For the first race of the 2017 World Endurance Championship, Toyota Gazoo Racing remained on the form they had displayed throughout the weekend to take home victory from the 6 Hours of Silverstone. The #8 crew of Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi, and Kazuki Nakajima led most of the six-hour endurance race and only had to fight for position in the closing stages. LMP2 continued to show a mixed field with the pace of all of the cars being very similar throughout the class. It was the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing team that came out on top as the chequered flag fell. After a trouble-filled race that saw them having to pit early, Harry Tincknell and Andy Priaulx brought a surprise victory to the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK car whilst a last lap incident saw the #98 Aston Martin Racing LM GTE Am car lose the class victory to the #61 Clearwater Racing team.
At the start of the race it looked like it was going to be easy for Toyota to secure a one-two at the chequered flag. Although Porsche was setting consistent lap times to the pace the Toyota duo were setting the Japanese team had managed to pull out a lead from the line that Porsche were struggling to close down. But it was not plain sailing for the Toyota team as mixed weather conditions brought Porsche right into the field of play.
For the first three hours there was nothing Porsche could do to catch up to the front-runners. Both teams – Porsche and Toyota – had an inter-team order switch within the first few laps with Brendon Hartley passing Neel Jani for third and Buemi getting ahead of his teammates in the sister car. It was around the halfway mark when the rain started to fall that Porsche looked to have an opportunity.
It first came in the form of pit stops. With timing giving the advantage to Porsche, both the Porsche 919 Hybrids pitted as the rain began to fall, meaning they were in prime position to pass Davidson in the #8 who was struggling on the dry weather tyres. Bernhard and Nick Tandy took on the slicktermediates during their driver change pit stops and passed the struggling Toyota easily on track, dropping Toyota to third on the grid.
The #7 Toyota had suffered issues during the first half that had seen it travelling slowly and falling to fourth on track, but the day got worse for the second Toyota Hybrid. Losing brakes, Jose Maria Lopez had a fast speed crash going straight into the tyre barriers at Copse Corner. Luckily the driver was alright but the car lost an hour and a half after it limped back to the pits and brought out a Full Course Yellows which eventually turned into a safety car due to the debris Lopez scattered across the track. This took the #7 completely out of contention and the battle for the lead between #8 Toyota and #2 Porsche.
Race starters Hartley and Buemi were back in the cars for the closing stages of the race. Having double stinted the tyres at the end of the race and completing a short, fuel-only stop at the end, Hartley returned on track with an eight-second lead, something Toyota did not expect. An incredible drive from Buemi on the fresher tyres and lighter fuel load saw the Swiss driver close in on Hartley at a rapid pace. It became more of a matter of when was Buemi going to pass rather than would he catch up enough to make a move. Coming into Village, Buemi lined Hartley up, getting his Toyota TS050 Hybrid on the inside of the Loop Corner and squeezing Hartley out a little. Having a much better exit from the corner, Buemi made the move stick and went on to take the first victory of the season by 6.1 seconds. The #1 Porsche finished off the podium, bringing home an unexpected double podium to the German team.
The only LMP1-Privateer entrant, #4 ByKolles Racing, was doing much better than many expected during the 6 Hours of Silverstone. After such a poor Prologue, it was assumed that the team would have a difficult first weekend, leading to many assuming this was the reason Robert Kubica dropped out of the team three days before the first event. However, the car was running strong and, besides a couple of short stints in the garage, it was running within the LMP2 field at a competitive level. But it was not meant to be for the #4 team as, with just fifteen minutes to go; the car was parked up in the garage and did not take the chequered flag. This means that the team did not classify for this race.
Off the start, Nicolas Lapierre was once again the driver to watch. From fourth on the grid Lapierre laid down a blinding pace that saw him take the lead of the class within the first half an hour of racing. But it sadly was not something that was meant to last. Although his teammates fought well there was not enough in the car to get it to cross the line any higher than fourth. The #36 Signatech Alpine crew showed an excellent showcase of teamwork as they fought a tough on track battle with the #28 TDS Racing and #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing teams.
Pole-sitter Alex Lynn had a tough race in the #26 G-Drive Racing machine. It suffered an early door malfunction that forced the team to pit for an extra stop to complete repairs. With just over an hour complete the team had fallen out of contention and it was too much of a gap to close before the chequered flag.
The #38 team had been a threat from the start and remained so throughout the six hours of racing. There were at least five different leaders of the LMP2 class through the race showing just how close and competitive this year’s class will be. It was between Oliver Jarvis in the #38 and the TDS Racing #28 for the lead of the class as the race came to an end. An impressive drive from Jarvis saw him take class victory for his first race in the LMP2 class on track. TDS Racing took second whilst the early leader of the race, #31 Vaillante Rebellion, rounded off the LMP2 podium.
The race was packed with action and drama for the pole sitting #67 Ford Chip Ganassi team. They lead the field off the line and held the advantage competitively until Priaulx suffered a door failure. Whilst speeding down one of the straights the driver’s side door of the Ford GT opened a fraction. This happened a few times and Priaulx looked like he was able to sort out the problem from within the cockpit, but in fear of being forced into the pits by the stewards the team took the decision themselves and pitted about halfway into the race. A big slam of the door seemed to fix the problem but it dropped Tincknell and Priaulx right down the order, handing the lead to the sister #66 Ford car.
But it did not last long as the #92 Porsche GT Team entrant was soaring through the class. Porsche explained that they had been focused on the race pace of the car, hence why they appeared to be so off the mark in qualifying, and the performance of the team was proving that tactic correct. They lead the field competitively for a small duration of the race. Disaster struck as the mid-engine car caught on fire, with the car pulling to a stop on Stowe corner. This incident brought out the first Full Course Yellow of the race as the team could only look on whilst the car was doused with a fire extinguisher.
This handed the advantage back to Ford and the rapid lapping #67. As the #67 Ford entrant was out of sync with everyone else’s pit stops they seemed to be making the alternative strategy work for them. Tincknell had made up a lot of ground during his stint in the car and this left him in prime position to inherit the lead of the class. Against all odds the door failure that plagued the beginning of their race returned with just ten minutes on the clock. Tincknell, like his teammate, managed to get a temporary fix on the issue that was enough to see him over the finish line to take the class win. The #51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE finished second in class whilst the #91 Porsche entrant made it three different manufacturers on the podium.
The #98 Aston Martin Racing team were the ones to beat throughout most of the race in the Am class. For around an hour during the rain shower, the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche had the edge, leading the class, but once the track dried out Aston Martin were back to controlling the pace. It looked like they were set to win even with the multiple spins Paul Dalla Lana suffered during the rainy period of the race that luckily caused no damage to the car.
But the #61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari had been on a mission and with a few laps left it was closing in on the Aston. Pedro Lamy was pushing as hard as he could, as the chequered flag got closer. The Ferrari was quick but it looked like it would not be enough before the end of the race.
Throwing caution to the wind, the #61 through a move up the inside of Lamy, spinning both of them off the track through contact. Due to their lead on the rest of the field being so great, neither of them lost any positions. But as the Ferrari got moving first it stole the chequered flag, taking the first class victory. Lamy struggled home for second with the Aston clearly suffering a lot of damage as it stopped at Farm Corner after taking the chequered flag.