The 6 Hours of COTA was an intense race for the fifth rendition of the 6-hour endurance as part of the World Endurance Championship. Teams who started the weekend looking strong had to fight to hold the front of the field come Saturday race day. As the dust settles on the sixth round of this year’s championship, TheCheckeredFlag takes a look at the result of the American race and how they have impacted each class’ championship standings.
It looked like Toyota Gazoo Racing may have found the missing pace from Friday’s qualifying at the start of the race, but by the halfway point Porsche were back at the front, dominating as expected. A flawless race from the #1 team, which included fighting back from a late race clash with the #7 Toyota, was not rewarded as the German manufacturer pulled team orders to get Nick Tandy to step aside for Earl Bamber so the #2 team could take their fourth consecutive victory.
The pull of team orders sees Brendon Hartley, Timo Bernhard and Bamber extend their championship lead over the #8 crew of Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima as the season draws to an end. Anthony Davidson is no longer in the championship battle as he now sits 18 points behind his team mates because he did not appear at the Circuit of the Americas to race due to personal reasons. The gap is now 49 points between first and second in the title race. If Hartley, Bernhard and Bamber win the 6 Hours of Fuji and Buemi and Nakajima come third, the #2 Porsche team will take the 2017 World Endurance Driver’s Championship.
New winners for this year took the glory at COTA, but the #36 Signatech Alpine team are no novice to winning. The reining LMP2 Champions put in a fantastic performance to take a lights to flag victory even after a last lap issue forced them to pit. Their lead was so great on the Vaillante Rebellion duo that only a serious car fault could have cost them the win.
In terms of the championship, the drivers in the #36 are not really in contention to fight for the top. That is all apart from Gustavo Menezes who is the only driver of the #36 who has been in that car for every round of this year’s WEC. Menezes currently sits third in the driver’s championship, whilst the Signatech team sits third in the team championship, both on 76 points. Menezes is only one point behind Rebellion’s Nicolas Prost in the driver’s championship as the French driver missed the 6 Hours of Nurburgring due to a calendar clash with Formula e.
The #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing team still lead the driver’s and team’s LMP2 championships, but after a couple of not so strong rounds the points gap has closed up. The #31 Rebellion is the car in contention to knock Oliver Jarvis, Ho-Pin Tung and Thomas Laurent off the top spot, which they have held since the 24 Hours of Le Mans. A win and a third place for #31 in the last two rounds now sees them only 20 points off the leaders in class. If the performance of the #38 continues like this for the rest of the season it could come down to the wire in the 6 Hours of Bahrain to see who is crowned 2017 LMP2 Endurance Trophy winners.
Ferrari have been the strongest car in the North American rounds of the season, and this was reiterated as they produced a strong performance once again this weekend. Taking pole and the race win, albeit in different cars, AF Corse proved they were a force to be reckoned with. Alike all the other classes this weekend, the winners did not have a straight forward victory. James Calado and Allesandro Pier Guidi had to fight back to the front twice after a poor start and mid race puncture saw them fall down the field. The topped the class podium with the #92 Porsche GT Team and the sister Ferrari, #71, completing the top three.
The surge in AF Corse’s performance has boosted both of their cars up in the GT World Endurance Driver’s Championship and strengthened Ferrari’s lead in the manufacturer’s battle. The Calado/Pier Guidi car now sits fourth in the championship, with Davide Rigon ahead of them by half a point. Sam Bird is on equal points as the #51 crew, but sits fifth as he missed the 6 Hours of Nurburgring to race in FE.
It is fairly close in the Driver’s GT Championship between second, third and fourth. From Ricard Lietz and Frederic Makowiecki in the second-placed #91 Porsche 911 RSR to Bird (technically fifth as he is half a point behind his team mate) there is just one point. It really is all to play for in the Pro class with three rounds left.
Still holding steady at the top of the GT World Endurance Driver’s Championship, is Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell in the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK car. However, the rest of the field is slowly gaining on the British pair. With another average performance from the Ford team, Priaulx and Tincknell lead by only 6 points at this late stage in the season. Ford is going to have to turn its performance around in the last three fly away rounds if it wants to keep the competitive duo at the top of the GT Driver’s Endurance Championship.
A great recovery drive from Pedro Lamy, Paul Dalla Lana and Mathias Lauda translated to a great recovery in the Am Driver’s Trophy championship. An early race incident saw the Aston Martin Racing #98 trio on the back foot, but with a pace advantage on the rest of the Am field they were able to transform their pole position to a class win. Repeating the notion that Ferrari were strong from the Pro class, the podium was completed by the two Ferrari Am entrant, with the #61 Clearwater Racing taking the second step above the # 54 Spirit of Race.
The full load of 26 points scored by Lamy, Dalla Lana and Lauda sees the trio back at the top of the Am championship. Their closest rivals, Christian Ried, Marvin Dienst and Matteo Cairoli could do no better than fourth this weekend, dropping them behind the Aston Martin team, on 130 points, by four points. But the battle is far from over in either of the GTE classes. Points are close at the top of the tables and third placed #61 drivers Matt Griffin, Keita Sawa and Weng Sun Mok only trail the Dempsey-Proton Racing trio by ten points.
The WEC grid takes a short break before it reconvenes next month at the Fuji Speedway. Some titles could be decided with two rounds left, but it can almost be guaranteed that the GTE Driver’s championships will keep us entertained until the final round in the sweltering heat of Bahrain for the season-closing dusk race.