The Six Hours of Silverstone came down to a pass for the lead in the final five minutes of the race, Allan McNish catching and overtaking Benoit Treluyer at Brooklands to decide the inter-Audi battle at the first round of the 2013 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC).
The opening race of the new championship, in some ways failed to live up to expectations. Despite locking out the front row of the grid in qualifying the pair of Toyota TS030 were thoroughly out-paced by both Audis. The two R18 e-tron quattro finished a lap clear of the best of the Toyota’s, the #8 driven by Anthony Davidson, Stephane Sarrazin and Sebastien Buemi despite both Audis needing an extra fuel stop.
The extra stop for the Audis proved to be a catalyst for a thrilling finish. After pitting on an almost identical schedule throughout the first five hour the two team’s strategies diverged. Treluyer pitted the #1 car he shared with fellow defending champions Marcel Fassler and Andre Lotterer a lap after McNish had made his own penultimate stop. However, while both men stayed in the car and only took fuel Treluyer was able to take the lead from the Scot by virtue of short fuelling in the pits.
McNish completed much of the short stint before a final round of stops – only a dozen laps – just a handful of seconds behind Treluyer. However a spin at Chapel while lapping slower traffic put lost McNish roughly fifteen seconds on track, a deficit then added to by the necessity of taking new tyres for the final half hour.
The only positives for McNish were that his final stop was not as long as it could have been, a shorter fuel fill helping to keep the pitstop to just over a minute. That, and it put McNish out on fresh tyres with the sole task of hunting down Treluyer.
From 30 seconds behind McNish mercilessly sliced into the gap that separated him from lifting the Touring Trophy. His task was eased slightly by Treluyer driving an R18 that was neither e-tron nor quattro due to a broken driveshaft to the front wheels, still it took until the final laps for McNish to make his move, taking the lead at Brooklands to secure victory for Audi’s new-look line—up of he, Tom Kristensen and Loic Duval.
McNish had also started the race in the #2 car and from third place made short work of Alex Wurz and Davidson in the front row Toyotas that struggled in the early part of the race with higher than expected tyre wear on a track washed green by the rains that punctuated the Silverstone weekend.
In just seven laps McNish was in the lead joined by Treluyer in second having hauled the #2 up from fifth on the grid after their troubled qualifying session. From that point on the two Toyota’s – still in 2012 spec as the manufacturer concentrates 2013 development on the low downforce Le Mans package – rarely figured in the battle for the lead.
By the time the track conditions had improved to the point where the Toyota pace matched the Audis’ the gap between the two manufacturers had grown to the point where the race could only be settled between the two Audis.
It briefly looked as though the April weather would hand Toyota a life line. Just after the two hour mark rain descended once more on Silverstone. While both Audis and Sarrazin in the #8 TS030 opted to brave the greasy conditions on slick tyres running fourth Nicolas Lapierre opted to pit the #7 car, taking on Michelin’s ‘hybrid’ intermediate tyres. For a handful of laps Lapierre was the class of the field. He was able to drive past both Audis – fighting each other in their own battle – clawing back several seconds for a number of laps. However, when the rain stopped and the track dried Lapierre’s advantage disappeared. The Audis quickly re-lapped the Frenchman who was forced to admit defeat in returning to the pits to swap back onto slick tyres after a only a handful of laps.
The rain shower proved largely inconsequential in LMP1, but went a long way to deciding the race in LMP2.
Having started from pole position Antonio Pizzonia was the early leader in the class in the #25 Delta-ADR ORECA-Nissan. The Delta–ADR/G-Drive Racing co-operative had shared the front two row in the class with OAK Racing’s Morgans and the same quartet battled for the lead in the first third of the race.
Having taken over the #26 – the G-Drive Racing entered half of the ORECA-running squad – from Mike Conway at the first pitstop John Martin set about moving into the lead. Having inherited the car in fourth place the Australian past both OAK cars – driven by Ricardo Gonzalez and Olivier Pla – on successive laps before passing Pizzonia for the lead and pulling away.
However, when the rain came down Martin was caught out, spinning the car out of Club into the pit wall, damaging the front of the car. Meanwhile, as the #26 team’s race was coming apart, the #25’s was coming back into life. Having picked up the lead when Martin spun into trouble the team were – like Lapierre in the Toyota – one to swap to intermediate tyres with Tor Graves in the car.
However, while the other intermediate runners came back to the pits once the track dried Graves remained on track for a full stint. The opportune change in tyres for the wettest of the conditions had helped the team into a healthy lead which they rode to the end with James Walker a double stint before Pizzonia returned for the final 1:15 of the race to the checkered flag.
Pla, co-driving the #24 with David Heinemeier–Hansson and Alex Brundle, crossed the line second in class – a lap off the pace. Tom Kimber-Smith crossed the line in third for Greaves Motorsport having won a three way battle for the final podium spot in the final dozen laps. However, he and the team were not to keep the spot.
Kimber-Smith had taken third place from Martin Plowmann in the #35 OAK Racing car with just five laps remaining. However, after the race Michael Marsal was deemed not have filled the minimum driving time (1:15), with one lap being deducted from the team’s total, dropping them back to fifth.
The post-race adjustment added new importance to the splash and dash Plowmann needed with just a lap remaining. The stop dropped him behind the Pecom Racing ORECA, allowing the trio of Luis Perez–Companc, Pierre Kaffer and Nicolas Minassian to take third place at the end of a difficult race for the team.
Only ten minutes into the race Minassian misjudged a overtaking move on Jan Charouz’s Lotus at Village, clattering into the Czech. The contact damaged both cars, though both were able to make it back to the pits – Minassian at significantly higher than Charouz whose #32 had suffered damaged suspension. Minassian returned to the track after a four minute stay in the pits but soon back in the shadow of The Wing to serve a penalty for causing the contact.
While Minassian and the Pecom team were able to recover from the early skirmish the incident was just one of a litany of problems for the Lotus team and their new T128 chassis. By the time Charouz had limped back to the pits with damage Tonio Liuzzi had already been back to the pits twice as the #31 battled and opening door due to flexing bodywork.
The #31’s race was to come to an end after just two hours, while the #32 continued on after several delays, kicked off by a 90 minute stay in the pits to repair the damage done by the early accident. The time lost limited them to just 113 laps, meaning both Lotus ended their debuts unclassified in the final standings.
Charouz and Minassian were not the only drivers to make contact at Village.
Rebellion Racing were gifted privateer LMP1 victory when Nick Leventis crashed heavily at the corner shortly after taking over Strakka Racing’s HPD ARX-03c.
The all-British team’s weekend had already been hit by trouble with problems in qualifying forcing Jonny Kane to start at the back of the grid. Once the green flag dropped Kane raced through the GT ranks within opening lap and was up to tail of the rest of the LMP1s after just six laps.
However, while trying to lap Jack Gerber in the LMGTE Am AF Corse Ferrari Leventis was forced wide onto the grass on the outside of Farm spinning to across the apex of Village, collecting the Ferrari en route causing enough damage to immediately end Leventis’ and Strakka’s race.