Rain, fog, red flag – Porsche 919 Hybrids finish third and fourth
The Porsche LMP Team had to be content with third and fourth place finishes at the seventh of nine rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC). The six-hour race on the Fuji International Speedway was hampered by persistent rain plus fog and staged in only 14 degree Celsius ambient temperature and 16 degree track temperature. Interruptions and neutralisations influenced the track action. Neel Jani (CH), André Lotterer (DE) and Nick Tandy (GB) finished in third place. This year’s Le Mans winners Earl Bamber (NZ), Timo Bernhard (DE) and Brendon Hartley (NZ) had started from pole position and came home fourth with Bamber impressively recording the fastest race lap (1:37.702 minutes on lap 19 of 115). The second red flag came after four hours and 31 minutes and the race was not restarted. As just over 75 per cent of the scheduled race duration had been completed, full points were awarded. In the manufacturers’ world championship standings, Porsche continues to lead with now 270 points, Toyota follows on 211.5 points after their one-two win on home soil. Bamber/Bernhard/Hartley top the drivers’ rankings with 172 points, their advantage over the best placed Toyota drivers having melted to 39 points. Jani/Lotterer/Tandy remain in fourth position now on 98 points. At the eighth and penultimate 2017 WEC race in Shanghai (CN) on November 5th, Porsche wants to convert its match point into a successful title defence.
How the race went for car number 1:
André Lotterer starts from P2. The safety car leads the pack in the rain until the end of lap 5. On lap 6 Lotterer drops back to fourth behind the two Toyotas. After a touch with the number 8 Toyota (Sébastien Buemi), a flap on the front right is missing. Half an hour into the race, fog is increasing, nevertheless Lotterer is catching up. End of lap 22, he overtakes the Toyota number 7 (Kamui Kobayashi) and now lies third. From lap 29 onwards, the safety-car is on track again. After 33 laps the team calls Lotterer to pit for full service. Neel Jani takes over, getting new front body work and fresh rain tyres. The race is red flagged after 39 laps with Jani in P4. The race is restarted at 12:50 hrs and he moves in to P3 when the sister Porsche pits. After 60 laps, with the safety car on track again, Nick Tandy takes over and continues with the same set of tyres. On lap 77, when the number 8 Toyota pits, Tandy takes the lead. He is under pressure from José María López who’s at the wheel of the number 7 Toyota. After 79 laps, the safety car is back on track. At the re-start on 87 laps, Tandy defends the lead while instantly an LMP2 accident requires the next safety car period. When the race is released for the next time after 94 laps, Tandy cannot defend against the two Toyotas and drops back to third. The order remains the same after 100 laps at the next pit stop when Jani takes over on fresh tyres. When chasing Mike Conway in the number 7 Toyota, the safety car comes out again on lap 111 due to worsening fog. After 114 laps the race is ultimately red flagged and not re-started.
How the race went for car number 2:
Earl Bamber performs his first WEC start in the 919 Hybrid. When the safety car disappears at the end of lap 5, Bamber stays in the lead. Before the second safety car period begins at the end of lap 28 because of fog, he has built up a gap of over 12 seconds to the number 8 Toyota (Sébastien Buemi). When the race is red flagged after 39 laps, he is the only LMP1 that hasn’t yet refuelled. At 12:50 hrs the race is restarted and Bamber needs to immediately pit. After 40 laps, Timo Bernhard takes over with fresh rain tyres. He is now fourth behind the two Toyotas and Neel Jani. Bernhard gets lapped by the number 8 Toyota on lap 56 with the latest safety car period coming moments later. After 63 laps, Bernhard hands over to Brendon Hartley who continues with fresh rain tyres behind the safety car in P4 of the LMP1 category. End of lap 65 the safety car releases the field, end of lap 79 it comes back on track and later again after laps 88 and 111 leaving Hartley powerless to unlap himself. When the race is ultimately red flagged after 114 laps, he is in the pits for refuelling.
The Porsche LMP Team after the race
Fritz Enzinger, Vice President LMP1: “Heavy rain, thick fog, a start behind the safety car, two red flags and numerous safety car periods and yellow zones: Given these adverse conditions, we can be glad that nothing serious happened today. In the end it was a lucky one-two race win for Toyota. But we were close and in Shanghai we will do everything to do the next step in order to defend our championship titles.”
Andreas Seidl, Team Principal: “Congratulations to Toyota for winning in Fuji. The pendulum today swung back and forth several times. Before the first red flag, we were gambling. If it would have been the end of the race, we would have won it with our number 2 car. But with the timing of the ultimate red flag we were unlucky. If the race had continued, we would have seen a battle for victory between the number 7 Toyota and our number 1 car. We generally had difficulties getting the tyres to work at the re-starts causing us to drop back a few times. However, it is important that we take home some more points for both championship classifications. It was a very difficult weekend for our drivers and the entire team but everyone stayed focused which I thank them for.”
Drivers Porsche 919 Hybrid car number 1:
Neel Jani (33, Switzerland): “I was second in the car and then drove again at the end. Eventually I was in the car when both the red flags came out. I think I’m familiar with the procedures now. It was a close race with Toyota. It appears they were better in heating up their tyres. We could always catch up but then the next safety car or yellow came out. I have never previously experienced a race like this. Visibility sometimes was zero, it was just a question of how to survive.”
André Lotterer (35, Germany): “On the initial laps I had big problems to get the tyres to work. They were too cold and it was driving like on ice. Somehow the Toyotas managed this better and so I lost two positions. Losing an aero part from the front when I touched with Sébastien Buemi cost more downforce. But finally I got the tyres up to temperature and then the car was really fast.”
Nick Tandy (32, Great Britain): “It went really well on my stint until the safety car came out. The tyres cooled down and it was difficult to make a restart. I think Toyota was on a slightly different tyre strategy – better than us on the restarts but not on the longer runs. Unfortunately this race didn’t have many long runs!”
Drivers Porsche 919 Hybrid car number 2
Earl Bamber (27, New Zealand): “I started the race and the visibility, especially in traffic, with spray and fog was really very, very bad. I didn’t see anything. It was the right call to red flag the race after a bit over an hour. The water level wasn’t the problem but the fog had to clear and that didn’t happen.”
Timo Bernhard (36, Germany): “After I took over from Earl, I had huge problems to get the tyres to work. I was driving in heavy traffic with lots of spray and very poor visibility. There wasn’t much I could do to heat the rubber up. Then the leader overtook me and the safety car came out. That was very unfortunate for us.”
Brendon Hartley (27, New Zealand): “It was going great for Earl in the beginning. He was in P1, leading by over ten seconds, but then we had safety car after safety car which obviously affected our race. We had very tricky conditions today with a slippery track and poor visibility. But we kept the car on track and had clean stints.”