Bright sunshine almost throughout and a full main grandstand showed a side to Shanghai International Circuit that few had seen before as round 6 of the 2014 FIA WEC played out further dramas for the 27 starters.
LMP1: Toyota Dominate
It was a race of two parts for the overall win, the first part when Toyota threw the dice and pitted both cars from first and third under the early Safety Car called after the incident that accounted for the KCMG Oreca and #51 AF Corse Ferrari, taking the chance of getting the splash of fuel that they knew they’d need at the end of the race if it ran clean (in fact the #8 stopped twice after a refuelling glitch saw the team unable to get the fuel in).
That left the Toyotas at the very back of the Safety Car train and when the race went back to green after a 5 lap, 21 minute Safety Car period the chase was on.
At this point the race was led by the #14 Porsche (Dumas) with the #20 running second (Hartley), the Audis initially running the 919s close but then pulling steadily away.
The gap in terms of time from the leader to the #7 Toyota as the race went back to green had been over 26 seconds, and by the time the TS040s had cleared the traffic up the the LMP2 leaders they’d not only passed 16 cars, they’s closed the gap to the leader by a full 10 seconds.
Thereafter their pace was stunning, Buemi had followed the #7 car through traffic before taking up the challenge and passing. By the time the Toyotas had cleared the Audis the pit stops were upon the Porsches, Hartley now to the fore as we started the second hour, after it was clear that Dumas couldn’t open the gap. As the young Kiwi pitted the #8 swept by into a lead that the Toyotas would not relinquish for the remainder of the race. The #8 pairing were untouchable, the Buemi/ Davidson combo is coming of age and seem able to push hard at will, seemingly driving each other forward with that most constructive of motivations – good natured needle!
Not that this was a cruise to the finish, not a bit of it, Buemi and then Davidson pushed hard throughout – Laps in the 1:49s were the norm, at this point the only crew to manage it though both Porsches, and later Fassler in the #2 Audi would get under 1:50 with Buemi posting the fastest lap of the race (1:48.694) on Lap 131.
The challenge from the #7 Toyota faded in the middle part of the race with Alex Wurz reporting that the car was a little down on power, the issue seemingly sorted for the closing part of the race as Nakajima banged out a series of laps in the 1:49s. They never looked threatened for second place, another faultless run bringing Toyota their third 1,2 of the season so far
The luckless #20 Porsche meanwhile suffered the one major issue of the race for the factory LMP1s with a puncture immediately after Hartley’s first stop, a slow lap to pit again cost the team a lap that they would never recover. There was never a hint that any of the three factory teams were going to risk double stinting their Michelin rubber.
The #14 Porsche had a near perfect run too, but had no answer today for the Toyotas, and struggled in traffic when the competition seemed to be able to use aggression constructively. Their reliability though was good, another step forward in the programme and another podium for the new 919 Hybrid.
Audi will have been frustrated by a continued inability to resist the straight line speed of their rivals but were never too from away from a fight for position with the #14 Porsche.
The intra team fight was never too far apart on track and was eventually settled by Marcel Fassler’s push to exploit some Leena Gade directed strategy, the #2 car pitting to take its final splash early, exploiting new rubber and low fuel load to carve into Lucas di Grassi’s advantage and grab fourth.
The result puts Toyota and in particular the #8 crew into a very strong position in the Manufacturers and Drivers Championship, the #2 Audi crew overhaul the absent Nico Lapierre for second in the Drivers Championship but look set to be left hoping for misfortune ahead in the last two races to come.
Rebellion’s #12 squad took the win in LMP1- topping the first complete three car podium of the year thus far with the sister #13 car second and the CLM Lotus coming home a distant third.
LMP2: G-Drive Dominate Too
If the Toyota team bossed the LMP1 race then the G-Drive Ligier Nissan effort simply destroyed the enhanced LMP2 attack with the ESM HPDs added to the regular season quartet and the returning Oak Racing Morgan Judd.
The #26’s regular sparring partner, the #47 KCMG Oreca Nissan actually led the first half lap, Alexandre Imperatori getting by the Ligier before suffering a disastrous fuel pump failure that stopped the car almost dead, the Swiss driver managing to pull the ‘dead stick’ car to the right, avoided by the remainder of the LMP2 field and the first few GTE Pros but was then comprehensively collected by the #51 Ferrari, huge damage to the rear of the Oreca, Imperatori suffering a minor knee injury in an accident which put both cars out on the spot, effectively ending the Hong Kong based team’s 2014 title challenge.
Thereafter the Ligier was never headed, the new car seemingly squeezing more than the opposition was able to out of double stinted Dunlops and by 20 minutes after the halfway point in the race the efforts of Olivier Pla and then Julien Canal had put a lap on the field. By the checkered flag that advantage had grown to a slightly flattering 3 laps with Roman Rusinov in fine form and Oliver Pla turning the screw.
That performance upped the ante in the Championship stakes again cutting the gap to the #27 SMP Racing Oreca in the teams stakes and to Sergey Zlobin in the Drivers points standings.
The game for the #27 crew behind then was to restrict the damage. Happily for them the only car in the field that were able to take points away from them would be their team car but the #37 had their best run of the year to give Nic Minassian a tough task to overhaul Viktor Shaitar, a task achieved with little assistance from the Russian and with some very hard driving from the wee Frenchman, he would grab third in class in the dying minutes of the race.
Ahead of both though was the #30 ESM HPD, Ryan Dalziel the class of the line-up with some very quick lappery indeed, Scott Sharp also pushing hard and Ricardo Gonzales adding a short stint that underpinned a performance that was good enough to fend off the Russian threat.
The #31 car had a less stellar run but saw David Brabham trading ate race fastest times with Minassian as the two elder statesmen of the class brought their charges home. We saw enough from the cars, and the team to see that this is a team that would add immeasurably to the WEC in 2015 if their final plans turn in a global direction.
The #35 Oak Racing Morgan Judd featured a crowd pleasing line-up of Ho Pin Tung, David Cheng and Mark Patterson but the car struggled for pace, saw some late race delays with overheating and braking issues but finally struggled home.
GTE Pro: Disaster for Championship Leaders, Bitter Gall for #97 Again
A race that started with the promise that AF Corse and Gimmi Bruni and Toni Vilander could have left China as Team and Drivers Champions, the #51 crew starting the race 48.5 points to the good and ending their effort in Shanghai after 10 corners with Gimmi Bruni making huge contact with the stationary Oreca of Alex Imperatori.
Bruni was mercifully OK (as was Imperatori) but the #51 was out of the race on the spot, heavy damage to the front of the 458 Italia.
That left the battle for the win to an initial battling pack of four cars, the #99 Aston Martin falling back off a train headed by Stefan Mucke and Fred Makowiecki, after the Safety Car was withdrawn the German doing an excellent job of defending from the fast Frenchman in the #92 Porsche, this the car, and the man, with most to gain in the Championship chase from the elimination of the points leader.
And that’s the way it stayed for the lead of the race, though with an excellent battle behind, James Calado in the surviving #71 AF Corse Ferrari battling with Richard Lietz in the #91 Porsche for lap after lap as the Manufacturers points position stayed fluid throughout.
The Porsche up front it seemed had no answer for the solid pace of the #97 Aston Martin, Darren Turner opened the gap even further when he climbed aboard.
The race looked won but suddenly, after Mucke had climbed aboard again with a lead now well over 20 seconds, and the race deep into the fifth hour, the left hand exhaust blew clouds of white smoke, then a lick of flame, the Aston’s V8 had gone pop and the team, once again were left wondering who it was that had broken a mirror, their wretched run of luck continued!.
Thereafter it was a run to the flag, and to maximum points, for the #92, a Porsche 1,2 and AF Corse and Ferrari left to lick their wounds and plan for Bahrain.
GTE Am: Aston 1,2 secures the title
The withdrawal of the #61 and #81 AF Corse Ferraris left just a 5 car grid and the pace of the Aston Martins promised that it would be a long afternoon for the #90 Ferrari and #75 and #88 Porsches, and so it would prove.
Behind the battling Vantages there was little close combat to find, the #90 crew pushing hard, and in search of valuable manufacturers points for Ferrari, the #88 crew suffering a delay after Khalid Al Qabaisi was rudely nerfed by David Cheng in T14.
Matthieu Vaxiviere showed pace in the Prospeed Porsche in the middle part of the race but their challenge faded, whilst Wolf Henzler had put the Proton car amongst the Astons early on too.
The Ferrari though would complete a podium otherwise composed of Aston Martin boys.
This one turned rapidly into the #98 car’s day, Pedro Lamy on glittering form, Christoffer Nygaard providing fine support and Paul Dalla Lana fending off the attentions of Kristian Poulsen as the #95’s attack stuttered.
Lamy brought the car home to a well deserved victory, the points gained meaning that only the to Vantages can now take the title, the class victory also securing Aston Martin a record 16th class win, eclipsing the total of Ferrari in the 22 races so far of the FIA WEC.