A lengthy Red Flag stoppage after a sudden torrential downpour didn’t take the gloss off an exciting Round 4 of the 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship at the Circuit of the Americas that saw Audi emerge triumphant after early dominance from Toyota, and a race leading run from Porsche.
From the off Sebastien Buemi took off and pulled out a near 40 second lead in his #8 Toyota before losing 13 seconds with a half spin.
That allowed the sister #7 TS040 to close in with the Audis getting the better of the Porsches at that point before the defining moment of the race a the screens flashed up “Light rain at T11”
The dark clouds gathering though soon escalated that situation to a deluge, Audi choosing to pit both of their cars for wets, Porsche though opted to change the 919s onto new slicks, and Toyota chose to tough it out on their existing rubber.
Audi’s call was the only correct one, the rain poured down and we were lucky not to have several serious accidents as first Mike Conway came down through a drenched Esses fully sideways in the #7 Toyota, hugely fortunate to have the car snap back into shape, Timo Bernhard through the gravel and bouncing off the barriers with fortunately little damage in the #20 Porsche.
Sebastien Buemi meanwhile had been caught out by standing water at T11, one of at least 6 cars to go off there with the #8 Toyota beached and Bernhard arriving cadence braking his way to thread the needle, missing a beached Ferrari by inches.
After what several teams thought was too long a delay with no Safety car and the conditions worsening the race was red flagged, and stayed that way for 77 minutes with some teams opting (incorrectly) to bring their cars down pitlane, and others lined up on the pit straight.
Teams were allowed to change tyres before the restart.
Those who stopped on the straight started ahead of those who stopped in the pit lane.
Cars which went off were extracted for safety reasons to other competitors, so were able to continue.
The race restarted after several laps under the Safety Car as the race moved into full darkness.
The shake-up had left the Audis and the #14 Porsche as the only cars on the lead lap, both Toyotas had been stranded in the gravel as the more appropriately shod R18s completed a further lap.
That left the Porsche chasing the Audis and the #8 Toyota in particular looking to get back the lost lap.
Neel Jani would grab the lead in the #14 on pace, but the Porsche’s attack would fade away later as the Porsche suffered from a lack of engine power, before then though the Audis were already mounting a spirited attack with Marcel Fassler and then Andre Lotterer showing that there was still plenty of fire in the belly of the #2 crew, Lucas di Grassis later doing much the same for the #1 car as he chased down and passed the wounded Porsche, Marc Lieb forced to come home in conservative fashion.
The second Porsche meanwhile was always going to struggle to make up the ground lost to the red flag, Brendan Hartley in particular put in some impressive times but has had a wild ride over one of the infamous orange pyramid inner kerbs.
Anthony Davidson and Sebastien Buemi in particular were in full attack mode in the Championship leading #8 Toyota, pushing hard to force errors from the cars ahead, taking advantage when the #14 faltered, getting back onto the lead lap but ultimately having no real answer to the Audis.
The #1 came home on top, Audi taking the lead in the manufacturers Championship as a result, but four cars on the lead lap, and all three factory teams leading at various points shows again that the LMP1-H regulations are doling out real competition.
In the LMP1 L stakes there was another win for the #12 Rebellion R One, the car finishing seventh overall after another reliable run, though the gap to the factory teams is now proving a worry to supporters of the Privateer sub-class.
The sister car was a dnf after the car suffered front end damage in a match that finished Orange Pyramid 1: Rebellion R One 0.
Kudos though to the newcomers, the #9 Lotus/ CLM/ T129/ P1/01 (they’ll sort the name out by Fuji – probably!) After their gearbox woes in practice the revived car ran reliably, if perhaps a little too slowly at times, (though James Rossiter found some pace at times).
They will have enjoyed their podium appearance – now they need to find a little more pace, a reliable run from their new AER turbo V6 will provide a solid foundation.
One final global point about this race – The call for the red flag took a longer time than anyone was comfortable with – Questions were being asked post race by most of the teams as to why this was the case – There will surely be explanations and clarifications sought before we get to Fuji, a track not without a similar recent weather history!