Sebastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima have won the 6 Hours of Silverstone to kick off their 2017 World Endurance Championship campaign. The move for the lead came with just 12 minutes to go as Buemi on fresher tyres chased down Hartley in the #2 Porsche, catching and passing him in the Village loop just before the Wellington Straight. That left Hartley and co-drivers Earl Bamber and Timo Bernhard in second at the flag – a decent result given Porsche’s decision to compromise their Silverstone performance by running the Le Mans-spec low-downforce aero kit.
That choice meant Toyota maintained a clear if fairly narrow pace advantage through much of the race, holding first and second in the early stages before problems hit the #7. Nick Tandy, Andre Lotterer and Neel Jani finished third in the #1 919 after having to switch to ‘slicktermediates’ during a rain shower just a short time after making a scheduled fuel stop.. The #7 Toyota finished several laps down following a remarkable repair effort by the crew following a crash for Jose-Maria Lopez shortly after the race’s half-way mark.
Much of the race’s fourth hour was taken up with a full-course yellow and safety car after that crash, which saw the TS050 go straight on into the wall at Copse. The Argentinian managed to get the heavily damaged car back to the bits for the mechanics to make a bid at returning it to the track. As the medical warning light was activated by the impact, Lopez was evaluated in the medical centre for back pain and taken to a local hospital for a precautionary scan – we believe this is the first time this system has been used in this championship.
Just into the final hour, what was already an underwhelming race for the ByKolles car went from bad to worse when there was a coming-together with Johnny Adam’s #97 GTE Pro Aston Martin at pit entry resuted in damage for both cars.
1st: #8 Toyota
Buemi: “We were expecting to be a quite a bit quicker than Porsche, so we’re actually scared a bit! We have lots of work to do. At the end, I knew I had the advantage of fresher tyres, but I wasn’t expecting to come out eight seconds behind! Our higher downforce helped a bit when it started raining, too. Porsche were quicker on the straights, so I had to try something in the tighter sections. It’s been a long time since our crew won, so we’re very happy. Porsche are quicker than us in the pitstops, they made up a lot of time, so we need to improve there.”
Davidson: “Even though I’m from around here I wasn’t quite prepared for the weather. It was very tough to deal with on slicks and I didn’t know Porsche were on inters at the same time. I knew if we survived the showers our strategy was good – then the safety car made it all for nothing! It was amazing stuff from Seb at the end – his best-ever drive in sportscars I reckon.”
Nakajima: “It was very difficult with the safety car closing up the field, but at the end of my stint I thought the gap was enough. It wasn’t, but Seb drove amazing – we believe’d he’d make it and he did.”
2nd: #2 Porsche
Hartley: “I was optimistic before the race, having tested the low-downforce kit at Monza. We were surprised at Toyota’s qualifying pace but our full focus was on race pace. I tried to keep up with the Toyotas in my first stint, but across the first two stints we also managed to save a lap’s worth of fuel in each one. The safety car helped us too, so at the end we decided to go with track position on used tyres. I didn’t leave much of a gap but Seb took it. I think we can be pretty happy to finish jusr six seconds off, and it’s a mega debut for Earl as well.”
Bernhard: “It was just drizzing when I came into the pits and I probably would have stayed on slicks, but my engineer saw a couple of cars go off and so we decided on inters. I was only on them for 10 laps but it was important to survive that phase of the race. We couldn’t have expected more than a close second like this and it gives us a small taste of the season ahead.”
Bamber: “My first stint I struggled a little getting into a rhythmn in traffic, then later after the safety car I was able to keep up the pace before handing to Brendon. We put a lot of effort into this low-downforce kit and I think it shows in how close we were able to be today.”
3rd: #1 Porsche
Jani: “During my first stint Toyota pulled away and I was struggling a bit with my rear tyre temperatures – I nearly spun twice! The second stint was very tough for traffic, I think I lost six or seven seconds a lap a few times.”
Tandy: “I have a bit of experience with changing conditions in the UK of course, but we’d fuelled only two laps before the rain came. We had to put the inters on to stay safe. We mixed it up a bit with the strategy, putting two left-hand tyres on, but we had fun and we’re pleased to be on the podium.”
Lotterer: “I’m still adapting to Porsche really, we did better than expected with the low-downforce kit and operationally it was very smooth, we had very good pit stops. I’m looking forward to Spa.”
Jackie Chan DC Racing got its partnership with Jota Sport for the 2017 WEC off to a winning start at Silverstone, with the #38 entry of Oliver Jarvis, Ho-Pin Tung and Thomas Laurent emerging on top of a finely poised if not furiously close battle in the all-Oreca class.
The safety car for Lopez’ incident compressed the P2 field right up, effectively dividing the race into ‘before’ and ‘after’ segments. Once the green flags flew, Matt Rao in the Alpine was ahead of Laurent in the #38, with Vaxiviere in the TDS fourth and Senna fifth in the highest-placed of the two Rebellions, the #31. Rusinov held fifth for G-Drive ahead of Gonzalez in the #25 Manor in sixth.
Vaxiviere passed Laurent on track for second 10 minutes into the penultimate hour, and wasted little time in chasing down Rao in the leading Alpine and passing with a neat feint move going through Stowe. A scheduled pit stop followed shortly afterwards, with the experienced Manu Collard taking over from the young Frenchman.
But the #38 DC Racing crew were playing the long game, with strong opening and closing stints from Jarvis, backed up by effective work from Thomas Laurent and Ho-Pin Tung the foundation of their run to the chequered flag. Rebellion’s strong pace saw the #31 crew of Nicolas Prost, Bruno Senna and Julien Canal come home second, ahead of the hard-charging Vaxiviere and his team-mates Manu Collard and Francois Perrodo to complete the podium.
Jarvis said afterwards: “We sacrificed the start of our race to be stronger at the finish. We saved a couple of sets of tyres to be able to push later and it worked. The team was excellent and both Ho-Pin, and Thomas were faultless. My first win in LMP2, Ho-Pin’s first WEC win and Thomas’s too – let’s not forget he’s the youngest driver in the race. I hope this is the start of a real run.
Tung added: “I am so proud to be part of this team, to take a win here really feels like it is paying back all of the hard work and loyalty from David Cheng. To win in the first race with this new team, in the new cars and to hear the Chinese national anthem at Silverstone – that’s very special.”
The Alpine wound up fourth at the end after Lapierre’s strong pace early on, while fifth at the flag went to Alex Lynn, Pierre Thiriet and Roman Rusinov, who did well to recover from delays caused by a faulty door mechanism on the #26 G-Drive Oreca. The two Manors finished line-astern in sixth and seventh in the class, ahead of the second Jackie Chan DC Racing entry – a uncharacteristically quiet race for Alex Brundle, Tristan Gommendy and team owner David Cheng.
A solid performance from Ford started the Chip Ganassi Team UK’s WEC campaign with a well managed victory, but the fight for the podium places behind indicates that the Blue Oval may not have things entirely its own way as the season progresses.
The Ford GTs led 1-2 in the opening laps, but the #67 polesitter’s race was soon compromised by a left front tyre pressure issue that would put the car out of sequence. In need of a little luck through safety car intervention, the Chip Ganassi team hung on as that situation came to bear in the fourth hour. Both cars looked strong all weekend, but the #67 crew of Andy Priaulx, Harry Tincknell and Pipo Derani took control of their situation with a solid charge and a carefully balanced late fuel stop to secure the win. The sister car finished just a few seconds off the podium.
Ferrari’s outing proved to be competitive, with both AF Corse cars showing good pace, putting on a good show as they battled with the new Porsche 911 RSRs for the chasing podium positions. Ultimately, though, the Prancing Horse didn’t quite have the response for the consistency of the Ford that took the class victory, but Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado’s performance was notable in securing second place.
Porsche’s all-new 911 RSR looked in need of more pace through qualifying, but showed its true performance as the race unfolded, Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre particularly taking the race to the Ferraris and mixing it at the front in the first half of the six-hour race. The #92 car met with a fiery end at Luffield early in the fourth hour, leaving team-mates Richard Lietz and Fred Makowiecki to carry the flag for Weissach in what was ultimately a competitive return to the category to take the final podium position.
Aston Martin’s fortunes were less compelling. Neither of the Vantage V8s demonstrated outright pace, Jonny Adam’s race so nearly ending badly as the #71 car was collected by the ByKolles LMP1 car in the final hour on its entrance to the pits. Both cars tried hard and were classified finishers, but occupied the final places in the class.
Speaking after the race, Andy Priaulx said: “It was all looking down and out, but we never gave up. I gave it 100 percent, but we were very lucky with the safety car, which gave us a reset and made things interesting again. I’m delighted we can go away from here with a win, which sets us up perfectly to start the championship.”
Pipo Derani added: “Winning in WEC is something I’ve been working hard to achieve for a couple of years and I’m really glad to be here: this is the best start. The tyre management today was a challenge – it’s certainly different to that of a P2 car – but it was a nice race for me. To be here with the win after that early pit stop where everything was looking pretty messed up is great. Yes, we had a bit of luck… but luck is good!”
Harry Tincknell said: “We managed a small vibration issue and there were some distractions, but I can’t believe this. We were seventh and pretty much down and out. I was out the back when I found out about the safety car and rushed into the pit; I hadn’t expected or prepared for a two-and-a-half-hour stint! To lead at the end was amazing and getting that comeback is fantastic. Well done to Pipo – I know how hard it must have been for him to arrive here without much preparation and to adapt today in tough conditions. But he nailed it. As for Andy, he kept it together when things went wrong early on (with the door) and didn’t put a foot wrong when he got back in – mega stint. I think we make a great team and I’m really looking forward to going forward together. But right now I’m shocked, I’m knackered and I can’t wait to go to bed to be honest!”
The #98 Aston Martin Racing Vantage of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda continued their proven partnership to control the GTE Am class from the front, but a dynamic final hour with a dramatic climax delivered an exciting result for the Clearwater Racing Ferrari 488 GTE in the hands of Weng Sun Mok, Keita Sawa and Matt Griffin.
Starting from pole, Lamy began steadily, letting the #54 Spirit Of Race Ferrari 488 of Francesco Castellacci in front the first 20 minutes, after which the Aston Martin’s lead held firm despite a couple of spins for Dalla Lana in the middle period of the race.
After an inauspicious start for the #61 car, Keita Sawa’s pace had hauled the Clearwater Racing Ferrari up the order before the safety car period made the best of his efforts, Matt Griffin taking over the car to launch an assault on Lamy’s seemingly unassailable lead. Lapping within half a second of each other, the Ferrari was eager to find a way through, the ex-F1 driver using all his experience and racecraft to defend.
The stand-off continued lap after lap until the Irishman got the best of the side-by-side drag race down to Copse with 20 minutes to go, steadily pulling away at a second a lap, but needing a late splash for fuel. Griffin exited the pits third and appeared out of contention. But the Am class had excitement in reserve as Miguel Molina’s second-placed Spirit Of Race Ferrari launched an attack on Lamy down the outside into Stowe on the very last lap.
This was an ambitious move that caught the eye of the stewards, but while Lamy held a defensive inside line, Molina turned in alongside. The two cars tangled, pitching the #54 Ferrari onto the grass and the lead Aston Martin off line with bodywork damage. Matt Griffin had been making up ground behind and saw the opportunity, going through the gap without hesitation to seize the lead and the win. Lamy limped home second, but Molina would not make the line, the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche of Matteo Cairoli inheriting third place.
Clearwater were unsurprisingly over the moon with the win, Keita Sawa commenting: “I actually felt a lot of responsibility to get a good start for my team. It’s my first race in WEC and at Silverstone and it’s been a good experience. The car was good and I felt confident we could win the race. I’m really not surprised we won, we always had good potential.”
Matt Griffin described the hectic final stages: “It was a wild race, but brilliant. We exited the pits for the last stint knowing we were two laps short on fuel, but I decided we’d go for it. I got close to Pedro and it was great battle – you always know where you are with someone with his experience. I managed to fire it up the inside at Copse and then I got my head down knowing I had the deficit to consider.
“I came out in P3 behind Molina with four minutes to go and I said I’d go for it. I said to my engineer, ‘Just don’t talk to me, don’t tell me about track limits, just let me get on with it.’ I was absolutely on the limit, making up time, and on the last lap going down the Hangar Straight I was about half a second back and was planning where I might make a move… then all hell broke loose and I just went for it through the middle, full ‘Days of Thunder’ style – it was smoke and cars all over the place, but I only have one speed…
“Then I asked my engineer how long there was to go, and he said ‘it’s over’ and I asked ‘where did we finish?’ and he said, ‘We won!’
“Clearwater is a proper Asian team and Silverstone is a tough circuit to learn, but it means a lot to win here, a real achievement. It’s a privilege to race with these guys and I’m super-proud to be a part of it. The last time I won here in the WEC in 2012 I was flying to Sepang the following day to join them for the first time. They deserve this success, what a way to start a championship!”