After an astounding season in the FIA WEC the stars aligned in Bahrain to give Porsche Motorsport an astonishing six titles, the clean sweep of Manufacturer’s Teams and Drivers crowns in both LMP1 and GTE Pro.
The DSC Ed caught up with a record breaking quartet of Porsche 2015 World Champions.
“It was a never ending story for me. I mean I felt when the #8 Audi’s race stopped, to realise that we can clinch the title. I mean, it was great, the start was good, everything was smooth, the car was good and we felt that we don’t have to risk everything. But after half an hour everything changed as we were four laps back and had to come back. We knew that our teammates have to win in our best case, and P7 would be enough. But if the Audi wins then we have to finish P4, and that’s a whole different story; we had to gain three laps on the Toyotas which is unbelievable work. We had to go flat out for the whole race.
“In the end we have to give a lot of thanks to our teammates first of all, congrats for the #18, they helped us a lot today with that victory.
On the throttle linkage issue
“I went through Turn 10, and everything was smooth. I went back on the throttle and only had about 20 percent of the power left. This was a big issue, but luckily there was enough time, I could radio in and tell them what the symptoms of the problem were. I had too also take care that nobody hit me because I was very slow, it could have caused another issue.
“But I pitted and the team started to work on the car.”
And now a World Champion Timo – after how long with Porsche? And you’re the man that both of your team-mates say played the biggest part in making this trio work as a team.
“17 (years with Porsche). Thank you. I’m very honoured that they say that. I think we have a very special bond, I would say that’s part of our success this year. We got the maximum out of our driver crew, our car. In the end I think the friendship was growing, and with Mark it’s very special, as a person and as a sportsman, as a driver. I learnt a lot but to achieve it with all of us three together is a dream combination.”
On THAT final stint, with an ailing #17 underneath him
“I had to preempt what we were going to do all the way to the last pit stop. The throttle was working, so to execute this pit stop was a concern with me. So with about five laps left before the stop I was very concerned with how to get this stop done, because I knew I needed more fuel but we weren’t sure whether repairs would hold.
“I don’t know which guy came up with the idea because it was genius, he’s going to get a big run at the bar tonight. because basically we turned everything off, and did everything with the e-motor so this was a sensational idea. Very high maintenance for me in the cockpit but we had to get it all together and yeah, I stayed on the pit limiter, came in nice and silent, nice and stealth, pulled into the box, got the fuel, gave the car a drink and then we left, fired the engine back up again and we were there.
It’s been a hell of a run of form in the second half of the season?
“This car hasn’t missed a beat since Silverstone, and that is impressive. We’ve had a podium run since Spa, and to see the accumulation of hours of racing, the amount of things that can happen, things that can go wrong and what not, pit stop strategy, it’s impressive.
“I was just concerned that the #7 Audi was going to win, that was my problem. I couldn’t do very much about it and was obviously slow at the end of the race. I was pushing as hard as I could, but with the issues I had it wasn’t that easy. The guys said to me though, that, “you’re fifth, it’s enough, we’ve got enough points”. And I didn’t even know I was fifth, the guys were just saying “look, it’s enough, it’s enough, stay here!” So I stayed off the curbs, because I knew how the guys had fixed the previous problem and it was all done together with let’s just say, not normal Porsche engineering. It was a quick fix and the boys did a great job, it was awesome.
“I mean, at the end I was talking to the car, I was praying like “come on” and it didn’t sound good. It was not a happy girl, but she wanted to hang in for us again. And on the in-lap the car just gave up completely, no battery – nothing!
And what was the workload like in the car whilst all of this was going on?
“I had a lot to do but I was relatively calm, I just had to make sure I kept in touch with the guys and gave the information to them, they talked to me back as best they could. It’s such a technically advanced car that we know it’s like a big circle; if one issue starts to build up it’s just a huge knock on effect and it starts to create issues in other areas so.
“The pit stops were not easy, and even on track, and dealing with traffic. The way the throttle was working made dealing with traffic very difficult for me, the other guys did their best, but probably couldn’t work out why everything was so slow, so it was actually quite dangerous on the straights. I mean, I had to let people past and they could easily have misjudged the problem I had with the car.”
It really has been an incredibly impressive season with the 919 Hybrid?
“Absolutely, we saw that again today. We’ve had a lot of clinical victories, you know, I said that in the press conference today, “we’ve had a lot of clinical wins” and that’s why I think we deserve to be World Champions, we’ve won the most races, we’ve had a lot of poles, so clearly the right car won the World Championship. And today we showed the fighting qualities of the team, we have shown that we never give up, and that’s the spirit. Timo is such a pro that guy, just so good, so awesome, and you look at Brendon in the middle there, his lap times, he was the guy to put in the car. I mean, we’re a pretty good team and it all worked out well.”
On the developing chemistry of the #17 driver squad
“As far as the compromises in the crew are concerned I think last year’s car was a bit harder, this year the car is in the better window, Timo and myself, there’s a compromise there, we’re getting closer and closer when it comes to continuity, being super open and communicating. We’ve worked all that together, and then you have Brendon who is a bit in the middle, but it’s worked. Our job is to make sure that the car doesn’t know who is in the car, the car has to do an optimum lap-time, look at Austin, all of us were so fast in Austin.”
What is the biggest transition from F1 to LMP1?
“For me it’s the traffic, it’s not easy for all of us to handle, but coming from Formula One which is basically just all time-trialling, although we all were until Pirelli turned up, but before that it was racing flat out, every lap was qualifying, you were flat out all the time. Here you have to manage the traffic, you’ve got to be cool with it, another big factor is sharing the car, which I’m really enjoying at this stage of my career, I’m really enjoying that but it takes time to get good at that. That’s something which is another big step to take, and I think that all of us are so fortunate to have Timo, who is arguably one of the best in the world, he’s helped us so much, he’s at the top of his game.
And what about the wider Porsche team?
“I think the timing of the programme has been very beneficial, giving us time to get everything together. We have 30 different nationalities in the team, so to glue everyone together is not a five minute job.
“To get the double victory at Le Mans was also something we didn’t expect. To get the cars home healthily was very rare so that was a huge huge thing. There’s a bit of a spring in the step of everyone in the team, they believe in themselves, they believe in their work, they believe we are on the right track and are putting pressure on the rivals so that’s great.
“But the team is still not at its potential, we are a long way off, there’s a long way to go. There’s a lot more to come with the team, and the future is very exciting for this project, as there’s some very exciting stuff to come and the team feel they can do more, so we’re very excited about that.
“It’s a new team as such, but we’ve had a lot of old Porsche boys turn up and give us a pat on the back. We have the respect for what they received, whether it’s drivers like Derek Bell, Mr Stuck (below), what they did, it’s incredible how the Porsche legend was built through mechanics, drivers and everyone.
You’ve mentioned the contribution of Timo – What can you say about Brendon?
“Brendon has taken a big step this year, really good. When you really turn pro and start to get paid a wage it gives you expectation, and that’s big responsibility for a young driver, whatever category it is. When you’ve gotta learn to accept that, and get the most out of the professional environment, he’s gone from strength to strength.
“His driving in Fuji was exceptional and for most of this year, I mean he’s had an incredible second year with such a big operation. He’s really in a position where he can contribute, he’s the guy we want in our car, he’s done a bloody awesome job, we’re lucky to have him. He’s a hard charger, and that’s awesome.
Brendon Hartley – World Champion!
“Unbelievable, I’ve dreamt of this since I was a little kid, from my earliest memories watching my dad at the race track, my earliest memories were at the race track. And since I started karting at the age of six I dreamt of being World Champion, and to share this moment with Mark and Timo, and everyone at Porsche, it’s made me incredibly proud, I’ll never forget this.
“It was a big step up for me, 2013 and 12 I felt I was driving the best I ever had in my career and taking the step up to Porsche was a big step. It’s a big step up being in such a big team, I mean no-one is putting pressure on you but you feel it. You feel pressure representing Porsche, the most iconic sportscar brand in the world, the most successful manufacturer at Le Mans and it took me a long while to get used to that.
And now you’re part of a trio that has just clicked?
“I mean working with Mark and Timo this year has just worked. We’ve got from strength to strength. We’re best of friends, we share everything about the tracks, we know exactly what compromises we need to make. I drive the car and Timo will like the car enough and Mark will like the car enough, they know the same and year it’s become a very strong relationship.
“Obviously we all got on last year, but now we share everything. No one has figured out (what an appalling individual I am) yet.
“I think we’re always in the mentality, at a race and at a test. As drivers that’s how we learn, that’s the game, constantly improving and developing.
For now I’m just proud mate at the moment. I haven’t thought about next year yet but I’m just enjoying this moment.
“I felt the most comfortable when I was in the car, the stints I had in the car were actually the most stress-free I was over the six hours, on my stint we were managing things after a little problem, a little patch on the engine, but when int as out of the car it was intense and especially for Mark at the end, I mean he was managing all sorts of things, I mean, even just getting to the last pit stop there was a lot going on, I think the engine stopped a few times on track. Every single person in that team put their effort in, the guys on the computers, in the garage. I think I even saw a guy running around with a crowbar, I don’t know what he was using it for, so I mean it was high stress. Everyone knew what they had to do though, it was a real team effort.
“With the #18 winning the race as well, it had to happen. Initially we were doing everything we could to hunt down the Toyota, I was going flat out to catch them and in the end the #18 took the victory sealed it for us, that was a true Porsche team effort.
“I’m lost for words, my dad was here to see me in the garage, he made the trip over from New Zealand. My Girlfriend made the trip as well and a couple of sponsors, like I say, doing it with Mark and Timo, it was special.”
“We were a bit worried about the car’s pace at the start of the race but in the end the car got better and better and in the end we said we were going to drive. We did our best to get all three championships, and we did it!
And how does “Richard Lietz, World Champion” sound?
“It feels very good, it’s amazing but there is a slight sadness that Michael is not here with me to share the title as he helped us win, and he was racing in America to help Porsche win that title too which meant he missed a race. But his time will come, he’s a great driver.”
“But it’s perfect, all three championships, for me the Driver’s Championship, I’m very happy. It was such a competitive year as well, both of the red cars from Italy being so strong. It was a fair fight, and we won races, it was not by luck that we won races. We were off in Le Mans, but in the WEC Championship we were there, and this makes me proud.
“As for the race here we were sure that we just had to finish it, and we hoped that the other car would win. PP and Fred were very fast today, they did it all right and I’m very happy that happened at this race.”
With thanks to Stephen Kilbey, David Lord, Andrew ‘Skippy’ Hall, Peter May, David ‘Doris’ Downes and Soeren Herweg.