Tuesday, 19 September 2017

FIA WEC 2017 - 6 Hours of the Circuit of the Americas: Another win for Porsche

Under a blistering Texan sun, 25 cars took the start of the – so far – final Lone Star Le Mans at the Circuit of the Americas just outside Austin. With ambient temperatures well rising above 30° Celsius and track temperatures over 40°, the heat was going to play a big role in this 6 hour race.  Not only on tyre degradation, but also affecting the driving conditions for the pilots with restricted stint durations down to 80 minutes. 

Neel Jani started from pole position and easily kept the lead into the first corner. Behind him Timo Bernhard couldn't hold off both Toyota's, Sébastian Buemi in the #7 and Mike Conway in the #8 slipping by the German into the chase for the lead. Contrary to the race in Mexico where Toyota struggled for pace and couldn't keep up with the Porsches, the TS050 Hybrids were running almost perfect in Texas, keeping the pressure high on both Porsche 919's. After the first round of pit stops both Toyota's were on top of the leaderboard, not changing their tyres and leaving the Porsches to catch up with them.

In the first three hours of the race, Porsche and Toyota switched the lead several times due to different pit strategies and some highly entertaining racing on track.  The duel between André Lotterer and Jose Maria Lopez was one of best we saw so far this season until Lotterer won the fight with his newer rubber.  Halfway the race, the #1 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Neel Jani, André Lotterer and Nick Tandy was in the lead, 5 seconds ahead of the #8 Toyota and the #2 Porsche. The difference between all four hybrids up to then was just 14 seconds.

Unfortunately, the Toyota's couldn't hold on to the high pace they laid upon themselves, and started to fade away in the fourth and fifth hour of the race. That left both Porsches to fight it out for victory, with the advantage leaning towards the #1 Porsche which had lead most of the second part of the race.  Team orders kicked in again at the end though, with the #2 overtaking the #1, now winning its fourth race on the trot in the FIA World Endurance Championship. The #8 Toyota TS050 took third place, 21 seconds behind the winner, the #8 came in fourth another 24 seconds behind. 

Porsche now holds a lead of 73,5 points over Toyota in the manufacturers championship (242 points vs 168,5). In the drivers championship, Timo Bernhard, Earl Bamber and Brendon Hartley now have 159 points (Porsche #2), 51 more than Kazuki Nakajima and Sébastien Buemi in the #8 Toyota. 

Signatech Alpine scored its first victory of the season in the LPM2 class in the #36 Alpine A460. Nicolas Lapierre had a perfect start holding on to the lead and several attacks from both Rebellions behind him.  An hour into the race gave the Frenchman a lead of 5 seconds over the #13 Rebellion and the #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca's.  The Alpine squad kept their pace high, leaving everyone else a lap down by the end of the second hour. Behind them, the #37 was having a steady race in second, with both Rebellions, the #26 G-Drive and the #38 DC Racing fighting it out for third place. 

The mid-race safety car however melted down the Alpine's lead leaving Lapierre, Menezes and Negrao to do it all over again. At the restart, they held on to the lead and nothing seemed to be able to hold them off their first win of the season. A broken rear light seemed to decide otherwise when Gustavo Menezes had to pit for a new rear bumper, but his lead of over a minute proved more than enough to secure the lead and the win, eventually with at least a lap over the rest of the field.

Behind the Alpine the Rebellions and Jackie Chan Oreca's fought it out for second and third place. Both Rebellions finished on the podium, the #13 in second and the #31 in third place. The championship leading #38 Oreca of Ho-Pin Ting, Oliver Jarvis and Thomas Laurent took fourth place, but again lost out valuable points for the championship. They now hold a 20 point lead over the #31 Vaillante Rebellion. 

Austin wasn't very kind to the Manor team this weekend, who had such a great race in Mexico a few weeks ago. The #24 never seemed able to get on to the pace and finished sixth overall after an anonymous race. The #25 sister car retired by the end of the second hour with mechanical issues after a weekend full of mechanical and electrical gremlins.  The #26 G-Drive Oreca was in contention for a podium finish for a while but eventually fell back after a long stop in the pitlane. 

In the opening two hours of the race, the battle between the #95 Aston Martin, both AF Corse Ferrari's and the #77 Proton Porsche was very fierce with close racing between all 4 cars across the track.  When things started to settle down, both Ferrari's remained on top with an edge for the #71 of polesitters Davide Rigon and Sam Bird. 

Half way the race though, it was the #51 of James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi who were in front, with the #71 sister car behind them and Nicki Thiim in the #98 Aston Martin in third place. The #92 Porsche of Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre was flying in the second part of the race after starting from the last row, climbing through the order up to second place with just 20 minutes to go. 

The #51 maintained a comfortable lead to the Porsche, but when a puncture forced Pier Guidi into the pitlane in the final 10 minutes, it seemed like Christensen might still have a challenge for the win. A fast pitstop under pressure from the AF Corse mechanics brought the Italian back out just ahead of the Porsche. Pier Guidi managed to hold off the charging Estre and took the chequered flag in first place, with the second Ferrari in third.

For championship leaders Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell, last weekends race was one to forget quickly.  Although the Austin track has always been a tough one for Ford, the #67 GT started from first row in the GTE-Pro class. Priaulx took a hit in the opening lap, tumbling down the order. Problems with the hard tyres made them fall down even more, never able to get back into contention for a podium finish and crossing the line in seventh place. The #67 of Olivier Pla and Stefan Mücke held on to fifth place for most of the race, but lost ground after a stop and go penalty for a safetry car infringement. Ultimately they finished eight in class. 

Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda scored their second win of the season after their fifth pole position. Dalla Lana lost the lead in the opening laps of the race to Francesco Castellaci in the #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari and fell further back after contact with the #61 Clearwater Ferrari of Keita Sawa. Sawa got the #61 in the lead on which the Signaporese team held on thanks to a strong middle stint of Matt Griffin in the Ferrari. 

Lamy though had one of his best races of the season, proving to be very fast all weekend. He got back to the front of the field after a good 4 hours into the race and quickly went into the lead with the #98 Aston Martin. The Portuguese driver never looked back and immediately reeled off to victory, + 50 seconds ahead of the Clearwater Ferrari. 

The #86 Gulf Racing Porsche had to retire when Mike Wainwright went into the gravel trap and tyre barriers just before the halfway mark.  He managed to get the car back into the garage, but the damage was to severe to continue the race.  

Drama also for championship leaders Christian Ried, Matteo Cairoli and Marvin Dienst in the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche 911 when they limped into the pits with under half an hour to go. After some lenghty repairs in the box, they managed to get the car back out for a final lap, stopping just after the finish line and scoring some very important points for fourth place. Proton's problems gave the #54 Ferrari the final podiumspot after six hours. 

Race highlights

Kristof Vermeulen. 

Saturday, 16 September 2017

FIA WEC 2017 - 6 Hours of Circuit of the Americas: Porsche on pole again in Texas

Just as Mexico two weeks ago, Porsche took another clean sweep in LMP1 qualifying on the Circuit of the Americas this afternoon.

A last minute flyer from Nick Tandy secured pole position for the #1 Porsche 919 Hybrid of the Englishman and Neel Jani. Tandy saw his first flying lap cancelled due to exceeding track limits, dropping the #1 down to fourth overall, but squeezed out an astonishing final lap on the same set of tires Jani used. Their average time of 1.44.741 was 0.253 seconds faster than Timo Bernhard and Earl Bamber in the #2 Porsche.  

Although Toyota was fastest in this mornings final free practice session, and seemed to have picked up some of the pace, they were nowhere near Porsche's qualifying times this afternoon.  The #8 TS050 of Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima qualified third fastest, but already on a respectable distance of 1.659 seconds behind Jani & Tandy. The #7 Toyota was 2.3 seconds off the average pace of the leading Porsche. 

Nicolas Lapierre secured pole position for the #36 Signatech Alpine Matmut Oreca 07 for the second time in a row. With an average time of 1.54.024, Lapierre and Negrao held off Matthias Beche and David Henemeier-Hansson in the #13 Vaillante Rebellion with 0.251 seconds. The #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca of Oliver Jarvis and Thomas Laurent was third fastest, just 0.040 seconds slower than the Rebellion. Completing the top 5 were the second Vaillante Rebellion (#31) and the #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca's, all within 1 seconds from Lapierre & Negrao. 

In GTE Pro it's Ferrari on pole, with Davide Rigon & Sam Bird taking their third pole position of the season in the #71 AF Corse Ferrari F488. In the Texas heat both Ferrari drivers drove their laps on the same set of tires and put in an average time of 2.03.075. Second fastest were Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell in the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing UK GT, only 0.199 seconds behind the Ferrari. The Dane train #95 Aston Martin of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen was third fastest this afternoon. Rounding out the top 5 are the #66 Ford GT and #97 Aston Martin. 

Both Porsche 911's set the slowest average times, over 1.2 seconds behind the leading Ferrari. The German team decided not to change to a new set of tires during qualifying which gives them an additional fresh set of rubber for the race on Saturday. As always the GTE qualifs were very close with the first 6 cars and 12 drivers within one second from eachother. 

Paul Dalla Lana and Pedro Lamy secured their fifth (out of six) pole position in the GTE-Am class this afternoon, scoring an average time of 2.06.031 in the #98 Aston Martin Vantage. Dalla Lana's fastest lap was very impressive, beating all other gentleman drivers with at least 2 seconds. The #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari will be second on the grid tomorrow, qualifying 1.172 seconds behind the leading Aston. The #61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari of Weng Sun Mok and Matt Griffin will start from third place tomorrow. 

Race start will be given at 12h00 tomorrow local time, which is 18h in the UK and 19h on the European mainland. 

Free Practice 3 

Earlier today Toyota topped the timetable in the final 60 minute practice session. Sébastien Buemi was fastest overall in his #8 Toyota TS050 in 1.45.712. Both Porsche 919 Hybrids followed on a distance, the #2 was 1.7 seconds behind, the #1 0.5 seconds further. Matthieu Vaxivière was the fastest LMP2 driver this morning, setting a 1.54.541 in the clock which put him just 0.041 seconds ahead Alex Brundle in the #38 and the #24 Manor on third place. 

In GTE Pro it was Olivier Pla who beat all other drivers in his #66 Ford GT. His lap of 2.02.987 was 0.748 seconds faster than both AF Corse Ferrari's; the #51 on second place and the #71 on third. Pedro Lamy continued to be the fastest driver overall in the GTE Am class with his #98 Aston Martin, going round in 2.04.941. Like in the Pro class, 2 Ferrari's were second and third fastest with the #54 Spirit of Race and the #61 Clearwater Racing. 

Kristof Vermeulen. 

Friday, 15 September 2017

FIA WEC: More details emerge about LMP1 regulations for 2018/2019

More news has emerged today about the new look FIA World Endurance Championship after the release of the 2018/2019 schedule
Following the departure of Porsche out of the LMP1 category by the end of this season, the ACO had to create a new context for the FIA World Endurance Championship.  The new course the ACO, FIA and WEC are going into is pointed towards offering motorsport enthousiasts and endurance fans in particular, as well as existing and new teams in the series a fresh challenge for the 2018/2019 super season.

On paper the 2018-2019 season is a historic one. With two Le Mans 24 Hour races, two races at Spa, a 12 Hour night race at Sebring as wel as Fuji, Shanghai and Silverstone, the 2018/2019 super season visits 6 iconic circuits. It’s an exciting road map that’s already an exceptional one in the history of the FIA World Endurance Championship. This transition year is in fact a fantastic opportunity for the entrants and the Le Mans 24 Hours and its public to shine in a different fashion. The ACO and the WEC are already preparing to make this double Le Mans a success for spectators, entrants, drivers, and private and works teams. 
While the LMGTE category is attracting a new manufacturer as BMW is joining Porsche, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Ford and Corvette, the ACO and the FIA are buckling down to the task of ensuring that the LMP1 category undergoes a revival in the coming years. Henceforth, both hybrid and non-hybrid prototypes will compete in a single championship. The organisers have taken a realistic, responsible approach in the current economic and environmental climate. As has been the case in previous years cost reduction is an absolute priority, but without sacrificing the competition and technological research aspects. Thus, some new regulations have been adopted so that manufacturers as well as the private teams can each deploy their solutions on the track. 

Pierre Fillon, President of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, sums up: “In the light of the recent context we’ve given the regulations for the next two seasons an in-depth examination. We’re aware of the current realities and we’ve shouldered our responsibilities and made some technical modifications to ensure that for 2018-2019 we’ll have a decent LMP1 grid and not just cars to make up the numbers. Each entrant will have a level playing field out on the track.  We want to involve candidates who are already tempted to join LMP2, as well as attracting some LMP2 teams who are hesitating about taking the step up into LMP1 and make them realise that now is the right moment!” 
Thus, the non-hybrid chassis regulations will remain identical to those in 2017. They already offer a certain number of aerodynamic advantages compared to the hybrids. In addition, the adjustments to the rules aimed at including all the LMP1s in the same championship introduced by the ACO and the FIA by adjusting the fuel allocation for the non-hybrid LM P1 prototypes, will ensure that their performance is close to that of the hybrids. However, hybrid technology can demonstrate its properties and efficiency thanks to better autonomy in particular (+ 1 lap in the Le Mans 24 Hours).
On paper in these conditions the challenge in LMP1 for a private team can be justified like the wish of certain LMP2 teams to move up a category. Bearing this in mind and to anticipate the arrival of potential candidates, a technological equivalence between turbo and normally-aspirated engines will be brought in to enlarge the range of engines in LMP1. Thus, an LMP2 team thinking of converting its chassis to comply with the LMP1 regulations will be able to install a normally-aspirated engine closer to the motor already used in LM P2: it’s a very promising approach!
To see manufacturers and private teams doing battle out on the track has been the fundamental promise of the Le Mans 24 Hours since its creation. And that still holds true today! 

FIA WEC: Silverstone added to the 2018/19 "super season" schedule

The FIA WEC announced its final calendar for the 2018/2019 Super Season, which will kick off with the Prologue at Paul Ricard (France) in April 2018 and finish at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2019.  The major change compared to the original schedule is the removal of the race in February 2019 and the return of Silverstone. The original date for the 6 Hours of Fuji has alse been changed to avoid the clash with Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.

When President of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO), Pierre Fillon, and CEO of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC), Gérard Neveu, outlined the pathway to the new-look championship two weeks ago, they outlined several pivotal philosophies around which all decisions would be made. Among these was that the major focus for the WEC remained the competitors – both major manufacturers and privateer entrants, the product in terms of the sporting competition delivered at every event, and the fans.

The WEC management has listened intently to both its competitors and fans in the weeks since the announcement in Mexico City, and is now in a position to issue a final calendar for the 2018/19 ‘Super Season’ which will begin in April next year.

The final calendar for the WEC’s transitional 2018/19 season will see a return of the 6 Hours of Silverstone, on 18/19 August. This replaces the 2019 February TBC date previously announced, and will undoubtedly delight British manufacturer Aston Martin Racing, the many UK-based teams and drivers, and thousands of passionate Anglophile fans of endurance racing.

The Silverstone event will be run in conjunction with a round of the European Le Mans Series, the full calendar for which will be announced in Spa, Belgium next week.

In view of the WEC’s partnership with IMSA, it was regrettable to have had a clash between Petit Le Mans, one of the key dates in the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship calendar, and the 6 Hours of Fuji.  Thanks now to the flexibility and graciousness of Fuji International Speedway, the WEC is now pleased to announce that the date for the Japanese round of the championship has been changed to 20/21 October to avoid the clash. 

This date change has also affected the date of the Shanghai round due to the time required to transport the freight from Japan to China and the 6 Hours of Shanghai will take place on 17/18 November.

2018/19 Calendar : 

6 & 7 April:  The Prologue, Circuit Paul Ricard (FRA)                         
5 May: WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps (BEL)
16 & 17 June: 24 Hours of Le Mans (FRA)
19 August: 6 Hours of Silverstone (GBR)
21 October: 6 Hours of Fuji (JPN)
18 November: 6 Hours of Shanghai (CHN)
16 & 17 March 2019: 2 Hours of Sebring (USA)
4 May 2019: WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps (BEL)
15 &16 June 2019: 24 Hours of Le Mans (FRA)

At this time, the race in Sebring is still scheduled to run from midnight to 12h on Sunday, starting 2 hours after the IMSA Sebring 12 Hours. It is believed that this still might be up for discussion. 

Kristof Vermeulen. 

FIA WEC 2017 - 6 Hours of Circuit of the Americas: Thursday gallery

A full gallery of Thursdays action at Circuit of the Americas can be found here !