Austin offers new test of endurance


Formula 1, MotoGP, Grand-Am and even the Australian V8 Supercars have all given a big thumbs up to Austin’s Circuit of the Americas, and this weekend it’s the turn of the FIA World Endurance Championship to take its bow on what most consider to be Hermann Tilke’s finest track design.

The championship-leading number 2 Audi R18 e-tron quattro will start Sunday’s race from the front after Loïc Duval and Allan McNish secured the extra point for pole position on Saturday afternoon. The pair, who will be joined by Tom Kristensen for the six-hour race, edged out the sister car of Marcel Fassler and Andre Lotterer over the course of the novel four-lap average qualifying format. The reigning World Champions in the number 1 car, who will share as usual with Benoit Treluyer on Sunday, find themselves 23 points adrift with four races – including this one – to go.

Toyota’s lone TS030 Hybrid driven by Stephane Sarrazin and Sebastien Buemi, who share on Sunday with Anthony Davidson, set a four-lap average 1.3sec off pole, although they were just eight-hundredths slower than the number 1 car. The Toyota’s session was interrupted when Sarrazin was nerfed into a spin at Turn 1 by the Lotus T128 LMP2 entry driven by Jan Charouz.

Briton Mike Conway and John Martin were fastest in the secondary prototype division for the G-Drive Racing team, following their maiden win in Sao Paulo, while Aston Martin’s Bruno Senna and Frederic Makowiecki topped the GTE Pro times despite a slow puncture on the Vantage’s left-front corner.

One refreshing story of the weekend surrounds Darren Turner’s number 97 Aston. Arch-rival Corvette has allowed its star ALMS driver – and DT’s old mate – Oliver Gavin to join Aston for the WEC race, as a sub for the injured Stefan Mucke. After so many years of racing against each other, Turner and Gavin have teamed up for one time only. They could only qualify seventh in class, but should make progress in the race as Motor Sport columnist Gavin plays himself in.

It was with some relief that Saturday dawned dry, if a little overcast, following the abnormal torrential rain that effectively made Friday’s practice day a wash-out – frustrating your correspondent in his attempts to explore the fast sweeps and tight turns of this excellent new track.

The wind picked up by the time qualifying began, which was more than noticeable at the top of COTA’s 251-foot viewing tower. If heights give you the wobbles, the glass floor area might be a step too far, but the views are simply stunning. Every race track should have one.

Following qualifying, attention turned to the two-hour 45-minute ALMS race. As usual, Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr were a class apart for the overall win in the Muscle Milk HPD ARX-03C, finishing two laps clear of Dyson Racing’s Lola driven by Tony Burgess and Chris McMurry. The Level 5 HPDs or Ryan Briscoe and Marino Franchitti, who both shared with team boss Scott Tucker, finished together in P2, third and fourth overall.

But it was the GT classes that provided the best action. Corvette’s Antonio Garcia worked hard to fend off Dirk Müller’s BMW for the last hour of the race to claim victory. Müller’s Z4 GTE just lacked the power to make a move, but that was not a problem faced by Jonathan Bomarito in the SRT Viper. In the closing stages, the Californian clawed back more than 20 seconds and used his potent V10 to blast past Müller for second in class, falling just short of doing the same to a relieved Garcia.

Irishman Damien Faulkner claimed the GTC class pole in his TRG Porsche, but trailed NGT’s Sean Edwards as the race neared its conclusion. Faulkner piled the pressure on, but it was Garcia’s Corvette that would come between the two and decide the outcome of this battle. The Spaniard tapped the back of Edwards’ 911 through the esses as he lined up to lap him, forcing Sean off and allowing Faulkner to get a decisive run for the lead. Both classes offered absorbing action as the sun finally shone on COTA.

The good news for Texan sports car fans is that the double-header will be repeated in 2014, when the merged ALMS/Grand-Am series will once again join the world championship at COTA. On Friday the renamed United SportsCar Championship announced its inaugural 11-round calendar, which kicks off with the Daytona 24 Hours in January and reaches Austin on September 20.

While we continue to wait to discover how governing body IMSA plans to equalise performance between LMP2s and Daytona Prototypes – it has its work cut out – the series has been boosted by news that Porsche will enter a two-car factory team in the GT division. Drivers will be announced in due course.

The WEC 2014 schedule was also announced on Friday, and remains largely unchanged from its shape this season. Seven rounds, plus the blue-riband Le Mans 24 Hours, will be held once again at Silverstone, Spa, Interlagos, COTA, Fuji, Shanghai and Bahrain. The difference next year is that Porsche will return with an all-new LMP1 car to challenge for overall honours, and the already healthy world of international sports car racing will step up a gear or three.

You can follow the COTA WEC race live on the official website at, with commentary courtesy of the team at Radio Le Mans.

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