The first four drivers on the grid were Sebastian Buemi (#8 Toyota Racing TS040 Hybrid), Romain Dumas (#14 Porsche Team 919 Hybrid), Mark Webber (#20 Porsche), and Andre Lotterer (#2 Audi Sport Team Joest R18 e-tron quattro). Olivier Pla and Roman Rusinov put the #26 Ligier LS P2-Nissan on the LMP2 pole, with Richard Bradley next in the #47 KCMG Oreca-Nissan.
Ryan Dalziel was behind the wheel of the #30 Extreme Speed Motorsports HPD ARX 03b-Honda, marking the team’s World Endurance Championship debut. Team owner Ed Brown announced earlier today that ESM would skip the Tudor United SportsCar Championship Petite Le Mans in two weeks in order to race in the 6 Hours of Shanghai instead, beginning the effort to build in earnest towards next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The Top 3 GTE Pro qualifiers were the #52 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia (started by Gianmaria Bruni), the #97 Aston Martin Racing Vantage (Stefan Mucke) and the #92 Porsche Team Manthey 911 RSR (Frederic Makowiecki). GTE Am qualifying was led by the #74 Prospeed Competition Porsche (Matthieu Vaxiviere starting) and the #95 Aston Martin (Richard Stanaway).
Everyone made it through Turn 1 intact, the #7 Toyota driven Alexander Wurz taking P3 from Webber in Turn 2. Dalziel moved into second behind Bradley in LMP2 during the first two laps, with Pla slipping to third. Mucke, Bruni and Nick Tandy (#91 Porsche) were the Top 3 in GT Pro at the end of the second lap, Makowiecki running P4.
Buemi built a 7.361 sec lead by end of Lap 4. Wurz passed Dumas for second toward the end of Lap 7. In the meantime, Buemi stretched his lead to 14.567 sec and 20.763 sec by Lap 12. Mucke’s lead on Bruni in GTE Pro was 5 sec. Dalziel took the P2 lead from Bradley.
Buemi spun at Turn 13 during Lap 24 and continued. His lead, however, shrank from 36 sec. to 26. 614 sec. The #1 Audi made its first pit stop with 5 hr 10 min left in the race. Following the first cycle of LMP2 stops Pla led Bradley, with Scott Sharp now driving the #30 ESM entry in third.
The #14 Porsche and #7 Toyota pitted together at 5:07, with the #2 Audi coming in second later. Toyota’s stop lasted much longer than the Audi’s, Audi not making a driver’s change while Toyota did. The #8 Toyota came in at 5:05, taking even longer than its sister car had. The #20 Porsche was last to pit, making its stop with 5:03 to go, Timo Bernhard taking over behind the wheel. With all LMP1 stops completed, Nicolas Lapierre remained in front in the #8 Toyota, but only by 2.496 sec over Lotterer. Loic Duval ran third in the #1 Audi.
Fernando Rees had driven the #99 Aston Martin into second in GTE Pro before the first round of pit stops, with he, leader Makowiecki, and the rest of the Pro field coming in with 4:57 left. After the stops Vilander’s Ferrari was in the lead, followed by Darren Turner – now driving the #97 Aston – and Jorg Bergmeister in the #91 Porsche.
Toyota once again went about the business of building its lead, though more slowly than at the race start. Lapierre had a 6.846 sec gap on Lotterer with 4:50 to go. Light rain was falling at the far end of the course – the Turn 11 hairpin – at the 4:39 mark. Sharp took second in LMP2 from Bradley going through Turn 1 at 4:36, with Turner taking the GTE Pro lead from Vilander minutes later.
Hard rain was falling on much of the track with 4:31 to go, but other sectors – including the front straight and Turn 1 -- remained completely dry. Multiple cars, including the #7 Toyota, left the back part of the course, but all returned safely. LMP1 competitors came in for rain tires at 4:26. Race leader Lapierre however didn’t quite make it on time, leaving the track at Turn 12 and followed shortly thereafter by #7. The #8 Toyota was stuck in the gravel. The #7 drove away. The #20 Porsche left the track and made contact with the wall. It then made it through a few more corners, left the track again and nearly collided with two stranded GT cars near the beached #8. Competitors were scattered everywhere when the red flag came out with 4:23 left.
The #14 Porsche, #20 Porsche, and #8 Toyota were all stranded on track.
The race passed the 4:00 mark with the red flag still out and race control having not yet determined when or if a restart would occur. Standings under the red had Benoit Treluyer in the lead in the #2 Audi followed by Tom Kristensen in the #1 and Mike Conway in the #7 Toyota. Sharp led LMP2 followed by Bradley. Turner, Vilander, and Bergmeister were the Top 3 in GTE Pro, with David Heinemeier-Hansson leading GTE Am in the #95 Aston Martin.
The race resumed behind the safety car with 3:35 left to run. The #7 Toyota was moved down to P7, with Neil Jani (#14 Porsche) running in third behind the safety car at the two Audis. LMP2 had Viktor Shaitar (#37 SMP Racing Oreca 03) ahead of teammate Sergei Zlobin in the #27. Sharp ran third. The GTE Pro standings remained the unchanged. Khaled Al-Qubaisi (#88 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR) led GTE Am followed by Francois Perrado in the #75 Prospeed Porsche.
The green flag waved with 3:15 to go. Vilander slipped to fourth behind Bergmeister and his Porsche teammate Patrick Pilet (#92). Seven minutes in Sharp had fallen to Matthew Howson in the #47 KCMG Oreca. The #20 Porsche came in for a new front nose with 3:07 left. Only the top three cars 2, 1, and 14 were on the lead lap.
The #8 Toyota came in for only its second stop with 3:04 in the race, taking new tires. Pilet passed Bergmeister for P2 in the GTE Pro near the same time. Treluyer pitted the #2 Audi after the #8 came in, moving Jani to second for the time being.
Jani took first place from Kristensen on track with 3 hours left in the race. Pilet was pressuring Turner for the GTE Pro lead 6 min later, taking the position at the end of the back stretch. 15 min after making his pass, Jani had built an 18.674-sec lead on Kristensen. Turner ran 3 sec behind Pilet.
Jani was adding several seconds a lap to his lead, having stretched it to 34.530 sec just 4 min later. The #1 Audi pitted from third, taking new tires with 2:40 to go. It was the #1’s third stop, with Jani’s in the #14 yet to come. Bergmeister had passed Turner for third in GTE Pro by the 2:36 mark, Turner pitting shortly after, his third stop for the Porsches’ two. Both of the Porsches came in at 2:30, leaving #92 and #91 with Makowiecki and Tandy now behind the respective wheels and staying in front of the #97 Aston, Mucke now driving.
With 2:20 to go the Top 5 GTE Pro entries were still only separated by 36.616 sec: #92 Porsche, #91 Porsche, #97 Aston, #51 Ferrari (Vilander), #71 Ferrari (Davide Rigon). Jani made his third pit stop and Treluyer retook the lead.
Treluyer brought the #2 Audi in from the lead for its fourth pit stop at 2:06, with Marcel Fassler getting in the car. Jani leapfrogged back to the front and Kristensen in the #1 into second.
With 90 min left Fassler lead in the #2 Audi, the #14 Porsche having come in for its fourth stop and Marc Lieb getting in the cockpit. Ryan Dalziel led LMP2 in the #30 ESM entry. Tandy and Mucke pitted at the same time, running 1-2. Turner took the wheel in the #97 Aston and beat the Porsche out of the pits, with Pilet moving into the lead in the meantime. Tandy was wheeled into the garage, the same fate meeting the #71 Ferrari. The 91 rejoined the fray after a 5-min stop, retaining fourth in class but falling a lap down. The three GTE Pro leaders on the same lap were now Pilet, Turner, and Bruni, 36 sec covering the lot.
Fassler pitted with 1:08 left, giving Lieb the lead and raising the question as to whether the Audi would have to pit one more time following the Porsche’s next stop. Fassler was staying close, behind by just 4.020 sec with 1 hr to go. Pilet’s lead in GTE Pro meanwhile stood at just 0.971 sec over Turner. Klaus Bachler held a 6.561 sec GTE Am lead in the #88 Proton Porsche over Kristian Poulson in the #95 Aston Martin.
Turner passed Pilet on track with 49 min left, taking the GTE Pro lead, and with 45 min left Fassler had closed onto Lieb’s rear spoiler. Lieb pitted next time past.
With 30 min left Fassler’s lead over Lieb stood at 1:09.720, with Lotterer reporting that the #2 would have to come in for a splash of fuel before the end. Leib, however, was falling into the clutches of Buemi in the #8 Toyota, holding only a 6.932-sec margin. Buemi cut that to 0.281 over the course of the next lap. The Toyota made the pass when the two were forced to split LMP2 traffic. He now took up pursuit of the leader, but was one stop short having made four to Fassler’s five.
Lucas Di Grassi passed Lieb in the #1 Audi, taking third place, and with Buemi still needing to stop setting up a possible Audi 1-2. Buemi pitted with 18 min to go, moving Di Grassi in the #1 into P2 and putting Lieb back on the podium in third. Buemi, however, passed Lieb on track to retake third.
Fassler took his splash with 13 min to go, the nearly 1-lap he’d built allowing him to stay in front by 56:064 sec. He took the win, with Di Grassi second and Buemi third for Toyota.
ESM got onto the LMP2 podium in their series debut.
Provisional podiums for each class below:
1 - #2 Audi Sport Team Joest R18 e-tron quattro; Marcel Fassler (Switzerland), Andre Lotterer (Germany), Benoit Treluyer (France)
2 - #1 Audi; Lucas Di Grassi (Brazil), Loic Duval (France), Tom Kristensen (Denmark)
3 - #8 Toyota Racing TS040 Hybrid; Sebastien Buemi (Switzerland), Anthony Davidson (Great Britain), Nicolas Lapierre (France)
1 - #47 KCMG Oreca 03-Nissan; T. Matsuda (Japan), Richard Bradley (Great Britain), Matthew Howson (Great Britain)
2 - #27 SMP Racing Oreca 03-Nissan; Maurizio Mediani (Italy), Nicolas Minassian (France), Sergey Zlobin (Russia)
3 - #30 Extreme Speed Motorsports HPD ARX 03b-Honda; Scott Sharp (United States), Ryan Dalziel (Scotland), Ed Brown (United States).
1 - #97 Aston Martin Racing Vantage GTE; Darren Turner (Great Britain), Stefan Mucke (Germany)
2 - #92 Porsche Team Manthey 911 RSR; Jorg Bergmeister (Germany), Patrick Pilet (France)
3 - #51 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia; Gianmaria Bruni (Italy), Toni Vilander (Finland)
1 - #98 Aston Martin Racing Vantage GTE; Pedro Lamy (Portugal), Christoffer Nygaard (Denmark), Paul Dalla Lana (Canada)
2 - #95 Aston Martin; Richard Stanaway (Great Britain), David Heinemeier-Hannson (Denmark), Kristian Poulsen (Denmark)
3 - #88 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR; Khaled Al-Qubaisi (Abu Dhabi), Klaus Bachler (Austria), Christian Ried (Germany)