The Audi team of Marcel Fassler, Andre Lotterer and Benoit Treluyer won the Six Hours of Sao Paulo, gaining ground on their teammates who were one of the teams to find trouble at Interlagos in a race where there was drama throughout the four classes of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC).
Fassler and Lotterer has given the #1 R18 e-tron quattro pole position, but with Fassler unable to see the lights at the initial start Allan McNish was able to sweep around the outside of the first corner to take the lead. The pair of Audis started to move away from the lone Toyota, started by Stephane Sarrazin with Anthony Davidson and Sebastien Buemi waiting in the wings to take over. Neither would get a chance.
The opening half an hour indicated that an all-out battle between the LMP1 class’ works teams was unlikely, Sarrazin sliding 14 seconds off the stern of McNish’s Audi inside 25 laps as the lead cars came upon the LMP2 back for the second time. Sarrazin caught the Lotus coupe of Dominik Kraihamer. At the least opportune moment Kraihamer lost his battle with the ill-handling #32 car, half spinning into the side of the Toyota, sending both into the tyre wall on the outside of turn three.
The crash, despite Sarrazin’s desperate efforts to get the wounded TS030 Hybird back to the pits, put both cars out of the race as well doing considerable damage to the tyre barrier, which contributed to near hour of safety car running that followed the crash. The long spell under yellow included pitstops for the entire field, two stops for much of the LMP contingent.
One exception was the Rebellion Racing Lola, the team running longer on their opening stint, assuming the overall lead in the process when the Audis pitted. Their own first stop gave the lead back to McNish, but when both hybrids made second stops under the yellow flag Nick Heidfeld was given the responsibility of leading when the green flag came out.
The second stop also provided the turning point in the battle for the lead. Pitting a lap apart – McNish handing to Tom Kristensen a lap before Fassler gave way to Andre Lotterer in the #1 – the quirks of differing lap times behind the safety car allowed Lotterer into second place, which became the lead the Audi’s pace proved too much for Heidfeld once the green flag came back out for a short seven lap stint before Toni Vilander’s AF Corse Ferrari became a conflagration, the Finn abandoning the car to the flames at the edge of the track as he threw himself over the Armco barrier.
Unsurprisingly the twin LMGTE classes – Pro and Am – were the scene of many incidents, as well as the closest battle for the lead of the class.
Pedro Lamy led the early laps from pole position before Gimmi Bruni took the lead in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari 458. By that time the Pro class had already seen its first contact, Marc Lieb’s Porsche already bumped from the lead lap after contact from another car led to the right-front wheel coming off the rim.
Lieb had started the better of the two Porsche AG Team Manthey cars, and his problems left the battle for the lead of the class an exclusively Ferrari versus Aston Martin affair, as it was remain for a vast majority of the race.
Vilander’s hasty exit was to reduce the number of bullets in AF Corse’s gun to one, but AF Corse’s lone LMGTE Am entry was to help decommission some of the Astons in the Pro class. Shortly after the second restart Jack Gerber spun the Ferrari on the infield, his rotation tipping a Porsche into a spin as well as hitting the #99 Aston of Bruno Senna. A few laps later the contact to the right-rear of the V8 Vantage did its damage, the suspension collapsing beneath the home fans’ favourite.
The same LMGTE Am Ferrari – that would have started on the class pole if not for failing the post-qualifying ride height check – also damaged the #98 of Lamy, Richie Stanaway and Paul Dalla Lana – though the Pro pole sitters had long since fallen away from the lead battle as they battled a number of minor problems. The same incident proved the final action for the Ferrari of Gerber, Matt Griffin and Marco Cioci, who despite their apparent – if fractionally rule breaking – qualifying pace had been unable to come close to challenging the LMGTE Am class annexed by the all-Danish crew of the #95 Aston Martin.
Nicki Thiim moved into the lead in a race opening stint from the inherited class pole before handing over to Christoffer Nygaard under the long safety car period, the Danes losing the class lead to Stuart Hall in the sister car until he pitted to cede driving duties to Jamie Campbell–Walter.
Nygaard and Kristian Poulsen held the class lead, seemingly unaffected by the dramas elsewhere in the LMGTE classes. However, as Poulsen turned up the hill back toward the pit straight on his 163rd lap the right rear wheel parted company with the car (save for a salt into wound rubbing thump to the rear bumper as the differing momentums of freed tyre and driveless car converged). Poulsen was unable to get the car back up the hill, having to stop almost within sight of the pit entry and was pulled back behind the wall, still wandering exactly how it all happened.
Their misfortune handed class victory to Hall and Campbell-Walter, with the 8Star Motorsports Ferrari and Proton Competition cars completing the class podium.
Poulsen was not the only driver to lose a wheel during the race. Pulling away from a scheduled pitstop the right-rear tyre came off the Loic Duval driven #2 Audi. The wheel bounced down off the tyre wall separating the pit exit with the race track and – in a moment likely to feature in dozens of Youtube uploads – politely wedged itself on the rear deck of the car for a free, if awkward looking, ride back to the pits where the Audi pitcrew simply fitted a new set of tyres and sent the Frenchman back into the race.
However, the loss of the tyre and the time lost to the additional stop was only one event in a lap that was to end the #2 team’s hopes of taking the race win. The team were punished with a 60 second stop-go for the unsafe release of the car, while Duval picked up a 30 second pit lane speeding penalty. The double hit of penalties, plus a scheduled stop left Duval with the unwelcome task of bringing the car to halt in the pits on three consecutive laps, allowing Marcel Fassler to escape into a lead by the same margin that he would take to the checkered flag.
The Rebellion crew of Prost, Heidfeld and Mathias Beche completed the overall podium, third in the LMP1. Fourth overall, after a truly dominant performance in LMP2 were G-Drive Racing. The trio of Mike Conway, John Martin and Roman Rusinvov led all but one lap in class in a performance set-up by a triple stint from the start by Conway.
The only lap they failed to lead went to the Pecom Racing Oreca that completed the class podium, a lap behind the class winners but only 19 seconds behind the second placed OAK Racing team of Martin Plowman, Bertrand Baguette and Ricardo Gonzalez.
Given the competitive nature of the modern LMP2 class the seven car class was relatively untouched by the race’s on track drama, save for Kraihamer’s early exit in the Lotus. The sister T128 also became a retirement inside of the first two hours, with the #25 Delta–ADR Oreca-Nissan also retiring in the relatively early stages after a number of problems.
It was not until the start of the final hour that the attrition rate took a car from the front of the class. Olivier Pla locked up and spun on the descent of the Senna-S, the #24 OAK Morgan suffering rear suspension damage that the team were able to fix once the Frenchman had limped the car back to the pits.
The repair was completed in just 12 minutes, but the delay was enough to drop the car from the class podium where it had been running, leaving Pecom Racing to pick up the third place trophy.
The final act of the race was the conclusion of the Ferrari versus Aston Martin battle in LMGTE Pro. At several junctures the surviving Ferrari in the class had been caught by the equally lonesome Aston Martin, the driver of the Vantage – Stefan Mucke or Darren Turner never able to make a pass on the Ferrari.
In the closing laps Turner closed up to the rear of Giancarlo Fisichella’s Ferrari, looking as likely as at any time to complete the move to take the lead. However, taking their fight through and around traffic Fisichella was able to keep the lead winning by 1.4 seconds over the Aston. Joerg Bergmeister and Patrick Pilet combined for third in the #91 Porsche.
The WEC season continues later this month, with the series’ first race on the Circuit of the Americas in Texas.