Speed Chills - Aston Martin Racing

  • 2016 FIA WEC Season Review

    Welcome to our review of the 2016 FIA WEC Championship. Put the kettle on, make a brew, settle down in your favourite chair and enjoy!

    LMP1 Season Review 

    Neel Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas took the FIA World Endurance Championship crown for the first time with a fifth place finish in the 6 Hours of Bahrain, however this season was by no means easy on the crew. They took the first win of the season at Silverstone after the #7 Audi crew were disqualified, second place at Spa Francorchamps in round 2 before taking a last minute win at Le Mans after Toyota heart break in the dying minutes. With double points at Le Mans, the #2 car held a substantial lead at the mid point, 94 points out of 103 on offer saw them sitting at the top of the championship with a 39 point lead. Le Mans was the turning point for the #2 car, early promising performances were replaced with recurring technical issues, reportedly with the cars hybrid system and a distinct lack of pace. Jani, Lieb and Dumas failed to see the podium again this year. Despite these issues, going in to Bahrain, talking to Neel Jani before the start of the race, he was confident the team had what it took to take the title.

    This fall in pace surely held the door wide open though for the ever consistent Audi team to close the gap and take the lead at some point before the season was out? This season however’ Porsche got lucky. A string of issues for Audi meant they were unable to capitalise on the #2 crew’s bad luck in the second half of the year.

    The #8 Audi crew of Oli Jarvis, Lucas di Grassi and Loic Duval were Audi’s main title hopes this year. They were on the pace and working well together, claiming two victories this season in Spa and Bahrain. Uncharacteristically, Audi were hit with a string of issues this year and as a result, both cars arrived in Bahrain out of the championship. Their pace in Austin was phenomenal but hybrid issues for the #8 and a badly timed safety car took both cars out of contention and gifted the win to the #1 Porsche of Webber Bernhard and Hartley. Mexico was yet another poor race for Audi. The #8 was out in front when Jarvis went off at turn one in tricky conditions. Lotterer then hit the wall during a lock up. Porsche came through to take another solid points hall towards both the teams and drivers championship challenge. Another difficult run to fifth in Shanghai for the #8 further dented their title challenge.

    Toyota came in to 2016 with a brand new car, the TS050. The car was a big improvement on the 2015 TS040, the car was competitive and even took the win on home soil in Fuji. As we headed out to Bahrain, Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Stephane Sarrazin were the only 3 drivers capable of challenging the #2 Porsche for the drivers title. Toyota had more than their fair share of difficulty this year though. They were leading the race at Spa before the #5 car broke down and leading the race at Le Mans before heartbreak on the final lap.

    LMP2 Season Review

    The 2016 LMP2 season was dominated by the #36 Signatech Alpine, adding the FIA WEC to their 2014 European Le Mans Series crown. Nicolas Lapierre, Gustavo Menezes and Stephane Richelmi won half the races in 2016 in the Nissan powered Alpine A460 and never once finished outside the top four. They fought hard with the #43 RGR Sport and #26 G-Drive racing cars throughout the season with Strakka and Manor mounting outside challenges in what was arguably the most competitive class of the season. The LMP2 grid was heavily involved in the FIA driver rating changes this year, a number of teams, including the #36 Signatech, found themselves benefitting from "Super Silver" drivers, drivers classified silver but professional drivers rather than amateur racers. Gustavo Menezes was one of those "Super Silvers" who found himself lapping inside the top 10% of the field on a frequent basis. However, it was a dominant performance from the crew and drivers which saw them take the title.

    Silverstone was the season anomaly for the #36 squad with all three drivers complaining of tire ware issues, they took fourth place and their joint worst result of the season. It was one of only two times they would finish off the podium. Their absence from the podium was filled by the newly formed RGR Sport team running the #43 car with Bruno Senna, Filipe Albuquerque and Ricardo Gonzalez who took their maiden victory. One of the standout events of the season however was Spa Francorchamps. Nico Lapierre made a last minute move to pass Pipo Derani around the outside. The Tequila Patron ESM got caught up behind Marino Franchitti’s Ford GT.

    The #36 car quickly found themselves back on the top step of the podium next time out at Le Mans, an incredible performance from the team considering Richelmi and Menezes were in their debut Le Mans and Menezes, who at 21 years old, had never completed a 24 hour race before. All three drivers put in a remarkable performance, Menezes especially who pulled out a quadruple stint in the early hours of Sunday morning to keep the car in site of the podium. A strong drive from Nico Lapierre, who had taken victory just one year before helped the team take the flag.

    A third straight win for the crew at the Nurburgring, round 4 in July, continued to build their lead. RGR Sport took victory in Mexico with a fitting win, driver Ricardo Gonzales the official promoter of the event took the top step of the podium on home soil. Alpine returned to the top of the podium at the Circuit of the Americas with three races left to run. The team took the title in Shanghai finishing second, wrapping up the title with one race to spare, they were never really under threat.

    G-Drive put on a strong showing in the final three races of the season, taking  a hat trick of wins for Roman Rusinov and Alex Brundle. They were joined for two of those wins by former Manor F1 driver Will Stevens, with Rene Rast stepping back on board for the final outing in Bahrain. Rusinov had trouble in Mexico which cost the team the win with a catastrophic brake failure in the final hour. Despite the team coming from the back of the grid to take the win, RGR managed to secure second place in the championship.

    GTE-Pro Season Review

    Aston Martin Racing headed in to the 2016 FIA World Endurance with a heavily upgraded Vantage GTE. They were up against the new Ferrari 488GTE and the new Ford GT run by Ford Chip Ganassi Racing UK. Porsche opted to take a year out to focus on the 2017 car, however, Dempsey-Proton Racing ran a customer team Porsche.

    Aston Martin’s Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen proved themselves more than capable of the challenge, taking the drivers championship in Bahrain with a win in the #95 car. The teams championship however, went to Ferrari, marking a successful first year for the new 488 GTE. The 488 had some big boots to fill. Ferrari own the 2012, 2013 and 2014 GT Manufacturers title with the hugely successful 458 and two drivers titles in 2013 and 2014. The 458 also won Le Mans in 2012 and 2014. No >pressure then.

    Aston Martin stalwart Darren Turner began alongside them at the start of the season, the trio claiming a podium at Silverstone behind the AF Corse Ferraris which dominated the race. Sam Bird and Davide Rigon dominated the race in the #71 Ferrari ahead of Gimi Bruni and James Calado in the #51 which also had to serve a three minute time penalty for an engine change between qualifying and the race. It should be noted, that Bruni set the quickest ever GTE time around Silverstone this year, the first driver to break the 1:59 barrier, going 2.5 seconds quicker than his previous record.

    Disaster struck for the team at Spa, Nicki Thiim was spun in to the barriers by an LMP2 car and came to a rest on his roof at Courbe Paul Frere.

    Ferrari capitalised, however a late engine failure for Calado stripped Ferrari of the projected 1-2 finish they were after. The charge came to a stop at Le Mans though with severe mechanical difficulties. Fourth for the GTE-AM AF Course however gifted the team 24 points, a valuable contribution to the teams title chances.

    Despite not making the podium at Le Mans, the trio took points as the second placed WEC entered car. Both the #51 and #71 cars failed to finish and Aston Martin took the championship lead. Ford put on an incredibly dominant performance at Le Mans which saw them bring home three cars in the top four. The #82 Ferrari of Fisichella, Vilander and Malucelli spoiling a Ford front three lock out with a second place. This dominance would see a BOP adjustment later in the season.

    After Le Mans, Aston Martin had a reshuffle of their driver line up which saw Turner swap to the #97 car. Thiim and Sorensen took third place behind the dominant Ferraris before taking third place in Mexico. Turner and Stanaway took the first AMR win of the season in Mexico which put Turner in to the championship lead. Thiim and Sorensen finally took their first win in Austin at the Circuit of the Americas which put them at the top of the table with three races to run and a 12 point lead. Fords dominance returned for Shanghai and Fuji, taking 1-2 finished in both races ahead of #51 Ferrari of Gimi Bruni and James Calado. Heading in to the final race of the season, AMR had a 12 point lead. Turner and Adam set identical qualifying laps to take pole in the #97 before the #95 took the race and a second win of the season.

    Bruni and Calado lost vital points this season and despite finishing on the podium in every race they finished, including a win at the ‘Ring, DNF’s at Spa and Le Mans took them out of contention for the title. They did however, finish third ahead of both the Fords who finished half a point apart, Muecke, and Pla having the slight advantage over Tincknell and Priaulx. Ford took two victories this year and max points at Le Mans enroute to third in their first season back in endurance racing. Three cars in the top four at Le Mans meant they scored max points, whilst two second places at Fuji and Shanghai meant the #66 bested the #67.

    GTE-AM Season Review

    The stats show that the #83 AF Corse Ferrari 458 was not the quickest car in class. They took one win this season but finished every race and claimed 50 points at Le Mans. They took six second place finishes, only failing to take the podium in Austin. The #98 Aston Martin Vantage was notably quicker. The car with Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda at the wheel took six pole positions including the final race in Bahrain, and five wins. Unfortunately, they took hard knocks at Le Mans and Mexico,not finishing either race. Pole position under the night sky of Bahrain gave them hope.That margin of hope however was incredibly small. Collard, Aguas and Perodo just needed to finish, they crossed the line third whilst the engine failed on the #98.

    The #88 Abu Dhabi Proton took victory on the WEC’s first visit to Mexico and again in Bahrain. The retirement of the #95 gave second in the championship to Al Qubaisi and Heinemeier Hansson. With Klaus Bachler replaced by Patrick Long at Le Mans, Al Qubaisi and Heinemeier-Hansson again came close to beating the Ferrari for the top WEC-registered team, but a late charge from Collard saw the Frenchman take second spot in the final hour, which resulted in a decisive 14-point swing.

    The Porsche crew came on form in the final race, Pat Long put pressure on Lauda which saw the #95 spin, Long then lead the rest of the way fending off Wolf Henzler in the KCMG Porsche. The #78 took their fifth consecutive podium in Bahrain but after technical infringement at Nurburgring and technical failure at Silverstone, they were out of the running. Gulf Racing had a solid performance across the year with some big improvements seen across the season for Ben Barker, Adam Carroll and Mike Wainwright.

  • 2017 WEC Season

    We are now quickly approaching the first race of the season. The cars made their first appearance at Monza at the beginning of the month and whilst there has been a lot of changes over the winter, it is shaping up once again to be a fantastic season.

    LMP1

    For the first time in nearly 20 years, we will not see an Audi Prototype fighting at the front of the grid, all good things come to an end however, times change and things move on. From first impressions at Monza, it would appear that both Toyota and Porsche are cable of filling the gap, both teams running redesigned variations of their TSO50 and 919 Hybrids. The future of LMP1 is certainly bright with a number of customer cars due to enter in 2018 with the newly designed Ginetta chassis. Away from the Hybrid factory cars, ByKolles return for the season with a new engine and a newly designed car.

    Porsche return to the championship with a substantially updated 919 Hybrid, comments from Monza indicating that around 70% of the car has been newly developed including new body work and substantial changes to the front aero and head lights. The Porsche driver line up has also seen a number of changes over the winter, beginning with the announcement towards the back of 2016 that Mark Webber would retire at the end of the year. Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb stepped down from the team at the end of the season with Earl Bamber and and Nick Tandy returning to the team after their 2015 Le Mans success. Andre Lotterer also joins the team stepping in to the #1 car alongside Bamber and Neel Jani.

    The 2017 Toyota TS050 Hybrid like the Porsche has been substantially updated, the far has a brand new aero package and a brand new 2.4 litre twin turbo V6 petrol engine. Feedback from members of the team in Monza, confirmed the car had undergone 30,000 KM of testing, including four 30 hour endurance sessions. Toyota will also be running a third car at Spa and Le Mans this year featuring a reshuffled line up. FIA World Touring Car Champion Jose Maria Lopez joins Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi in the #7, the #8 line up stays unchanged. Stephane Sarrazin makes the switch to the #9 car partnering alongside Super Formula Champion Yuji Kunimoto and former Toyota driver Nicolas Lapierre.

    ByKolles return with an updated chassis and a new power plant. The 2016 car suffered with serious overheating issues in 2016 which saw the AER engine blow up on more than one occasion, including Le Mans. The updated car now features the Cosworth designed Nissan LMP1 GT-R LM engine from 2015. The Prologue was a troublesome weekend for ByKolles however, only venturing out of the garage for six laps the whole weekend before the rear wing collapsed. Oliver Webb got the only track time in the car. Robert Kubica was announced as a new driver for 2017 but there is yet to be an official announcement on a third driver. Dominik Kraihamer was due to test the car in Monza but there are no further announcements on his plans for this year. It is unlikely that ByKolles will offer any competition for Toyota and Porsche but it will be an important development year for the team with the Ginetta customer chassis coming in next season.

    It is hard to take any firm conclusions away from the Prologue with teams running various different set ups. Porsche were visibly quicker through the speed traps, topping out at 319.5 KPH in the hands of Earl Bamber. In comparison, Toyota only managed to hit 306.8 KPH in the hands of Nico Lapierre. However at the Prologue last year, Toyota topped the time sheets by over 20 kph and struggled early on in the season.

    LMP2

    LMP2 is very much a one make series this year in the WEC, each team running with the Oreca 07, Alpine running a modified version of the chassis. Le Mans will see a variety of chassis entries though with both Ligier and Dallara to be represented at the 24 Hour in June. The new cars are quick. They have an additional hundred horse power, the Alpine hit 314 KPH through the speed traps in the hands of Romain Dumas, beating the Toyotas in a straight line.

    There has been some big changes in LMP2 this year, Jota have signed to run the Jackie Chan DC Racing cars with Ho-Pin Tung, Oliver Jarvis and Thomas Laurent in the #38 car with David Cheng, Alex Brundle and Tristan Gommendy in the #37.

    TDS Racing have made the step up this year from the European Le Mans Series to the World Endurance Championship. They are partnered with G-Drive Racing, Pierre Thiriet joining Roman Rusinov and Alex Lynn in the #26 car, former GTE-Am runners Francois Perrodo, Mattheiu Vaxiviere and Emmanuel Collard running the #28 TDS entry.

    Manor WEC return with new sponsorship and backing in the form of China Energy and SMP with Vitaly Petrov confirmed as the third driver in the #24. Both cars feature a new look livery for 2017, with a substantial amount of sponsorship coverage in comparison to last year.

    Rebellion made the switch over the winter to LMP2, returning to the class with a new look livery and sponsorship package, the team now officially called Vaillante Rebellion. David Heinemeier Hansson makes his return to prototype racing, partnering up in the #13 with Mathias Beche and Nelson Piquet Jr. The #31 car will be driven by Bruno Senna, Nico Prost and Julien Canal.

    GTE Pro

    The big news in GTE Pro is Porsche making their factory return to the championship having take a year out to develop the new “not mid-engine’d” 911 RSR. Aston Martin return with the next iteration of the Vantage, a fairly old car now in comparison to the Ford and Ferrari entries. The new 911 is a serious piece of kit and certainly a title contender. The engine has been moved closer to the middle of the car, but as per the launch press conference in Monza, it is not a “mid-engined” car. Porsche have admitted that there will be no road going variants of the car. With a number of teams making the mid season switch to two drivers, it is slightly surprising to see Ford and Aston Martin running three drivers in each car. Pipo Derani (of ESM fame) joins the #67 team whilst Billy Johnson joins Mucke and Pla in the #66. Richie Stanaway joins the #95 with Aston Martin development driver Daniel Serra joining Jonny Adam and Darren Turner in the #97. As ever in GT Racing, it is hard to tell just where every body stands with the development of Balance of Performance measures, however, this season will hopefully be better managed with a new automated BOP system. Last years restrictions were often altered on a session by session basis rather than between race weekends.

    GTE Am

    As with the rest of the grid, there have been some big changes to the class. Clearwater Racing join for a full season after a strong debut at Le Mans, they will be racing the ex Gimi Bruni AF Corse 488 with Matt Griffin partnering Keita Sawa and Weng Sun Mok. Spirit of Race join the championship with Thomas Flohr, Francesco Castellacci and Miguel Molina at the wheel. They will have backing from AF Corse throughout the season.

    Aston Martin return with the loan season entry, Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Matthias Laura all returning for the season. The trio missed out on the championship last year despite taking a number of wins. Gulf Racing return with the old shape 911 RSR, Ben Barker joining Michael Wainwright and Nicholas Foster, who steps in to replace Adam Carrol. Dempsey Proton drop down to the Am Class, Christian Reid partnering Matteo Cairoli and Marvin Dienst. It will be a shame not to have a full season Corvette entry registered, however we will once again be joined by an American contingent of Corvettes at Le Mans.

    Audi maybe gone, but 2017 is going to be a fantastic season. There is a chance that LMP1 could be a very one way fight, however, if both cars are on par with each other then it is going to be a fantastic fight at the top. Fuji last year being a prime example where Toyota took their home race win by just over a second. Add into the mix that the LMP2 cars now have an extra 100BHP, there is a very real chance that a P2 car could finish on the overall podium. At Le Mans, if close enough, the LMP2 cars may even stand a chance of passing the LMP1 cars down the Mulsanne Straight, to then lose the ground through the corners.

    Both GTE fields are going to be as varied as always with each class managed by BOP. Traffic management will be incredibly important for each of the four classes, the speed differentiations being so different both through the corners and in a straight line.

    It all kicks off in less than a weeks time at Silverstone, what ever happens, one thing for sure is its going to be a great season!

  • Incredible Lap Puts Toyota On Pole

    Kamui Kobayashi has set the fastest lap time of the weekend to take pole position for the #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing. The lap time was unrivalled throughout the session, and made teammate Mike Conway’s job fairly easy when generating the aggregated lap time for pole position. A close battle in LMP2 saw #26 G-Drive Racing picking up the pole position point this weekend. Ford retained the rapid pace they had shown in the final practice session to clinch LM GTE Pro pole, whilst Aston Martin stole Am pole from Ferrari’s grasp.

    Porsche did not have a chance at challenging for pole position when Toyota’s Kobayashi set a 1:36.793 on his second flying lap. Pole was fairly secure for the car as Kobayashi handed over to teammate Mike Conway. Although there was a moment of concern for the team when Conway’s first lap time was deleted due to exceeding track limits, the car still comfortably took pole in the LMP1 class. Locking out the front row, it will be two Toyotas at the front for the start of the first race of the 2017 WEC season, with Porsche having to settle for the second row.

    The LMP2 times were changing so rapidly throughout the session it was hard to keep track of who was on provisional pole. At the halfway split, it was Alex Lynn leading the field in the #26 G-Drive. But the advantage was not unreachable and the tension was high as the second drivers climbed into the cockpits. Pierre Thiriet did what he needed to make Lynn’s hard work count and secured pole position for G-Drive with an average of 1:44.387. #36 Signatech Alpine’s Nicolas Lapierre did what he had been accomplishing all weekend and put in a fast enough lap as the second driver to place the ORECA/Gibson second in class. He leaped ahead of the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing car and the #28 TDS Racing machine with his flying lap. Due to multiple deleted lap times, the #28 fell from its provisional second in class to seventh in class. #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing appeared to have a torrid session and ended slowest of all the LMP2 cars.

    ByKolles made a step up for qualifying but were still off their desired pace. It classified ninth overall, which meant it was slower than four of the LMP2 cars. The average of the car was nine tenths off the average of the pole sitting G-Drive. It was a better performance than they showed in the morning practice session but still the team have some big gains to make.

    LM GTE Pro became a battle between Ford #67, Ferrari #71 and Aston Martin #95. None of the other Pro cars could get close to the top three as the twenty-minute session panned out. Harry Tincknell set the pace to beat in the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK car but David Rigon was not far behind in the #71 Ferrari. After the first drivers had set laps, it seemed to be a two horse race, but Marco Sorensen put an end to that with a fantastic lap that put the #96 Aston Martin’s average lap time less than a tenth off the pace of the #71 Ferrari. It seemed the second drivers did enough to maintain the position their teammates set before them, with the #67 sitting on the first 2017 WEC LM GTE Pro pole. Porsche suffered a lot throughout the session and could not seem to get the 911 RSRs into optimum running. Both the Pro cars sat at the back of the Pro field over two seconds off the pole-setting pace.

    It was a two car fight in Am, with the #61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari 488 GTE taking on the #98 Aston Martin Racing V8 Vantage. After the first drivers got out of the cars, it was the #61 ahead with a small margin. Paul Dalla Lana hopped into the #98 and found the time Pedro Lamy could not out on track, taking the class poll position by six-tenths in average lap times. Porsche were a little bit more competitive in the Am class, taking third place for tomorrow’s grid, but they were nearly a second off of first place. Challenging for anything higher than third was out of reach. The battle at the bottom of the grid was close with each car separated by around three-tenths. The second Ferrari, #54 Spirit of Race, split the two Porsche–running teams, leaving the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche 911 RSR to take the final spot on the grid.

  • Le Mans 2017 6 Hour Report

    For a brief session at the beginning of the race, the #7 Toyota lost the lead to the sister #8 car, but apart from that the #7 Toyota has led the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the first six hours. Vaillante Rebellion has been commanding the field in LMP2 after the pole-sitting #26 G-Drive Racing had a terrible start that led to an early retirement from the race. Aston Martin have been the teams to beat in the GTE classes but they have not run away with the pace, with Ferrari and Ford keeping the teams on their toes.

    It seemed to be an easy six hours for the #7 Toyota as all three drivers have climbed aboard to competitively lead the race. Neel Jani made quick work of overtaking Sebastien Buemi in the #8 Toyota to steal second place and split the Toyotas. Buemi did fight back and keep the pressure on Jani, but after the first driver changes Anthony Davidson seemed unable to keep up with Nick Tandy in the Porsche #1.

    Issues have plagued a couple of the LMP1 cars. The #9 had an issue with their door not closing and was forced to make an extra stop in the fifth hour so the team could try and resolve the issue. At the time of publishing, the door was no longer an issue.

    But disaster struck for the #2 Porsche as a front axle drive failure forced the car into the garage. The team lost nearly an hour of the race sitting in the garage as the team did an incredibly quick job of replacing the entire front unit of the car. At the time of publishing, Brendon Hartley was in the car pushing for damage limitation with the car down in an overall 55th position.

    The ByKolles looked to have a strong start by before the end of the first lap it suffered a rear left puncture. Having to pit so early saw it fall down the order but a suspected engine failure saw the car become the second official retiree of the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans in the second hour.

    The first official retiree of the race was the #88 Proton Competition Porsche. After having a bad start and a spin at the Ford Chicane, pole-sitting #26 G-Drive Racing was pushing hard to recover lost positions. Misjudging the space between the two cars, Roman Rusiov got the overtake on the #88 wrong and sent both cars into the barriers at the Porsche Curves. Both cars, with significant damage, made it back to the pits as slow zones covered the Porsche Curves area for barrier repairs. However, neither of them had repairable damage and both cars retired from the race.

    The misfortune for the #26, which dropped down the field on the start lap, handed the advantage to Vaillante Rebellion, who has led the class since the second hour. The CEFC Manor TDS Racing #24 has been keen to challenge for a top two spot but has yet to get any higher than third in class. #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing is also battling up the front of the class and all four cars are looking strong as the first quarter of the race is complete.

    At the start of the race, the Aston Martins pulled an advantage on the GTE fields, but the Ferrari-running teams were hot on their heels. As the day has begun to cool as the evening running gets underway, the Ferraris have fallen off a little and the battle in Pro is now between the Fords and the Aston Martin. Harry Tincknell had a mega lap that has seen the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK car in strong contention for a podium position.

    The #66 Ford was looking good for a high position but an early issue with the rear light forced the car to pit out of sequence for a quick repair. The car is still lapping with the top of the class, but the advantage is with the other cars around it as it has to pit after the other LM GTE Pro cars have taken their pits.

    Ferrari had an impressive stint around the third hour in the Am class, with a Ferrari one-two-three led by Will Stevens in the JMW Motorsports #84. The JMW Motorsports entry is still running strong at the sharp end of the class but Aston Martin has come back with a strong pace from the works #98 car. It’s an impressive performance from the #90 TF Sport crew who, at the time of publishing, were running third in class.

    Four cars have been lost in the first quarter of the race, with the fourth retiree coming in the closing stages of the fifth hour. Matthieu Vaxiviere lost the car under braking for the Forza Motorsport Chicane and side swiped the #82 Risi Competitione. The #82 was spun into the Armco barrier, which suffered a lot of damage, and destroyed the front of the Ferrari 488 GTE. It retired on the spot as the marshals lifted the stricken car off of the racetrack.

    The #28 TDS Racing was undamaged from the incident. The LMP2 team has received a 7-minute stop/go penalty for taking out the Risi Competitione.

  • Le Mans Free Practice and Qualifying One

    Neel Jani put the #1 Porsche 919 Hybrid at the top of the time sheets in FP1 in a session that ran without much incident. Kamui Kobayashi topped the time sheets with his first flying lap, going seven tenths quicker than anyone else with a time of 3:20.996 in the final hour of running. It looked like the time was going to stand but with 20 minutes to run, Jani went sixth tenths quicker with a time of 3:20.362.

    Qualifying One saw Toyota Gazoo Racing top the time sheets to take provisional pole but it was Timo Bernhard who initially went quickest in the #2 Porsche after the first few flying laps. Toyota reacted instantly, pitting the #7 and #8 cars and sending out Kamui Kobayashi and Kazuki Nakajima. Kobayashi responded, setting the fastest lap of the session, going six tenths quicker than anyone else with a time of 3:18.793. Nakajima took second in a Toyota One-Two whilst Bernhard’s time was good enough for third place. Having set the pace in FP1, Neel Jani could only manage to put the #1 Porsche 5th. ByKolles had another difficult session, lapping just half a second quicker than the leading LMP2.

    LMP2

    Alex Lynn knocked the #13 Vaillante Rebellion off the top of the time sheets in FP1, the ex-GP2 driver posted a time of 3:30.363 in the #26 G-Drive, 1.3 seconds quicker than anyone else.

    ORECA certainly appear to have a big advantage over the other competitors, the best non-ORECA car finished 10th. The SMP Racing Dallara in the hands of Victor Shaytar was over four seconds a lap slower. There was a close battle in qualifying between all the World Endurance Championship entrants. It looked as if Manor had the pace throughout the session as with just half an hour to run, Jean-Eric Vergne and Vitaly Petrov locked down the top two positions with the #25 and #24 cars. However, as time moved on and the temperature dropped, the rest of the field began fighting back. Bruno Senna broke in to the 3:29s before Vaxiviere went half a second quicker in the #28 TDS Oreca to take provisional pole with a time of 3:29.333. The Signatech Alpine entries sat sixth and seventh whilst the second Rebellion #13 finished eighth with Rusinov rounding out the top nine in the #26 G-Drive.

    The fastest non-ORECA running LMP2 finished 13th and was the #29 Racing Team Nederland Dallara in the hands of Rubens Barrichello, taking part in his first Le Mans qualifying session. The Brazilian set a lap time that was 4.463 seconds off the pace of provisional pole-sitter, Vaxiviere.

    GTE Pro

    There was a last minute driver change in GTE Pro, Lucas di Grassi has been ruled out of the event on medical grounds having broken his fibula in a charity football match. di Grassi failed to get himself out of the car without assistance within the seven second time limit on the driver extraction test. Michele Rugolo has been drafted in to fill his vacant seat patterning James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari.

    #71 AF Corse Ferrari 488 jumped to the top of the time sheets towards the end of free practice one. Aston Martin traded lap times with Corvette for most of the session before Bird put the Ferrari on top in the closing laps by half a second. James Calado pushed hard in the closing stages of the session to try and and match the pace of Bird but he was unable to match the time of 3:55.504.

    Aston Martin jumped straight to the top in the first qualifying session, Marco Sorensen leading the way in the #95 with a time of 3:52.117, it was only a tenth quicker than Sam Bird but Birds team mates were unable to improve on his opening lap time leaving the #71 crew second at the end of the session. The #51 Ferrari came in 0.888 down on the pole sitting Aston but overall, just two seconds covered the top six.

    GTE AM

    The factory-entered Aston Martin led the time sheets early on, Mathias Lauda setting the early pace before the #50 Larbre Competition Corvette went quickest at the end of the first hour. The #50 Corvette had a moment through Porsche Curves early on in the second hour and slammed in to the tyre barrier on the outside of the track. The Safety Car was called out for minor repair work and the session restarted. The Clearwater Ferrari was leading the session, even after suffering a left-rear puncture at the end of the third hour. Just after the final hour had started, Pedro Lamy set a new fastest lap of 3:58.234 which allowed him to end the session on top of the class with the #98 Aston Martin.

    Aston Martin also held the advantage from the start of the session in LM GTE Am. The #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche took the lead of the class for the first few minutes of the session, but as soon as Pedro Lamy had set his fast time there was no challenge to his 3:55.232. Only his team-mate, Mathias Lauda, could better the time, improving the Aston Martin #98’s provisional pole time to a 3:55.134.

    Matteo Cairoli‘s original fastest time in the #77 was enough to hold on to a comfortable second place. He had a three-tenth advantage over third-placed #90 TF Sport Aston Martin when the chequered flag fell.

  • Porsche Bow Out of LMP1 with Pole

    The fairytale starts as Porsche want it: taking pole position in their final outing of the LMP1 919-Hybrid, but the story is far from over. Toyota are hot on their heels and seem to have the pace advantage in the race. The LMP2 championship battle is going to be one to not take your eyes off. The leading #31 Vaillante Rebellion starts down the grid whilst their rivals in the #38 are on the front row. With just four points splitting them, it will be a tense six-hours. AF Corse have pole for the last race, but not with the championship contending car. In the Am class, #98 Aston Martin Racing may very well be on their way to claiming their first title after claiming another pole position this season.

    Porsche led a one-two into the final practice session of the weekend, giving them an edge before the teams took on qualifying. It was a fairly calm 60-minutes for the LMP1 teams, with Timo Bernhard setting his time board-topping 1:42.438 within the first five minutes of the session. No one seemed to be able to close in on that time, with the closest being Neel Jani in the sister car, six tenths off the pace.

    But this was not the case in qualifying. Toyota used a strategy that saw them leaving the pits five minutes after everyone else in an attempt to get some clear track. It worked, and Mike Conway set the first sub 1m40s lap time of the weekend with a 1:39.517. It was clear after Porsche’s second drivers had climbed in the cars it was going to be a big ask to get them ahead of the Toyotas.

    But Jani was determined to give the Porsche one last pole position. Pushing the car to the limit, he produced a lap time that even his team mates were astounded by, putting the #1 in close contention with the proivional pole-sitting #7 Toyota. Nick Tandy climbed back into the Porsche cockpit, with pressure on his shoulders, with the mind set of not letting Jani’s lap time go to waste. A small personal improvement saw the #1 Porsche take its final pole position by just over two tenths of a second.

    The sweltering heat of Bahrain played its hand on the LMP2 field this morning, with both the #24 CEFC Manor TRS Racing and the #36 Signatech Alpine bringing out a brief Full Course Yellows as they slowed and stopped on track. The Jackie Chan DC Racing cars seemed best equipped for the high morning track temperatures as they secured their first one-two of the weekend, also being the first time either of their cars have been fastest in a practice session this weekend. The 1:48.879 set by Ho Pin Tung in the #38 gave them half a second advantage on the rest of the field. After battling with the #37 for second place, G-Drive Racing #26 had to settle for third.

    The #36 got back on top of the pace after it’s earlier issue and put in an impressive lap average to take pole by four tenths. Gustavo Menezes declared that team mate Andre Negrao had “pulled the boat along” with his lap time, making Menezes job simple when he got in the car.

    Lining up beside them tomorrow will be the #38 Jackie Chan car. A bad qualifying for both Vaillante Rebellions sees the #38 crew on the front foot going into the race. Just four points separate the two and with the #31 Rebellion starting four sixth it is going to need to be the recovery drive of all drives from Bruno Senna, Nicolas Prost and Julien Canal if they are to secure the 2017 LMP2 Trophy.

    After a short red flag period brought out by the #86 Gulf Racing Am Porsche, which caught fire and stopped on track at Turn 9 – leaking fluid, the GTE classes were in qualifying simulation mode for the end of free practice three. The leaders of both classes changed every lap, with lap times tumbling as the end of the session drew closer. James Calado put the #51 AF Corse fastest with a 1:57.972, ahead of championship rival Andy Priaulx in the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK car. The second AF Corse Ferrari, #71, rounded off the top three, half a second off the sister car.

    Qualifying quickly became a Ferrari affair with consistent laps from the #71 AF Corse pair too much for anyone else to contend with. The prediction had been that the two Astons would be fighting for pole position in the final qualifying session, but in the end there was no stopping Sam Bird and Davide Rigon who had struggled throughout the practice sessions.

    Andy Priaulx was set to place his championship contending #67 second on the row, but the weekend’s rapid Adam put an early end to that, dropping in a lap time that was quick enough to demote the team. Harry Tincknell said after the session that they were happy with the performance, but that it was all to play for tomorrow. As the underdogs for the championship now, they have the least to lose in the race, but starting ahead of the other championship contenders is definitely a positive.

    James Calado explained that they were focused on the race in the championship leading #51. He said that they were happy starting from fourth and were looking to have a nice, simple race to get them back home to the championship. If the race finished with the grid positions as they have qualified, there would not be enough of a points gain for the #67 to take the title. Porsche GT Team #91 starts further down the grid and has the most to do tomorrow if they want any chance of stealing the title.

    It had looked like the #98 Aston Martin Racing car was going to take its first fastest lap of the weekend, but it did not seem to be able to keep up when the fast laps started pouring out at the end of the session. Glory went to the #61 Clearwater Racing team that has recently confirmed it’s return to WEC for the 2018/19 ‘Super Season’. Championship contending #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing was second, with the #54 Spirit of Race taking third.

    After it’s earlier fire, the #86 car sat out of qualifying, using the time to repair the car so it will be ready for the race tomorrow. It was Paul Dalla Lana’s day as his second driver lap pulled the #98 ahead of the #61 Clearwater Ferrari that had looked to have pole position in the bag. In terms of championship battles it’s a positive for the Aston Martin as now they take an 11-point advantage into the final six-hour endurance of the season, making it harder for Dempsey-Proton to steal the title from under their nose. The trio have come close to taking the title in the past, but this would be the first time they had actually secured it if all goes their way in tomorrow’s race.

  • Porsche win Climactic 2017 Le Mans

    Coming back from a hybrid system issue early in the race which had looked to put them out of contention for the 2017 Le Mans podium, the #2 Porsche crew fought back to take a spectacular victory in one of the most eventful races Le Mans has ever held. Tagged as an ‘old school Le Mans’ race, there was never a dull moment as the 24 hours flew past. Eleven of the starters failed to complete the race, one of the lowest percents of non-finishers in a 24 Hours of Le Mans.

    It had seemed like the race was over for the #2 Porsche crew when they were hit with a front axle drive failure around the four-hour mark, as it turns out, this was related to the hybrid system. The only way they would be able to recover the hour they had lost in the garage was if the entire LMP1 field suffered a delay as bad as they had. In a shocking twist in the middle of the night, two of the Toyotas retired from the race whilst the third Gazoo Racing entry was stuck in the pits for two hours. The bizarre twist of events saw the #2 up to second in class, albeit being about 45th in the overall classification.

    The plan for the team changed as the #2 crew focused on trying to score constructors points for the team. Constructor’s points are handed out at Le Mans depending on where the car finishes in class clarification. For the driver’s championship, the points are given to the drivers depending on where they finish in the overall standings. With the Porsche #2 team knowing they were in a good place in class clarification they focused on having a clean safe race and getting it across the line at the chequered flag.

    But Le Mans was not done with throwing up the twists and turns of the 24-hour endurance race. With only about three hours left on the clock, the Porsche #1 that had been leading by a comfortable 12 laps to the second-placed car (in the overall standings) dropped a lot of speed heading around Tertre Rouge. An oil pressure problem saw Andre Lotterer pulling over at the side of the Mulsanne Straight. As much as he tried to get the car back to the pits there was not enough battery power to limp back to the garage from where he was.

    This changed the race for the #2 Porsche as they were suddenly the highest placed LMP1 car. Crunching the numbers, they worked out that with an amazingly fast and consistent pace they could potentially pass all the LMP2 cars that were ahead of them and take the overall victory. They predicted that they would reach the then-leading LMP2 by the last lap of the race, however, three amazing stints by Brendon Hartley saw the Porsche #2 in a position to take the lead from the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing with an hour of track time left.

    The last hour was completely nerve-wracking for the #2 Porsche team. They had seen three of the five hybrid LMP1 cars retire instantly from the race and seen hybrid issues on the #8 as well as suffering hybrid issues themselves. There was a sense that Le Mans was not done with the LMP1 field and until Timo Bernhard took the chequered flag no one in the Porsche garage would believe that they had won the 85th running of Le Mans.

    The Toyota #8 was the only other LMP1 car to actually classify for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It seemed that the oppressive heat that descended over the Circuit de la Sarthe was affecting the hybrid systems of the LMP1 cars. Sebastien Buemi crossed the line to place the #8 ninth overall.

    It was a tight battle in LMP2 for the leading #38 car to take the overall victory of Le Mans. They had been in a strong position throughout most of the latter part of the race. When the #1 retired there was a small sense of belief that they would take the overall victory, but Hartley’s rapid place made it clear quickly that Porsche was on a mission.

    There was no challenge for the #38 for the LMP2 class victory. The real battle was between the #13 Vaillante Rebellion and the #35 Signatech Alpine as the race drew to a close. the #13 had the better race pace, but a starter motor failure saw them contending with extra long pit stops as they have to remove the back engine cover to manual kick the car into life.

    #13 ended up taking second in class, which also meant they took the bottom step of the overall podium. The #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing was very close to taking the position from the Rebellion crew and showed great race pace in the latter stages of the endurance.

    LMGTE Pro gifted one of the most intense wheel-to-wheel battles to the line for the victory in class. Over the last few hours of the race, the battle had been between Corvette Racing and Aston Martin Racing to take the class lead. Pit stops were shuffling the order and usually saw the Aston on top at the end of the hour as they pitted first.

    As the final hour ticked down, Jonny Adam was half a second off the back of the #63 Corvette Racing, then in the hands of Jordan Taylor. Adam tried to make a move work going into Arnage but going up the inside of the corner meant he went very deep on exit. He held the lead for a brief moment before Taylor took it back with ease.

    An assumed brake failure saw Taylor go straight on over one of the chicanes down the Mulsanne and pull a big advantage out on Adam. In terms of fair racing, Taylor dropped off the speed a little to reduce the advantage he had and make sure there was nothing he could be penalised.

    Adam was very clever as they headed through the final sector of the track. He kept his lines very tidy and clean, making sure he had the perfect run off of the Ford Chicane. Taylor had been trying to defend and left the racing line for Adam to use to produce a beautiful overtake for the lead of the class.

    Once Adam was passed, Taylor suffered a failure on his car that was either a brake failure or a puncture as a result of his excurtion through the Mulsanne gravel traps. As it was the final lap, Taylor drove carefully and tried hard to push the car to the finish whilst trying to hold onto his second position. But Harry Tincknell had been racing in the Ford Chip Ganassi #67 with a pace that would see him in the right place if one of the cars ahead of him had an issue. Knowing Taylor was vulnerable, Tincknell pushed hard for the last lap of the race, demoting Taylor to third in class as he took a deeply deserved second in class.

    The Am class podium saw a Ferrari domination. The #84 JMW Motorsport put on an amazing performance that saw them take class victory with at least a lap’s advantage over the rest of the field. Spirit of Race #55 Ferrari finished second with the last Ferrari on the podium being the #62 Scuderia Corsa.

    Aston Martin looked strong at the beginning of the race. The #98 Aston Martin Racing was leading the class at the beginning of the race before a tyre blow out saw them in the garage for a while with repairs, dropping them down the order. The #90 TF Sport was also looking like it could challenge the Ferraris for a podium finish, but a mistake in the middle of the night put the car in the barrier. Again, repairs in the garage saw it fall down the order.

    The best finishing Aston Martin in class was the #99 Beechdean AMR. It finished just off the podium in fourth, an admirable effort considering it is only the second time the team has raced Le Mans and they had a rookie driver on the team.

  • WEC 6 Hours of Spa FP3

    Kazuki Nakajima topped the final practice session with a time of 1:55.233 in a Toyota 1-2-3, the #8 car just edging the #7 by 0.005 seconds. Porsche took fourth and fifth with Andre Lotterer posting the best time in the #1 with a 1:56.404 early on in the session. In LMP2, Alex Lynn topped the times with a 2:01.708 in the #26 G-Drive Oreca 07. Notable incidents in the session included the #13 Rebellion losing a front left wheel and the #38 DR Racing Oreca hitting the #61 Clear Water Racing Ferrari. AF Corse took a 1-2 finish in GTE Pro, the #71 Ferrari of Pier Guidi setting the best time of 2:14.904; Sam Bird and Davide Rigon were just two tenths back with a time of 2:15.1. The #67 Ford took third whilst the #95 Aston Martin which had shown early promise in FP2 came home last. Matteo Carol topped the time sheets in the #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche, setting the fourth quickest time overall across both GTE classes. The #98 Aston was second and the #61 Ferrari third.

  • WEC 6 Hours of Spa Race report

    Toyota #8 Take Second Victory in an action-packed race that saw over 61,000 spectators attend Spa-Francorchamps over the weekend for the second round of the 2017 World Endurance Championship, Toyota Gazoo Racing #8 driven by Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima took a narrow victory ahead of the sister car, scoring the first Toyota one-two since 2014. Two full course yellows played with the luck of the race that gave Toyota #8 the win after what they admitted should have been victory for the #7 crew. LMP2 saw a tight battle throughout the race but it was pole-sitters #26 G-Drive Racing who converted the race victory that they failed to do in Silverstone.

    LM GTE Pro was tightly fought between Ferrari and Ford at the start of the race, but ultimately the 488 GTEs had the pace advantage this weekend. An inter-team battle stemmed between the #71 and #51 AF Corse crews for the majority of the race, ending with advantage going to Sam Bird and Davide Rigon. LM GTE Am was dominated for the duration of the race by the #98 Aston Martin Racing entrant. They had no competition as they drove to an easy victory, even after picking up a time penalty during their pit stop for an infringement on the grid.

    Off the start, Andre Lotterer was pressured to protect his pole position as two of the Toyotas ran side by side with him towards La Source. Locking up his breaks, Nicolas Lapierre shot the #9 Toyota straight off into the run off on the outside of the circuit and took the car out of the lead fight. Porsche #2 benefited the most out of the front-runners at the start as Brendon Hartley managed to get it up to second and start chasing down Toyota #8.

    There were two Full Course Yellows during the six-hour event that played with the fortunes of those up and down the grid. The first one came from the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche pulling up and stopping on the start finish race. The #86 had had a troubled race from the start, with consistent abuses to track limits the team picked up multiple time penalties in their pit stops for their offences. There seemed to be damage on the car already when it bumped the rear of on of the Fords coming through Bus Stop, from what is unknown, but there was some sort of debris on the kerb of the chicane that caused the #86 to spin. After looking like it would be good to get going again it shuddered to a halt next to the pit wall where it retired from the race. The #7 Toyota had just taken their scheduled pit stop when the Full Course Yellow came out, meaning that the other three LMP1 cars gained a time advantage on them when they took their stops under the Full Course Yellows. This unlucky fate also befell the #7 during the second Full Course Yellow. The cause of the second full caution was the #28 TDS Racing LMP2 car going straight on at Courbe Paul Frère and heavily into the tyre barrier. Luckily for the LMP2 team, the car was able to get back to the pits after it was pushed out of the tyre barrier and simply needed a front nose replacement to carry on. However, for Toyota #7, once again the Full Course Yellow came at the wrong point in their pit strategy and lost them time against their competitors.

    It was a close race to the line at the end in LMP1. Kamui Kobayashi was pushing hard in the #7 Toyota to close down a four second gap to the sister car that was leading ahead. All of the LMP1 cars had had to stop for a ‘splash and dash’ in the last fifteen minutes of the race so the victory fight was between Toyota. Kobayashi came so close, but traffic in the final lap saw the Japanese driver almost take himself out of the race. He finished second to the #7 by just under two seconds, when one point in the last couple of laps the gap had been seven tenths. Porsche #2 completed the podium twenty-six seconds down the road after a slow puncture had lost them time earlier on in the race. Hartley had a moment in the final stint where contact was made with the #36 Signatech Alpine LMP2 car that is being investigated after the race. The Kiwi driver was trying to overtake the traffic of the #36 and committed to a move on the inside of the corner. It appeared Hartley noticed he would not be able to make the move as the #36 was not going to leave him enough room, so he hit the brakes, locking them in the process. Unfortunately, the #2 Porsche clipped the back of the #36 Signatech Alpine and spun it around.

    It was a great race for the #4 ByKolles. Making it to the chequered flag and encountering no issues through the race, the team ran competitively above the LMP2 field, lapping about a second a lap quicker. They finished a strong sixth which was not expected after they qualified eleventh. Alex Lynn spent most of the race on board the race-winning #26 G-Drive Racing car. The car was competitively paced throughout the race, and although there were swaps of the lead throughout the race the team always looked to be the strongest on track. Lynn had a comfortable lead advantage at the end of the race that allowed him to know that he would not be under any threat for the lead. Second place was a closer battle as the chequered flag approached as the #31 Vaillante Rebellion and the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing cars where split by a few seconds. But as hard as Ho-Pin Tung pushed he could not close the gap to knock the Rebellion out of second place. Sam Bird made the move that spurred the inter-team battle in AF Corse in the Pro class. Whilst the #51 was lining up to pass the struggling #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK for the lead just before the halfway mark, Bird used the tow from the sister car to follow it through when it made the pass on the Ford. Having extra momentum, Bird pulled the #71 Ferrari ahead of the #51. But a Toyota that had been passing through traffic did not leave enough room for Bird to comfortably pull ahead. A few corners of jostling between the two 488 GTE Ferraris saw Bird’s bold move come out victorious as he took the lead of the class. The battling between the two Ferrari continued until the end of the race but with fifteen minutes until chequered flag, Bird had built up a twenty second lead meaning that the #51 had no chance of stealing the win at the line. The #66 Ford finished off the podium in a class that finished two by two through manufacturers. Porsche left Aston Martin to take the last two places in the LM GTE Pro class.

    In a complete reverse fortune; Aston Martin Racing completely dominated the Am class, not once giving up the lead to another car. The team were handed a time penalty to take in their pit stop due to a broken rule during the start procedure. Even after they took this they were still competitively ahead of the rest of the field and cruised to an easy victory. The #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche also appeared to have a fairly straightforward race. After a little period of battling on track and recovering from time lost in pit stops Christian Reid and Matteo Carioli had an easy race to take second in Am. The #61 Clearwater Ferrari made it three different manufacturers on the Am grid again by securing third. There was a brief fight between the two Ferrari-running teams for third until around the halfway mark of the race but after this the final order seemed to establish itself. The day was warm and sunny at the start of the race, but the potential rain that was predicted did not fall as heavily as it needed to to make a strong impact on the race. The #8 crew had ‘”mixed feelings” about their victory, saying that all the luck had come to them today and that the #7 had had the quicker pace all weekend. This was a sentiment that the Porsche #2 crew echoed; suggesting that the podium all believed it should have been Conway and Kobayashi on the top step. Had there have been a couple of laps more, they very well could have been.