WEC: Porsche Suffers Difficulties At Spa
Spa-Francorchamps hosted the second round of the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC), in a season that is already beginning to look tricky for Porsche. After the highs and lows of the opening round at Silverstone, Porsche’s LMP1 cars qualified on the front row of the grid for Saturday’s six-hour race in Belgium, yet failed to capitalise on their outright pace. This precursor to Le Mans raises worrying questions about the Porsche squad’s chances at the great race.
For the No1 919 Hybrid of Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and Mark Webber the race began well. Hartley built up an early race lead, pitting for a scheduled stop on lap 23 and handing the car to Bernhard. Toyota’s Sébastien Buemi took the race lead and a thrilling battle ensued: Bernhard overtook the Toyota at La Source, ex-F1 star Buemi coming back at him through Spa’s epic Eau Rouge corner. It all started to unravel for Porsche though on lap 37 when Bernhard suffered a puncture. He was forced to crawl back to the pits for much of Spa’s long 4.3-mile lap, his flailing tyre damaged the 919’s bodywork in the process.
A new nose section was fitted to the No1 car while Bernhard handed driving duties over to Webber, but the Aussie suffered another tyre delamination on lap 45 – caused by the previous damage to the car – that forced him into the pits for further repairs. Now four laps down, the No1 car’s dramas were still not over. Damage to the gearbox, again a result of the earlier tyre failure, put the car back into the garage, this time for a lengthy one-hour 40-minute spell. Having rejoined the race some 49 laps down, come the final flag the No1 car was ranked in 27th place overall, fifth place in the LMP1 category.
Things were brighter on the other side of the Porsche garage, but not by much. Reliability problems with the No2 car’s hybrid system cost it the chance of a win with a loss, according to Neel Jani, of 400hp for almost the entire race. Things had started well with Lieb chasing the sister Porsche around the first handful of laps, but on the sixth tour gremlins struck with hybrid system problems. Lieb handed the now limping car over to Jani on lap 22, who passed the car to Dumas on lap 47. Another stop on lap 71 put Lieb back behind the wheel, while Jani and Dumus shared the final stints. Despite all the dramas and a huge power deficit, the No2 car was sat in third place overall towards the end of the race thanks to Audi and Toyota suffering technical problems too. One of the Toyotas fell back further in the final part of the race, this promoted Dumas to second spot.
Fritz Enzinger, Vice President LMP1, said: “The opening round at Silverstone wasn’t easy but here in Spa it was even more difficult, although we were starting from the front row with both cars. Having achieved a second place finish despite the technical problems early in the race on the number 2 car proves again: giving up is never an option in endurance racing. In the world of theatre people say a bad dress rehearsal is a happy omen for the premiere. This is how we consider our race day in Spa now with regards to Le Mans.”
A second place finish for Porsche at Spa could be seen as damage limitation given the circumstances, but, with no further racing before the Le Mans 24-hours on 18-19th June, Porsche may be concerned about its chances. In the WEC standings Dumas/Jani/Lieb still lead the Drivers’ Championship, Porsche leads the Manufacturers’ standings, but that doesn’t tell the full story. There is still a long way to go, but going forward Porsche will need to up its game in order to fight off the advances of the Audis and Toyota this year.
Race result 6 Hours of Spa (BEL):
|1.||Di Grassi/Duval/Jarvis||Audi R18||160 laps|
|2.||Dumas/Jani/Lieb||Porsche 919 Hybrid||-2 laps|
|3.||Imperatori/Kraihamer/Tuscher||Rebellion R-One AER||-4 laps|
|27.||Webber/Hartley/Bernhard||Porsche 919 Hybrid||-48 laps|
Drivers’ World Championship after two out of nine rounds:
|3.||Di Grassi/Duval/Jarvis||Audi||25 points|
Constructors’ World Championship:
The next race is the 24 Hours of Le Mans, France, which takes place on 18-19th June 2016.