As Benoit Treluyer watched the rest of the LMP1 field, and a majority of those teams in LMP2 it looked as though the #7 Audi’s involvement in the 6 Hours of Silverstone would be short lived. Fortunately for Treluyer, and co-drivers Andre Lotterer and Marcel Fassler the problem of finding a gear on the run towards Abbey for the first time was overcome quickly and Treluyer was able to catch the rest of the manufacturer prototypes inside of a handful of laps, before fighting through the order and staying out of trouble (just about) to open the 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship season with a win
Whether they were leading the race, or fighting for position the #7 crew had a starring role in the race. Double stinting to start the race Treluyer caught Toyota driver Sebastien Buemi napping the moment a full course caution lifted before moving to within two seconds of the leader before he handed the car to Fassler.
Treluyer’s progress back towards the point had been accelerated by the retirement of Mark Webber in the #17 Porsche that had led from the drop of the green flag. Webber had leapt ahead from pole position, pulling out a comfortable margin of nearly twenty seconds during the first hour, punctuated by a first full course caution period when Paul-Loup Chatin spun the Signatech Alpine LMP2 entry into the Copse tyre wall.
It was after a second caution, called for marshals to finish repairing the barrier struck by the Frenchman’s car, that Treluyer picked up third from Buemi as Marc Lieb in the #18 cut Webber’s lead in half. Only a few laps later Webber was in the pits, the dominant car to that point having developed a gearbox issue.
“It was really going smoothly,” said Webber, “and I had a nice run at the front of the field. Then we had a drivetrain issue. I only felt it a lap before, but I couldn’t continue. It’s a real shame because we were in a great position.”
Only nine laps after Webber’s exit Treluyer and Lieb pitted a lap apart. The proximity in strategy was soon matched on track with an exchange of positions that served as the perfect appetiser for the rest of the eight round WEC season. Fassler picked up second in the Audi, but had Neel Jani’s Porsche 919 Hybrid to chase down.
Around the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit the Porsche and the R18 e-tron quattro were in stark contrast. In a sequence of moves repeated numerous times Fassler would outbrake Jani into Village and manage to take the line though the Loop and Aintree. However, once out onto the Wellington Straight the power of the Porsche pushed Jani back into the lead before both drivers called upon their brakes in preparation for Brooklands.
The battle continued after the next round of pitstops, Lotterer at the wheel of the Audi for the first time, starting driver Dumas back in the #18. On a set of tyres scrubbed in qualifying Dumas could not fight off the Audi down the straights the same way that Jani had done time and time again leaving Lotterer able to make, arguably, the race’s crucial pass. At the time though the move only gave the Audi third behind the pair of Toyota TS040. Lotterer made easy work of Mike Conway in the #2 car, the team running a different strategy having, uniquely among the LMP1 leaders, pitted under both the early cautions before closing in on Anthony Davidson in the #1 car, running the same strategy as both the #7 and #18 entries, but unable to match their stint lengths.
Lotterer passed Davidson for the lead shortly before the half way mark, building up a margin over both and Romain Dumas before the Brit began the next round of pitstops. He gave way to Kazuki Nakajima but, having made the crucial passes it was left to Lotterer to deliver the race for Audi. The quicker pitstop allowed by not changing driver gave him a sizable lead of Nakajima and Lieb, back in the Porsche as the #18 team shied away from double-stinting drivers.
The fresher driver and tyres should have given Jani back the advantage but he was unable to match the pace of Lotterer. Over the course of a fine triple stint by the German he built up a lead of over a minute – importantly enough to absorb a pitstop – over the chasing Porsche. After Fassler finally heaved his teammate from the car after two-and-a-half hours at the wheel he returned to the track leading, the Porsche only a second behind. Battle was – briefly – rejoined between the two drivers who had wrestled each other for position in the first half of the race. With the Porsche a stop behind there was little immediately at stake, but neither driver was ready to cede position. Trying to fend off the Porsche Fassler blasted around an Aston Martin though Club, running all four wheels over the kerb.
The stop marked a departure for the squad, searching a strategy to give them the advantage over their rivals. Having single stinted drivers and tyres all race Jani remained in the car and the team fitted only left side tyres. It was a small tweak to the team’s tactics, but it nearly paid dividends over a breathless final hour.
Fassler’s wider than wide line though the final turn had not gone unnoticed, stewards handing him a stop-go penalty for gaining an advantage by running off the track. The Audi started the final hour with the undoubted advantage. Lotterer’s pace had more than compensated for the time needed for the timed fuel stop the car would need to see the end of the race, but an unforeseen pit visit put more pressure on the lead margin.
The fuel stop halved the lead down to 40 seconds, but the stop-go – served a lap later – left Audi and Porsche only a dozen seconds apart with a charging Jani closing in all the while.
From twelve seconds he cut the lead to less than seven seconds before some ill-times (in Jani’s eyes) traffic started to help the gap out again. At the end of 201 laps – a distance record for the 6 Hours of Silverstone – only 4.6 seconds lay between the top two with the #1 Toyota only another ten seconds behind.
The second of the Toyotas finished a lap behind with the #8 Audi ended the race four laps in arrears to the sister car having had to spend time in the garage for the team to replace the rear bodywork after minor contact with a slower car.
Team Bykolles’ debut with the privateer CLM design was curtailed by several lengthy stays in the pits, including a 40 minute repair in the opening hour. Their race came to an end a little over 40 minutes early when Christian Klien pulled the #4 off the track.
G-Drive Racing dominated the LMP2 class, finishing first and second in the class with the #26 crew of Sam Bird, Roman Rusinov and Julien Canal taking victory ahead of teammates Luis Felipe Derani, Ricardo Gonzalez and Gustavo Yacaman.
The two Ligier-Nissans had dominated the class in the build up to the race but found themselves pushed back in the early laps, Nick Tandy taking the lead for KCMG. However, after leading five laps first Bird, then Derani made their way past, taking positions they would not leave for the rest of the race.
An additional pitstop late in the race pulled the two cars – inseparable so often during the Silverstone weekend – apart in the final standings the two cars finishing a lap apart.
After Tandy’s early show of pace in KCMG’s new Oreca coupe the car began to fell behind, slipping into the pack under the pressure of mechanical problems and penalties. In their stead third place at the end of the race was taken by Extreme Speed Motorsport’s #30 HPD. However, after the race the stewards found that the floor planks on the car were too thin, excluding the car and moving the Strakka Racing combination of Danny Watts, Jonny Kane and Nick Leventis onto the final step of the podium.
Like the Audi that won the race the team, and specifically Watts, could have been forgiven for giving up hope of a strong result when the race was still within sight of the green flag. As the field streamed around Abbey for the first time Watts arrived in the gravel trap backwards at the end of an incident he was – at least immediately after the his stint – at a loss to explain.
Fortunately the car was undamaged in the off and Watts was able to rejoin the race without losing a lap. Though the remainder of the 6 hours the three drivers drove a sensible race in their first outing with the Dome S103 chassis, avoiding the incident and accident that affected many in the class to take eighth overall, the best of the British entered teams in their home event.
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