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Silverstone, 18-20 April, 2014

The opening round of the 2014 FIA WEC series, witnessed the arrival of a new contender for overall honours, the Porsche 919 Hybrid, joining Audi and Toyota in the quest for supremacy in the series. The arrival of Porsche back on the main stage of endurance racing certainly seems to have hit the right chord with race fans, as despite a distinctly grey and chilly race day, there were large crowds at the Silverstone circuit. For race fans, the attraction of Mark Webber in the driver line-up at Porsche also seems to have had a positive effect, as during the race morning autograph session there was human gridlock around the Porsche garage, and the stewards had to turn people back down the pit lane.

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In 2013 it was the preceding ELMS race on the Saturday that suffered from the vagaries of the British weather, this year it was the Sunday feature race that bore the brunt of the bad weather, and like the ELMS race last year had to be ended early, as the heavy rain and resulting standing water on the track made driving conditions impossible. Fortunately the conditions for the practice and qualifying sessions were held under predominantly clear skies, so that a judgement of the relative performance of the main protagonists in the different classes could be assessed.

In the main LMP1-H (Hybrid) class there a pair of entries each from Audi, Porsche and Toyota, whilst the LMP1-L class for privateers comprised of a pair of Rebellion Racing Lola B12/60 Toyotas, which were 2013 cars pending the arrival of their new 2014 cars. The LMP2 class comprised of only four cars, all Nissan powered, three Oreca 03s and a Morgan. The LMGTE PRO class had seven entries, three Ferrari 458 GT2s, two Porsche 911 RSRs and a pair of Aston Martin Vantage V8s. The largest class was the LMGTE AM one, with a quartet of Ferraris, a pair of Porsches and a pair of Aston Martins.

At the end of the LMP1 & 2 qualifying session, the sextet of LMP1 hybrids were very close on times, with 0.452sec covering the fastest to the slowest, showing that despite their different approaches to the use of hybrid technology, they were all fairly evenly matched in terms of overall performance. The # 7 Toyota TS 040 driven by Wurz / Sarrazin / Nakajima headed the time sheet, with the # 1 Audi R18 e-tron Quattro of Di Grassi / Duval / Kristensen only 0.005sec in arrears, whilst the # 14 Porsche 919 of Dumas / Jani / Lieb was only 0.313sec off the pole setting time. The pair of Rebellion Lolas were just over 1.5secs off the pace of the time set by the # 7 Toyota. In the LMP2 class it was the G-Drive Racing entered Morgan-Nissan driven by Rusinov / Pla / Canal that took the honours, ahead of the KCMG entered Oreca 03-Nissan of Howson / Bradley / Matsuda. In the two GT classes it was AF Corse entered Ferrari 458 GT2s that took pole position. In the LMGTE PRO class it was the # 51 example of Bruni/Vilander, whilst in the LMGTE AM class the honours went to the # 81 example of Wyatt / Rugolo / Bird.

After two days of predominantly bright sunny weather, race day dawned grey, chilly and misty, with a forecast of rain at about two thirds race distance. In fact the first rain shower arrived about 35 minutes into the race, and caught a number of people out and mixed up the order. It seems that the teams were getting different forecasts from their sources, as Audi thought that it was just going to be a brief passing shower, and elected to leave the cars out on slick tyres. This forecast proved to be inaccurate, as it rained enough to make the surface treacherous, and was their downfall. The # 1 Audi driven by Lucas Di Grassi was the first victim, as he went off into the barriers demolishing the front of the car, although he managed to get it back to the pits. However, they found damage to the front suspension pick-up points on the tub, and it had to be retired. A few laps later Andre Lotterer in the # 2 Audi went off track and beached the car in a gravel trap, which lost 4 laps while it was extricated, ending any chances of a good result. Things became even worse for Audi later, when the rain returned and Benoit Treluyer then crashed the # 2 car heavily, resulting in suspension and steering damage, which put it out of the race. Meanwhile Porsche had to retire their # 14 car after it suffered from undisclosed driveline problems, leaving the sister # 20 example to do battle with the Toyotas.

When the rain first fell, Toyota hedged their bets, and put one car on intermediate tyres and the other on full wets, as they didn’t know what the intensity might be. The intermediate choice proved to be correct, as the thus shod # 8 car of Buemi / Davidson / Lapierre pulled out an advantage over the # 7 car of Wurrz / Sarrazin / Nakajima, which by the time the race ended was a full lap. The # 20 Porsche of Bernhard / Webber / Hartley, which was in low downforce aero specification, not ideal for the conditions, was a further lap in arrears to take the final podium spot. In the LMP2 class the # 26 G-Drive Racing Morgan-Nissan of Rusinov/Pla/Canal converted their class pole position into a class win, despite having to change the nose twice. The # 47 KCMG Oreca 03-Nissan driven by Howson / Bradley / Matsuda had been in contention for the win for much of the race, but was given a 10secs Stop-Go penalty for speeding in the pit lane, and were then further penalised a lap for unsafe release from the pits.

In the LMGTE PRO class the pole sitting # 51Ferrari of Bruni / Vilander led initially, but it had intense pressure from the pair of works Porsche 911 RSRs entered by Porsche Team Manthey, eventually succumbing to their advances. Its cause wasn’t helped by the weather, as the Porsches had noticeably better traction and hence more speed in the wet conditions, and it also suffered a Stop-Go penalty, plus a refuelling fire at one of its pit stops. It looked set to take 3rd in class in the closing stages, but a tyre stop just as the safety car was deployed saw it stuck in the pits, allowing the # 97 Aston Martin of Turner/Mucke to take the final podium place. The class win went to the # 92 Porsche of Holzer / Makowiecki / Lietz, followed by the # 61 example of Pilet / Bergmeister / Tandy. Ferrari fortunes weren’t much better in the LMGTE AM class, as the pole sitting # 81 Ferrari of Wyatt / Rugolo / Bird lost out to the pair of Aston Martin Vantage V8 entries, and could only manage the final podium spot. The class was won by the # 95 Aston Martin of Poulsen / Heinemeier Hansson / Thim, followed by the sister car of Lamy / Daala Lana / Nygaard.

Results and Ferrari chassis numbers >>>

Keith Bluemel