now taking place within the championship.
It wasn’t so long ago that manufacturers would develop one aero kit for their cars, based around Le Mans, and optimise it for each individual circuit.
I think it shows how much the championship is growing in stature that the manufacturers place so much importance on winning the championship and not just its Le Mans showpiece. With that in mind, it was no surprise to see the likes of Juan Pablo Montoya in Austin and it’s rumoured that he’ll test an LMP1 Porsche at the end of the year.
We left the Circuit of the Americas happy as a team that we could get both R18 cars onto the podium, but we were under no illusions that without reliability problems it would probably have been another Porsche 1-2. It is now up to us as a team to go away and do everything possible to close the gap.
Rest assured, that will be Audi’s focus.