Audi Pick Up the Pieces in Texas Monsoon

Audi Sport Team Joest picked up the pieces of a chaotic race into the Texan darkness tonight as the #2 team of Marcel Fassler, Benoit Treluyer and Andre Lotterer took victory in the FIAWEC 6 Hours of Circuit of the Americas.

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The race was dominated by a sudden downpour in the second hour of the race and the subsequent red flag it created, which threw the established order up into the air and turned a regulation competition into a recovery dogfight.

The start of the race was oblivious to the oncoming storm and was dominated largely by great pace from Sebastien Buemi in the #8 Toyota. The Swiss swiftly built up an advantage and over the course of the hour slowly asserted his dominance with a succession of race-best purple times.

LMP2 saw G-Drive, KCMG and newcomers Extreme Speed Motorsports mixing it up in the early stages while the GTE Pro stalwarts the #97 Aston and #51 AF Corse sought each other out for their customary early-race ruckus. Meanwhile reports began to arrive of light rain at the far end of the circuit.

Richie Stanaway was busily racing ahead in his GTE Am Aston Martin, sweeping away the better-qualifying Prospeed Porsche and making his way through the ranks towards the tailpipes of his teammate Fernando Rees in the #99 Pro car.

But then the monsoon arrived, making its way progressively across the track and catching out both pros and amateurs with its impromptu lakes and rivers. Two Am Ferraris kicked off the chaos by beaching themselves at the end of the straight before both Toyotas and a number of others joined them.

Around the Circuit of the Americas the local fans could do nothing but accept being soaked to the bone but at least they were entertained by the balletic events on track; Mike Conway rescuing a slow motion pirouette to huge applause and Timo Bernhard somehow threading his 919 Hybrid through the eye of the stricken car needle.

The race was swiftly red-flagged, the conditions too perilous. It would be another hour before the clouds relented and the field could circulate again. Contention ensued when cars that had come into the pits were forced to wait until the safety car came back around, effectively rewarding those who had been off the track with a free lap on the timing screens.

Some were affected more than others with the Proton Porsche team wondering how they were suddenly leading while the one-off entered Corvette Racing C7R team were left two laps down and rather grumpy.

This left Audi to take up their standard-for-2014 position of lucky benefactors of others’ misfortune. Neel Jani’s Porsche was the only other car left on the lead lap, some way back but operating with renewed pace.

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It was due to some relentless effort on Jani’s part that not long after this the #14 emerged into the lead. The sister car, with Mark Webber at the helm, couldn’t match him for speed and dropped out of the running for the podium.

LMP2 continued to thrill with close calls and minor contact between the leading cars, the G-Drive Ligier consistently quick but falling prey to a number of driver errors. SMP Racing capitalised on their luck, defending hard and leaving themselves in a good position going into the final two hours.

GTE Pro kicked off again as Toni Vilander discovered his 458 Italia was a bit of a dog in the soggy conditions. The Manthey Porsche duo found the opposite was happening to their 911 RSRs, and the order swapped around with Stefan Muecke left unaffected in the middle.

As the race entered its final hour it seemed that the #14 Porsche was on for a maiden victory, with the two Audis squabbling amongst themselves and the two Toyotas some way back in the distance.

But as Marc Lieb took over from Jani to bring the car home something went wrong under the engine cover, and when the stint’s lap times came filing in it showed a Porsche more than eight seconds off the pace.

The #14 faded back into the darkness as Audi calmly collected their fallen laurels, Marcel Fassler bringing the #2 over the line a full minute ahead of the #1. The #8 Toyota, so impressive at the start, was left to pick up a conciliatory third place.

Rebellion Racing weathered a difficult race to bring the #12 R-One home at the head of the three car LMP1-L pack, but an impressive showing from the brand new and relatively untested Lotus CLM P1/01 allowed them to finish the race and claim second as the #13 Rebellion retired.

Some strong final hour pace from the KCMG team allowed Tsugio Matsuda to cross the line first in class ahead of the #27 SMP Oreca and ESM HPD, who will be happy with a podium in their first ever WEC race.

As the track dried the balance of GTE Pro power shifted in Aston Martin’s direction, but the battle lasted right up until the wire with Patrick Pilet and Darren Turner swapping positions between stops. The Brit’s speed and defensive racecraft earned his team a hard fought win, with the #92 Porsche 2nd and #51 Ferrari third.

Despite a strong showing from Proton Competition it was to be an all Aston affair in GTE as the Am field passed the chequered flag, the two Vantage V8s separated by a second with the #98 positioned the better. The #88 Porsche did manage third however, a great result for a team still getting used to their new 911 RSR.

The second half of the World Endurance Championship season kicked off in fine style, and the circus now heads to Japan for the 6 Hours of Fuji. With Audi leading the manufacturers championship but the #8 Toyota drivers heading the drivers standing, there’s a lot to play for in the next four races. Stay tuned to speedchills.com for all of the latest news and views.