#1, Porsche Team, Porsche 919 Hybrid, driven by Neel Jani, Andre Lotterer, Nick Tandy at WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps 2017, Spa-Francorchamps race circuit, on 06.05.2017
It was a case of ‘what might have been’ as the two LMP1 Porsche 919 Hybrids experienced frustrating delays during the Spa 6 Hour race on Saturday 6 May 2017. Having said that, the two cars did finish with valuable points, and will continue their fight for a third WEC crown at next month’s Le Mans 24 Hour race. For the pair of 911 RSR GTE cars, a faultless race resulted in a disappointing finish for them, and some head scratching will take place back at Weissach this week.
Race day dawned with blue skies and a crisp feel in the air. The stage was certainly set with the #1 Porsche 919 Hybrid on pole, against all expectations. Porsche’s rivals in the top class, Toyota, were clearly the pre-qualifying favourites and no doubt more than just a few eyebrows were raised when Porsche grabbed pole in LMP1.
While the talk was about Porsche’s pole position in LMP1, there was also talk about the fifth and sixth places occupied by the GTE Pro team, but the reason for that was that they chose to conserve their tyres for the race.
The usual pre-race fanfare got underway to entertain the crowds who were at that stage enjoying the sunshine around this legendary race track. While the aerobatics team twirled through the clear skies, the marching band brought order to activities on the grid. As the clock ticked down to the 14h30 start, the anticipation grew, the opinions amongst the journalists and photographers in the media centre could not call it one way or the other.
Before you could say ‘pass me the spanner Fred’ the cars, which had been parked up along the pit wall, were sent off on their formation lap, returning to take up their grid positions as per the qualifying. Then, it was the turn of the pace car to lead them around for the start, and waiting up at the end of the Kemmel Straight, you could here the roar of almost 18,000bhp as the 30-car field were given the green light.
The #1 Porsche led the field up the Kemmel Straight and into the curves at Malmedy. By this stage they had already opened up a sizeable gap on the LMP2 pack, led by the #26 G-Drive Oreca 07. The #71 Ferrari headed the GTE Pro class some way behind the LMP2 cars, and behind them the Am class was led by the #98 Aston Martin.
The order at the front stayed that way for some time, but once Toyota got their nose in front, there was no way they were going to give up their place. The two Porsche 919s gave their best throughout the 6-hour race but both fell victim to different problems. The #2 919 Hybrid of Hartley/Bernhard/Bamber suffered a slow puncture that forced them to pit one more time than planned, and one more than their opposition. The #1 pole-sitting car of Jani/Lotterer/Tandy fell victim to the bad timing of two Full Course Yellow incidents, which set them back.
Apart from these two unfortunate happenings, the pair of 919s ran a well-planned and near-faultless race, which must give the team a lot of encouragement. In the pit garage to watch the race unfold and lend their support were Dr. Wolfgang Porsche and also the head of Porsche Development, Michael Steiner.
Standing under the podium after the race, I found myself next to Fritz Enzinger (completely by coincidence as I had to fight my way through a mass of VIPs and general hangers-on), and although the #2 Porsche finished third in the race, he was realistic and gracious in that they had scored another podium. They probably couldn’t have expected to win the race, and in reality, third is probably where they should have finished given that the two Toyotas ahead of them both featured high downforce aero packages.
Enzinger told me that the gap between their third-place finish and the winner, was 35 seconds, approximately the time the #2 car spent in the pits dealing with its puncture. Motor racing is full of what-ifs, but this was a genuine case of bad luck…although Toyota has had their fair share of that in the recent past too!