Largely second best on the day in terms of race pace it was superior fuel mileage – enough to save two pitstops over the course of the race – that helped Benoit Treluyer, Andre Lotterer and Marcel Fassler to victory at the Six Hours of Silverstone, a second consecutive win for both the drivers and the Audi R18 e-tron quattro.
The difference in strategy between the two manufacturers at the head of the race was apparent from the very first stint when Alex Wurz and Lotterer battled for the lead after Wurz had jumped into second place ahead of Tom Kristensen at the start.
Lotterer pulled into the lead early but when the leaders began to catch traffic – specifically the tail end of the LMP2 field Wurz pounced on an opportunity as the Audi ahead was baulked by Fabien Giroux in the Gulf Racing Middle East Lola exiting Copse. Unleashed the pace of the Toyota, sporting a new aerodynamic package after the debut in low downforce set-up at Le Mans, allowed Wurz to pull out an eleven second lead before he made the first of what would be eight scheduled stops for the TS030 Hybrid.
In stopping Wurz forfeited the lead, only picking up the point six laps later once both Lotterer and Kristensen had made their own first stops out of second and third respectively. The four lap discrepancy between stops for the two hybrids would only build over the course of the six hours, until as the race ticked into its penultimate hour the Audi had almost a stint in hand over their rivals. The next time the e-tron quattro pitted the Toyota would not retake the lead as had the pattern up to that point.
Though the additional pitstops – compounded by the slower flow rate of petrol into the Toyota compared to the the Audi’s diesel – proved too great a hurdle to overcome the top positions were all but confirmed by the second safety car period of the race where Wurz and Fassler each ended up in the trains behind the two safety cars circulating the Silverstone track. The safety car period, brought out when a flat tyre propelled Jordan Tresson’s Signatech Nissan into the wall, locked the top two half a lap apart, making the final 90 minutes a relatively safe affair for the trio in the leading Audi.
Increasingly, in the closing laps the concern for the Toyota crew was keeping third ahead of the R18 ultra of Allan McNish and Kristensen. The duo had been third since Kristensen was beaten into the first corner and knocked out of contention for the lead by a combination of an air jack problem and an additional pitstop for McNish due to a slow rear puncture. But a well timed burst of pace from Wurz in his closing stint pulled away from Kristensen, the Austrian 18 seconds ahead at the end of the race to record the first race finish for the Toyota and a first podium for the team. The result was no small feat for the squad rushed into racing action this year, the scalp of McNish and Kristensen in taking second just another positive with half the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) still to cram into the year.
The second win of the WEC year for the Lotterer, Fassler and Treluyer combination not only confirmed Audi mathematically as manufacturers’ champions in the class but moved the trio to the head of the drivers’ points passing Kristensen and McNish to take the lead by 4.5 points.
Though the result – both on the track and in the standings – will claim otherwise the race was not trouble free for the winning Audi either. Treluyer was perhaps lucky to escape simply with a stop-go penalty for swiping GTE AM driver Tracy Krohn off the track in the first half of the race. On the short Silverstone pitlane – by-passing the Club chicane – the penalty only cost a total of 35 seconds, a delay which with 20/20 hindsight did little to affect the overall result.
Treluyer was not the only LMP1 driver to make contact with the distinctive green Krohn Racing Ferrari.
Just past the halfway point in the race Nicolas Prost took a spin off the front of the Ferrari. Where the blame lay for the incident was far less clear than the earlier Treluyer contact but Prost, in the #12 Rebellion Racing Lola–Toyota, was given the same penalty as had befallen his countryman.
However, unlike in the race for the lead the additional 30 seconds spent in the pits compared their rivals in the LMP1 privateer race proved crucial as it dropped Prost from fourth to sixth place where he and co-driver Neel Jani would finish.
After leading the privateers through the practice sessions British teams Strakka Racing and JRM had hoped to lead the privateers but throughout much of the race the pair of black and gold Rebellion Lolas dominated the sub-class.
For JRM their chances took a massive blow on the first lap when Peter Dumbreck exited Abbey backwards after a spin. Though there was no damage to the HPD car the Scot had to spend crucial time battling back through slower traffic. Fine driving by Dumbreck and Karun Chandhok pulled the team back into the battle at the tail of the LMP1 class, the Indian peaking in fifth place before spinning at Copse, losing a lap to their closest rivals.
Chandhok’s spin left only Strakka as British flag bearer in the battle against Rebellion. With Nick Leventis the only gentleman driver in the class they fell back in the middle part of the race but with Danny Watts closing out the race with a triple stint in the car it became a battle between he and Andrea Belicchi in the #13 Lola.
In the closing laps the Strakka driver’s steady progress towards the rear wing of the car ahead was one of several battles that belied the duration of the race that had gone before, split by just two brief safety car periods.
At the line, at the end of 189 laps Belicchi was just 0.627 seconds ahead of Watts to claim fourth, but five laps behind the battle between the manufacturers.
The second wave of Rebellion – Prost and Jani – was a little over a minute behind with JRM rounding out the seven LMP1 cars two laps further in arrears.