AF Corse and Aston Martin Racing drew first blood in the FIA World Endurance Championship GTE classes by winning at the 6 Hours of Silverstone.
The #51 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia of Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander continued its 2014-championship winning form by holding off the charging #91 Porsche 911 RSR and the #71 AF Corse Ferrari.
Bruni finished the race 10.6 seconds ahead of Michael Christensen in the Porsche, who had leapfrogged Davide Rigon in the other AF Corse Ferrari during the final round of pit stops.
Nicki Thiim (#95 Aston Martin Racing Vantage) made use of his maiden GTE Pro pole position by controlling the pace in the early running. The pair of Ferraris, however, initially struggled to match the pace of the Astons, with Bruni dropping to the back of the class field. With 20 minutes elapsed Thiim had extended his advantage over the Aston Martins of Darren Turner (#97) and Richie Stanaway (#99), with this gap growing to 20 seconds after the first hour. The British marque’s supremacy was clear, although Patrick Pilet (#92 Porsche 911 RSR) did manage to find a way past Stanaway in the opening stint to take third.
However, the first two full course yellows allowed the Ferraris and Porsches to emerge ahead of the hard-charging Astons in the second hour. The first FCY was called after the #36 Signatech Alpine went off at Copse, and while the race was allowed to resume momentarily the yellows were brought out again to allow for the repair of the barriers. The three Astons pitted during this flash of green-flag running, which allowed the Ferraris and Porsches to gain a huge track position advantage as they were able to make their service under the safety car.
The Ferraris quickly turned on the heat as Bruni and Calado pulled away. The pair then engaged in a absorbing intra-team skirmish for the class lead, with the latter being frustrated behind his more experienced team-mate. Bruni eventually gave way in the arena section, as Calado’s pressure proved too much for the Italian.
With the Ferraris affixed in their lengthy duel the #92 Porsche of Pilet and Frédéric Makowiecki was able to reduce the deficit between itself and the leaders, and briefly led the race until issues with the front damper ended any chances of victory.
While the #92 Porsche’s position alongside the Ferraris was superficial, the #91 car of Christensen and Richard Lietz managed to permanently disrupt the Italian team’s rhythm. In the final hour Christensen caught sight of Calado and reeled the GP2 race winner in, while Bruni scurried away into the distance. Christensen’s graft paid dividends as he and Calado pitted simultaneously, with the Porsche crew sending the Dane out in front. The order remained the same until the end of the race, with Christensen successful in his attempt at splitting the Scuderia.
The race for GTE Am honours was just as intriguing as that of the Pro category, with the first caution of the race once again reshaping the order.
While the Aston Martin Pro cars had lost ground during the full course yellow, the manufacturer’s #98 Am machine of Mathias Lauda, Pedro Lamy and Paul Dalla Lana made full use of the early pit stop opportunity. For the remaining five hours the trio were fully in contention, battling for the class victory with the #83 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia of Francois Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard and Rui Aguas.
Of the initial pace-setters, only the #83 Ferrari was able to consolidate its position. While the #50 Larbre Competition Corvette C7.R and the #88 Abu Dhabi Proton Porsche 911 RSR looked like potential podium finishers, their form couldn’t be sustained. The Corvette (making its customer team debut) lost time after being nudged off track by the #8 Audi, before a late pit lane speeding infringement resulted in a stop-go penalty that pushed it down the order. Meanwhile, the Porsche was unable to match the consistent pace of the leading Aston and Ferrari as the race wore on, and subsequently dropped two laps off the pace after losing time during the safety car period.
One of the key moments came in the middle of the race, as Aston Martin silver driver Dalla Lana came under pressure from a hard-charging Collard. The Frenchman honed in at a rate of two seconds per lap, but successful long-term tyre management from Dalla Lana meant that Collard was never less than ten seconds away.
This gave Aston Martin a track position advantage for the rest of the race, and with the safety car staying firmly put in the pit lane Lamy was able to manage the gap to complete the final stint and secure a much-desired victory in his team’s home territory. The #83 Ferrari, despite having two of the fastest GTE drivers of the weekend, had to settle for second place, 13.7 seconds adrift at the chequered flag.
The result means that Ferrari now has a 16-point advantage over Porsche in the GT manufacturer rankings, while Aston Martin is a further point adrift.
The second round of the FIA World Endurance Championship, the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, will take place on May 2.
[table id=114 /]