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FIA WEC: 6 Hours of COTA – McNish, Conway, Aston Martin take wins

The starting grid had Loic Duval on pole with teammate Marcel Fassler (Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18 e-tron quattro) right next door. Sebastien Buemi (Toyota Racing TS030) started third, about 1 sec behind the Audis, with Nick Heidfeld (Rebellion Racing Lola B12/60 Coupe – Toyota) in fourth. The top LMP2 driver on the grid was John Martin (G-Drive Racing Oreca 03 – Nissan), starting fifth overall. Fredric Makowiecki (Aston Martin Racing Vantage V8) led the GT field, followed by Jorg Bergmeister (Porsche AG Team Manthey 911 RSR) and Aston Martin teammate Paul Dalla Lana.

The LMP1 and LMP2 running orders remained in place at the end of Lap 1, with the race’s first safety car coming out as James Rossiter (Lotus T128) spun of course in Turn 1 following contact with another vehicle. Bergmeister slipped to fourth in GT, with Toni Vilander (AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia) slotting into second between Makowiecki and Dalla Lana.

Buemi passed Fassler on the restart to take second overall. Bergmeister moved into third in GT during the first green lap. Duval had opened up a 7.076-sec lead on Buemi with 5 hr 34 min left in the race. LMP2 running order remained unchanged with Martin ahead of Alex Brundle and Bertrand Baguette (both OAK Racing Morgan – Nissan).

Fassler and Buemi made contact as Fassler tried to pass on the outside just before the 5:30 mark. Race officials were investigating the incident as it appeared the Toyota drifted outwards going through the turn. Ten minutes later Duval carried a more than 14-sec lead over the two. Fassler passed Buemi at 5:17 as the two fought their way through traffic.

Fassler hopped a curb shortly afterwards trying to make his way through yet more GT traffic. The Audi went airborne but remained on-track and underway. Buemi retook second in the process with Audi falling 5 sec back.

Fassler’s car had to have its rear end repaired but remained on course at 5:07, as his race-leading teammate pitted and Allan McNish took over. The No. 1 Audi pitted shortly after and went into the garage to begin the repairs, falling off the lead lap. Andre Lotterer was behind the wheel when it reentered the circuit, one lap down. Buemi was given a warning for his earlier contact with the No. 1 Audi while Fassler was driving.
 

Approaching 4 hrs left, Tom Kristensen remained in the lead in the No. 2 Audi, but Stephane Sarrazin had closed to within 2 sec in the Toyota. Lotterer remained one lap down. LMP2 had Brundle roughly 3 sec ahead of teammate Martin Plowman (OAK Racing), with Martin in third. Bruno Senna (Aston Martin in for Makowiecki) led Kamui Kobayashi (Ferrari in for Vilander) by 3 sec in GT, with Marc Lieb (No. 92 Porsche) in third.
 

Sarrazin was within 0.3 sec of Kristensen at 3:50. Kobayashi pitted several minutes later, leaving Senna as the only GT Pro competitor yet to stop. Kristensen pitted from the lead at 3:34, with Duval taking over. Giancarlo Fisichella moved into GT third in the No. 51 AF Corsa Ferrari.

The No. 1 Audi pitted at 3:09 from 2 laps down, with Benoit Treluyer remaining behind the wheel. Roman Rusinov (G-Drive) was in the LMP2 lead, followed by Ricardo Gonzalez (OAK Racing No. 35) and David Heinemeier Hansson (OAK No. 24)

At 3:05 Duval had closed to Sarrazin’s tail, who had assumed the lead on the No. 2’s pit stop. He succeeded in making the pass 2 min later on Turn 15. Treluyer set the fastest lap of 1:47.742, but remained two laps down in the No. 1 Audi. Heinemeier Hansson took LMP2 second from his OAK racing teammate at 2:57. Gonzalez hopped the curb trying to take the position back, colliding with his teammate. Gonzalez pitted and was pulled into the garage. Heinemeier Hansson remained underway in second. Luis Perez Companc (Pecom Racing Oreca 03 – Nissan) moved into LMP2 third. The Gonzalez car was the class championship leader coming into the race.

Duval pitted from the lead, ceding it back to Sarrazin. Sarrazin pitted at 2:40 left, with Anthony Davidson getting into the car for the first time. Duval reassumed the lead, with Davidson coming out 21 sec back, but Toyota’s strategy of double-stinting its tires appeared to be paying dividends. LMP2 ran as Rusinov, Perez Companc, and Heinemeier Hansson and GT Senna, Fisichella, and Vilander.

Vilander passed Fisichella for the GT lead at 2:30, while Duval stretched his overall lead to more than 36 sec over Davidson and the Toyota. Senna pitted from the GT lead at 2:24, turning the car back over to Makowiecki. The Aston rejoined the fray 11 sec behind Vilander and 8 back of Fisichella.

With 2:16 left Rusinov came under investigation in the LMP2 lead for abuse of track limits. Treluyer spun on his own at Turn 12 with 2:10 to go as his back end came loose, but remained in action, running third, 1 lap behind the Toyota and 1 ahead of Rebellion. Duval pitted from the lead at 2:04, with Kristensen taking over and rejoining the race 29 sec back of Davidson.

At the 1:17 mark the No. 2 Audi pitted, McNish coming out 26 sec behind Buemi, who had taken over from Davidson the Toyota’s previous stop. P2 saw Conway ahead of Pierre Kaffer (Pecom) and Tor Graves (Delta-ADR Oreca 03 - Nissan). GT ran Makowiecki, Vilander, and Bruni.

Buemi pitted with 1:03 to go for fuel only, coming out 29 sec behind McNish who was set to be in the seat for the rest of the race. With 45 min left, McNish led Buemi by 37.6 sec. Conway was up 1 lap on Kaffer in LMP2, with Mankowiecki holding a 1 lap lead on Bruni in GT. Thomas Holzer (Lotus T128) took third in LMP2 with 37 min left over James Walker (Delta-ADR).

McNish was brought in for a fuel-only stop at 34 min, coming out 23 sec behind Buemi in the Toyota. Buemi was told on the radio that McNish didn’t change tires and to keep pushing, but had one stop of his own left to make. Toyota pitted to change drivers and take fuel with 27 min to go, with Stephane Sarrazin taking over and the car coming out 28 sec back.

With 15 min to go the Top 3 in each of the top classes stood as McNish, Sarrazin, and Fassler (Audi, Toyota, Audi) in LMP1; Conway, Kaffner, and Holzer (G-Drive, Pecom, Lotus) in LMP2; and Makowiecki, Bruni, and Kobayashi (Aston Martin, Ferrari, Ferrari) in GT.

Under 5 min to go concern began to be voiced that McNish would have to pit to replace the number on the side of his car per regulations. This didn’t end up happening (good thing!), with the Top 3 in all classes holding steady at the finish.

Posted in: Sports
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