By taking the season’s fifth win, Porsche has extended its lead in the manufacturers’ standings of the FIA World Endurance Championship. At the sixth out of nine championship rounds, held in Austin, Texas, the reigning world champions, Timo Bernhard (DE), Brendon Hartley (NZ) and Mark Webber (AU) achieved their third victory in a row in tropical weather conditions. They had started from third position on the grid. Meanwhile coming from fifth on the grid, this year’s Le Mans winners, Romain Dumas (FR), Neel Jani (CH) and Marc Lieb (DE), experienced a rather mixed race in the United States. They finished fourth in the six-hour race and defended their lead in the drivers’ championship.
When the race got underway at 5pm local time, ambient temperatures were over 35 degree Celsius and tested the drivers and mechanics to the limit. The cooler it became after sunset, the stronger the Porsche 919 Hybrid became. Thanks to a well-managed pit stop strategy, the winning trio took the lead some time after mid distance.
In total this is the 12th victory for the innovative Porsche 919 Hybrid prototype since its 2014 debut. For Bernhard/Hartley/Webber it is their seventh WEC success. Porsche now leads the manufacturers’ standings with 238 points ahead of Audi (185) and Toyota (137). Dumas/Jani/Lieb lead the drivers’ standings by 37.5 points ahead of the best Audi trio.
How the race went for car number 1:
Start driver Webber improves from P3 to P2, but then has to let the two leading Audis go. After 28 laps he hands the car over to Hartley, still in third position. During the stop Hartley drops back to fourth, but soon fights with Anthony Davidson in his Toyota and gets back P3. After 57 laps Bernhard takes over. His stint ends early after 76 laps, when the team uses a “Full Course Yellow” for a pit stop. Webber jumps in again and his stint is also shortened by a Full Course Yellow after lap 94. Hartley continues in P3. A longer pit stop for the number 8 Audi promotes him to P2. After 121 laps the race sees its third Full Course Yellow – just at the perfect time for the number 1 Porsche 919. Bernhard leaves the pits as the new race leader. On lap 133 an accident for the number 7 Audi leads to another Full Course Yellow. Bernhard hands over to Webber, who keeps defending the lead. After 164 laps Bernhard gets behind the wheel again. As happened during all the previous pit stops, the tyres were changed as well. Bernhard brings home another race win.
How the race went for car number 2:
Shortly after the start Dumas manages to get past Mike Conway’s Toyota and improves from fifth to fourth. But on lap four he is overtaken by Sébastien Buemi in the sister Toyota and is back in P5 again. After 27 laps Jani takes over and successfully attacks Davidson on lap 35. After 56 laps it is Lieb’s turn. The championship leaders continue in P4. After 76 laps during a Full Course Yellow Dumas jumps in again. After 93 laps – during the second Full Course Yellow – Jani takes over again. After 112 laps he is due to have an extra stop because of a slow puncture. He stays in the car and continues in P5 before the Audi’s mishap promotes him to fourth. After 134 laps he hands over the 919 to Lieb. After 161 laps and at the next stop there is a driver change to Dumas. With just 12 minutes to go, the Frenchman has to pit for tyres because of another slow puncture before he brings the car home in fourth position.
Quotes after the race:
Fritz Enzinger, Vice President LMP1: “We knew during the entire event that these high temperatures were difficult for us. The fact we still managed to win such a race gives us hope for the remaining three rounds and our target to defend both championship titles. Soon we will be heading to Japan where we can clearly expect cooler conditions, which should help. All I can say is: Thanks to the team here on site and to our colleagues back home in Weissach. We have made another step on the path to winning the title again. This makes us very happy today and now we will be working painstakingly for Fuji.”
Andreas Seidl, Team Principal: “Congratulations and a big thank you to the entire crew for this great team effort. At the beginning of the race, when the tarmac was extremely hot, we didn’t have the pace of the Audis. But thanks to a strong and error-free job by our drivers, the fastest pit stops of the field, dead right strategic decisions and flawless technology, we have earned and deserved this win. It was hard work. On car number 2 we lost front downforce early on in the race, and this prevented them from fighting for a top position. Nonetheless we have managed another step on our mission to win both championships again. We will use the next three weeks to prepare for the final three races.”
Drivers Porsche 919 Hybrid number 1
Timo Bernhard (35, Germany): “I think it’s mega that we won our third consecutive race. We’ve had a difficult start to the season, but today delivered another error-free race. It was really hard work today! On my first stint the sun was very low and blinding, which wasn’t nice. But the longer the race went and the cooler it became, the more we improved. We closed the gap to one Audi and then we were lucky to get a Full Course Yellow when we were due to pit anyway.”
Brendon Hartley (26, New Zealand): “For us the race went very smoothly. It was clear to us that Audi would have an advantage in the high temperatures at the start, but we were hoping the race would come back to us and it did. After dark the competition with Audi was much more even. We got the strategy with the Full Course Yellow absolutely right.”
Mark Webber (40, Australia): “It was tough racing with fair battles today and Timo’s and Brendon’s drives were awesome. After the start we got into a rhythm. In the middle of the race the situation looked stable. The Audis in front were extremely quick in the heat, but this was no surprise. We knew we had to do a clean race and if they had stayed that strong we would have pushed them over the line. But then Audi had a problem and we have been lucky when the timing of a Full Course Yellow played into our hands. Despite the heat, our guys in the garage did a great job again in the pit stops.”
Drivers Porsche 919 Hybrid number 2
Romain Dumas (38, France): “I drove at the start and on my first stint in the afternoon’s heat the car felt like driving on slicks in the wet. On my second stint I was unlucky with traffic. In total two slow punctures plus the nose change were time consuming. The result is good for the championship and for Porsche, but for us the race wasn’t nice. In Le Mans we were very lucky to win. Perhaps it is pay back time for this. But I think now that should be enough.”
Neel Jani (32, Switzerland): “I had a nice battle with the Toyota early on in the race when I did my first stint and it was good to overtake it. But grip was really a difficult topic today, because of the different rubber from the other series that raced before us. At some point our car was almost undriveable, and the understeer was brutal. We had lost a lot of downforce at the front and didn’t know why. Only after we had changed the nose cone did it became better. On top of that I had a slow puncture that cost more time. Apparently we aren’t having a run of luck at the moment.”
Marc Lieb (36, Ludwigsburg): “On my first stint I lost time because the car was understeering. My second stint was a lot better. After we changed the front part of the car we got rid of the rubber pick up and this understeer. Although I had mixed tyres on the car – used ones and fresh ones – the 919 was so much better to drive afterwards. It wasn’t our day, but the 919 ran reliably despite the heat. I was also fine with the cockpit temperature, because it had begun to get dark when I had my first stint.”