Another win for Porsche against Toyota

A rather thrilling race unfolded last Saturday on what was the final visit to Austin’s COTA for the FIA WEC – at least for a while – as Porsche managed to win yet again, although this time with significant pressure from Toyota. The World Endurance Championship freight arrived in Texas this past week for the sixth round of the 2017 season, the last to be run in regular fashion before a certain (for now) switch to a winter season from 2019-2020 onwards. Before that, and before we delve into what went on in Austin, let’s again talk about the super season that will mark the transition between the current status quo and the upcoming one.

As I wrote in my previous piece covering the Mexican round, an eight-round super season split between 2018 and 2019 was announced by series boss Gerard Neveu in Mexico City as a way to switch from the current spring-summer-autumn schedule to a autumn-winter-spring(ish) one that’s bound to end with the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This means that we’ll see five rounds in 2018 and three more in 2019. Four of these will be two visits apiece to Spa-Francorchamps and Le Mans.

Continue reading for the full story.

New Schedule for Next Season

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Failed attempts for the championship to return to Mexico made way for Silverstone to remain on the calendar

The more eagle-eyed of you will have noticed that I’ve written five for next year, not four as previously announced. That’s because failed attempts for the championship to return to Mexico (and Interlagos) made way for Silverstone to remain on the calendar and it will take place in August of 2018 (on the 18th and 19th). There was also a clash between the Fuji Six Hours and the fabled Petit Le Mans which was criticized by regulars of both IMSA and the FIA WEC. The latter championship wisely made up its mind and moved the Fuji race one weekend away from Petit (Oct. 20th-21st). This also made mandatory for the Shanghai race to be moved and it will now take place between the 17th and 18th of November.

Now, with all these pieces in place, the only concern lays upon the announced “double-header” at Sebring where we should see two 12-hour-long races one after the other. Besides the health and safety problems that might arise (like what’s the minimum rest time that a driver must take before he undertakes another round-the-clock race?), some wondered which will be the “real” 12 Hours of Sebring? We’ll leave that up to you, the readers, to establish!

LMP1

Bouncing back to the race in the Texan heat, Porsche seemed to have the upper hand in free practice

Bouncing back to the race in the Texan heat, Porsche seemed to have the upper hand in free practice but Toyota managed the best time in the third and final session so it wasn’t all plain sailing for the German brand come qualifying. In spite of this, Nick Tandy and Neel Jani took pole aboard the No. 1 Porsche, the Briton stealing pole from the sister 919 with his last flyer. His first fast lap was erased as it was deemed that he’d cut the track. His second, a 1:44.827, was good enough for the pairing to be 0,253-seconds quicker than that of Timo Bernhard and Earl Bamber who started second in the No. 2 hybrid prototype from Stuttgart.

Tandy did his lap (which made for a combined time of 1:44.741) on the same rubber as Jani. The P1 cars aren’t, however, mandated a certain number of tire sets per race as is the case with P2 cars which sometimes have to double-stint their rubber. Toyota lined up in P3 and P4, the No. 8 TS050 being over 1.5-seconds off pace. The TMG-developed prototypes looked like they might tick another Mexico-esque performance on Saturday but tables were slightly turned on race day.

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After a generally clean start, the two Toyotas passed the No. 2 Porsche of Bernhard

After a generally clean start, the two Toyotas (driven by Mike Conway and Sebastien Buemi) passed the No. 2 Porsche of Bernhard. Buemi in the No. 8 and Conway in the No. 7 respectively were then unable to close the gap to pole-sitter Jani, instead concentrating on fighting one another for most of the first 60 minutes. With Buemi being the slower of the pairing, and the one ahead, the leading Porsche had no problem in creating a hefty gap. To Sebastien’s defence, his car struggled from a boost override issue in his hybrid deployment system which hampered his progress.

The issue was, apparently, dealt with in the pits and, by not taking tires, the two Toyotas moved up the order to finish hour no. 1 in the first two positions overall. At the time, it seemed like nothing more than a gimmicky move by Toyota Gazoo Racing as no one thought the two black-red-white cars could stand a chance against the other two black-red-white cars in the same category. Somehow, though, they did, and Toyota held the lead for most of the second hour.

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Before the end of the second hour, Porsche was back at the sharp end

Jose-Maria Lopez, who took over the No. 7 car, had much to do with it as he was “assigned” as the blocker while his teammate led the way in the No. 8. This meant that we were treated to at least half a dozen beautiful laps of fighting between the No. 1 Porsche of Andre Lotterer and the No. 7 Toyota. The German eventually moved past the Argentine and then he had to do it all again to get up to the premier spot in the standings. The second fight, though, wasn’t as long as the No. 8 was still the slower of the two TS050s. There was, too, a fight between the No. 2 Porsche of Brendon Hartley and Lopez. This year’s Le Mans winner was the victor of this fight as well and, before the end of the second hour, Porsche was back at the sharp end. Having felt the threat from their Japanese rivals, Porsche also double-stinted their tires which kept them ahead for the third stint.

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The Toyotas faded even more in pace in the final two hours, unable to even try to swap positions with the Porsches

Porsche was still ahead at half distance, sort of previewing the way in which the rest of the race will play out. The Toyotas faded even more in pace in the final two hours, unable to even try to swap positions with the Porsches due to the pit cycles. This prompted an intra-team fight between the No. 2 and the No. 1 towards the end of the race. It wasn’t, though, an actual fight – despite Porsche suggesting time and again they’re not employing team orders.

The No. 2 was let to slip ahead by the No. 1 on two separate occasions, last time following the final stop for a splash of fuel. This all but sealed the title for Bernhard, Bamber and Hartley who scored their fourth win on the trot in 2017. It’s a bit sad to see the manufacturer not let its two cars race for the fans would’ve surely enjoyed a proper race between two world-class drivers, since they were anyway deprived of a battle between the two manufacturers...

LMP1 Class Standings

Pos. No. Team Drivers Car Laps
1 2 Porsche LMP Team Bernhard/Bamber/Hartley Porsche 919 Hybrid 192
2 1 Porsche LMP Team Jani/Lotterer/Tandy Porsche 919 Hytrid 192
3 8 Toyota Gazoo Racing Buemi/Sarrazin/Nakajima Toyota TS050 - Hybrid 192
4 7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Conway/Kobayashi/Lopez Toyota TS050 - Hybrid 192

LMP2

After just missing out on victory last time out, Alpine performed to perfection at COTA to score their first win this season

After just missing out on victory last time out, Alpine performed to perfection at the Circuit Of The Americas to score their first win this season. Gustavo Menezes, Nicolas Lapierre and Andre Negrao started off perfectly by getting pole position and executed perfectly in the race from one end of the six hours to the other. They managed a clean getaway in the No. 36 and led comfortably before being reeled in by competition as a result of a safety car period.

The Alpine still led and was set for a care-free win until one of its rear lights broke within the final 30 minutes. The team was asked to call the car in and fix the issue, which it did during a 46-seconds-long stop. Even with this unscheduled delay the No. 36 still crossed the line well in front of the two Rebellion-entered ORECAs.

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The two Rebellion entries filled up the podium in their Vaillante colors

The two Swiss entries (No. 13 ahead of No. 31) filled up the podium in their Vaillante colors, just ahead of the Jackie Chan DC Racing cars. The No. 38 class leader driven by Ho Pin-Tung, Oliver Jarvis and Thomas Laurent came home fourth ahead of the identical sister-car. The Chinese team did not have the pace to match the Rebellion prototypes, let alone the class winner in what was a weekend where just about anyone struggled with their tire allocation due to the heat.

Manor Racing could only bring one car to the checkered flag, namely the No. 24 which finished an anonymous sixth. The other car was even more anonymous in the race, retiring with multiple mechanical gremlins while G-Drive Racing’s orange ORECA finished seventh due to mechanical maladies. Last in class was the TDS car which spun early on and then stopped on pit lane which required the mechanics to push it into its slot.

Top 5 LMP2 Class Standings

Pos. No. Team Drivers Car Laps
1 36 Signatech Alpine Matmut Lapierre/Menezes/Negrao Alpine A470 - Gibson 177
2 13 Vaillante Rebellion Beche/Heinemeier/Piquet Jr Oreca 07 - Gibson 176
3 31 Vaillante Rebellion Canal/Prost/Senna Oreca 07 - Gibson 176
4 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Tung/Jarvis/Laurent Oreca 07 - Gibson 176
5 37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Cheng/Brundle/Gommendy Oreca 07 - Gibson 175

GTE-Pro

Aston-Martin led the first hour through the No. 95 Vantage before being hunted down by the two Ferraris

It was a topsy-turvy race in the top Grand Touring category. Aston-Martin led the first hour through the No. 95 Vantage of Sorsensen and Thiim before being hunted down by the two Ferraris. Then it was time for the Fords to shine – although only shortly – and then the Porsches raised to the task of leading the Six Hours of COTA. Porsche ultimately lost the lead after the safety car, James Calado first getting by Kevin Estre to take the lead in the No. 51.

The second AF Corse-entered Ferrari 488 GTE (of which an updated version will debut next year) then went by too to again make it a 1-2 for the Prancing Horse. Michael Christensen “ruined” what could’ve been a dream result for the Italian outfit with only 20 minutes to go after passing Sam Bird on the inside into Turn 1. It was then a matter of finding a way to close the 60-seconds gap to leader Alessandro Pier Guidi. Christensen’s job was made seemingly easy in dramatic fashion as the No. 51 suffered a puncture with 10 minutes left on the clock.

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The Fords couldn’t even get by the unlucky 991 GTE and finished at the back of the pack

The car managed to find its way back to the pits and, after a 33-seconds stop, it was back underway, exiting just ahead of Christensen. The Dane couldn’t lunge in Turn 1 as just at that moment he was being lapped by a Toyota. This meant that Pier Guidi kept his lead and managed to then build a gap and take the race win ahead of Christensen/Estre, with the No. 71 of Rigon/Bird in third.

In spite of leading the opening hour and having good pace, the No. 95 Vantage V8 finished fourth ahead of the No. 97 car which benefitted from a drive-through for the No. 91 Porsche. The Fords couldn’t even get by that unlucky 991 GTE and finished at the back of the pack.

Top 5 LMGTE Pro Class Standings

Pos. No. Team Drivers Car Laps
1 51 AF Corse Calado/Pier Guidi Ferrari 488 GTE 167
2 92 Porsche GT Team Christensen/Estre Porsche 911 RSR 167
3 71 AF Corse Rigon/Bird Ferrari 488 GTE 167
4 95 Aston Martin Racing Thiim/Sorensen Aston Martin Vantage 167
5 97 Aston Martin Racing Turner/Adam/Serra Aston Martin Vantage 167

GTE-Am

Pedro Lamy and Paul Dalla-Lana again teamed up in qualifying and again took the pole

Pedro Lamy and Paul Dalla-Lana again teamed up in qualifying and again took pole aboard the No. 98 Aston-Martin Racing. The car, though, lost the lead at the start as the Spirit of Race Ferrari went ahead. Then the Aston, started by Dalla-Lana, lost further ground after being tagged from behind by Keita Sawa in the No. 61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari. The racing incident was followed by Sawa also passing the first placed Ferrari of Francesco Castellacci to lead the Am category.

Matt Griffin was then the man tasked with increasing Clearwater’s lead and he did that, getting away from Mathias Lauda. It wasn’t, though, enough. Team-boss Mok Weng Sun’s pace was much less than what Pedro Lamy could produce (obviously) and the Portuguese with one-and-a-half hours left. He then built a gap of almost a minute to score the second win of the No. 98 (which also won at COTA last year) which meant that the Singaporean team had to settle for second in class.

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Lamy built a gap of almost a minute to score the second win of the No. 98 Aston Martin V8 Vantage

The No. 54 Spirit of Race Ferrari finished third, benefiting from problems that befell the (then) championship-leading No. 77 Proton Porsche. The car ran as high as second and it was only with under 28 minutes to go that bad luck struck, the rear left tire starting to rub on the bodywork. The car was called to the pits but rejoined and crossed the line in P4 – then stopped again. It did, however, score valuable championship points although the No. 98 took over the leading position in the standings. It was an even more challenging weekend for the Gulf Racing UK Porsche as Mike Wainwright crashed into the barriers after losing brake power in the chicane. That was the incident which caused the mid-race safety car period.

LMGTE Am Class Standings

Pos. No. Team Drivers Car Laps
1 98 Aston Martin Racing Dalla Lana/Lamy/Lauda Aston Martin V8 Vantage 162
2 61 Clearwater Racing Mok/Sawa/Griffin Ferrari 488 GTE 162
3 54 Spirit of Race Flohr/Castellacci/Molina Ferrari 488 GTE 159
4 77 Dempsey - Proton Racing Ried/Cairoli/Dienst Porsche 911 RSR (991) 148
DNF 86 Gulf Racing UK Wainwright/Barker/Foster Porsche 911 RSR (991) 92

Full Results

Check out the full results of the 2017 COTA race: http://www.dailysportscar.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/FIA-WEC-2017-COTA-Race.pdf

What’s Next?

There are only three races left to go in the FIA WEC calendar, up next being Fuji followed by Shanghai and the season-ending Six Hours of Bahrain. These events are scheduled on October 15, November 5, and November 18, respectively.

References

Toyota TS050 Hybrid LMP1

2016 Toyota TS050 Hybrid LMP1 Exterior
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Read our full review on the Toyota TS050 Hybrid LMP1.

Porsche 919 Hybrid

2015 Porsche 919 Hybrid High Resolution Exterior
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Read our full review on the Porsche 919 Hybrid.

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