Porsche Team fielded three 919 Hybrids in the LMP1 class at the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, in preparation for the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June. This proved beneficial for this race, too, with two cars finishing on the podium, and the third car in 6th place.
The #18 car came second in the race, behind the #7 Audi. Joining them on the podium was the #17 which had started from pole position. The third and final 919, the #19, which entered as practice for Le Mans, ended the race in 6th position in the LMP1 category.
Finishing in 2nd was the #18 of Romain Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb. Starting from 3rd, Lieb moved to 2nd straight away and stayed there until he handed the car over to Jani, who pushed the car up to 1st. Dumas entered the car after 46 laps, and extended his lead to 27 seconds. Next, Lieb re-took the car and had an intense battle with Benoït Tréluyer for the lead, before Jani took over again for the end.
“I had a good start, was able to improve to P2, but not follow Brendon in what was then our leading car,” explained Marc Lieb. “Later when I was in the car again it was a lot more fun out there. Because the regulation limiting the supply of tyres we did a double stint, but it didn’t quite work out with the tyre wear. It was a great battle with Ben Tréluyer and quite a moment when he hit me in the rear going down to turn nine, but that’s racing. To strike back we have some work to do in terms of tyre management.”
The #17 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley started from pole position, but Hartley locked the brakes just before pitting for a driver change. He used the escape road at the Bus Stop chicane to rejoin the track, but he was awarded a 15 second stop/go penalty because of this, forcing the car back to 2nd. During the driver change to Webber after 47 laps, a damper change cost the team even more valuable time. During a double stint, the ex-F1 star moved back up to third. Next was Hartley again and then Bernhard. The German took the 919 to the finish.
“At the end of my first stint I had a front brake lock and was struggling to slow the car down before the bus stop chicane,” commented Brendon Hartley. “I tried to bring the car back onto the track safely when I went through the escape road. However, we received a stop and go penalty for this. Then we lost more time because of the rear damper change, but I think it was a very good recovery drive and effort from the team to move into third place. I did a double stint on the tyres and had to protect them in the first half. I think on average the lap times were good.”
Finally, the #19 car of Nico Hülkenberg, Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber completed the race halfway through the LMP1 field, in 6th. Tandy started from second and moved down to 3rd after the opening lap. On lap seven, a stop for repairs was needed after a collision with one of the Porsche 911 RSRs. Hülkenberg took over the car in ninth position for a double stint. After 80 laps, he swapped to Bamber. Tandy picked up new tyres on the left-hand-side for his final stint, in which he moved up to 6th.
“We tried to fight back after we dropped down the order, and we ended up in sixth,” said Earl Bamber. “For us it is most important to get ready for Le Mans next month and the experience in traffic is part of it. I’m used to traffic from the U.S. racing, but the new element is the speed and having to overtake all the time. The car was handling very well and I enjoyed it a lot.”
“That was an extremely exciting and turbulent race for us,” said Fritz Enzinger, Vice President of Porsche LMP1. “At the beginning we had a one-two-three lead before an unlucky accident. But with the two podium finishes and sixth we have achieved our target to finish the race with all three cars. We were absolutely up to speed. The result speaks for itself when first and the second are separated by only a few seconds after a six-hour race. We also once again made progress in terms of reliability. We are on the right path for Le Mans and look forward to the great challenge. I take my hat off to the entire team – especially to the third crew and our three new drivers. They integrated themselves into the team very well and were competitive right from the beginning.”
The next race for Porsche will be the highly-important 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 13/14, where they will be looking for a win with one of their three cars.