Porsche Team locked down the front row in qualifying, the #18 919 Hybrid (Romain Dumas, Neel Jani, Marc Lieb) on pole next to the #17 (Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley). Audi Sport Team Joest (R18 e-tron quattro) followed on Row 2 and Toyota Gazoo Racing (TS040 Hybrid) on Row 3.
LMP2 was led to the green flag by Matthew Howson, Richard Bradley, and 24 Hours of Le Mans overall winner Nick Tandy (#47 KCMG Oreca 05 – Nissan). Romain Rusinov, Julien Canal, and Sam Bird (#26 G-Drive Racing Ligier JS P2 – Nissan) lined up second.
AF Corse Ferrari topped GTE Pro the #51 458 Italia (Gianmaria Bruni, Toni Vilander) on pole and the #71 sister car (Davide Rigon, James Calado) in second spot. Christoffer Nygaard and Marco Sorensen were the fastest Aston Martin Racing Vantage V8 (#95), starting third next to the fastest Porsche Team Manthey 911 RSR, the #92 driven by Patrick Pilet and Frederic Makowiecki.
Victor Shaytar, Andrea Bertolini, and Aleksey Basov topped GTE Am qualifying (#72 SMP Racing Ferrari 458 Italia), topping Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy, and Matthias Lauda in the #98 Aston.
Electronic issues struck the #51 Ferrari early in the race. The #18 Porsche was penalized for excessive use of energy and passed near the 2 hour mark by its #17 teammate (Brendon Hartley) for the overall race lead. The #26 G-Drive Racing entry led the #47 KCMG pole-sitter. Porsche Team Manthey’s #91 (Richard Lietz, Michael Christensen) led GTE Pro over the #71 Ferrari, with Proton Racing in the Top 2 GTE Am slots; the #77 Dempsey Porsche 911 RSR (Patrick Dempsey, Patrick Long, Marco Seefried) leading the #88 Abu Dhabi Porsche (CXX Ried, K. Al Qubaisi, and 24 Hour of Le Mans overall winner Earl Bamber).
The race’s third full-course caution came out with 3:36 left when one of the Tequila Patron LMP2 entries spun. Race stewards called the #18 Porsche in for another excess energy consumption penalty, its third. The #47 passed G-Drive’s #26 to take the LMP2 lead. Lauda led GTE Am in the #98 Aston.
The #26 pitted with 3:22 left. The #17 Porsche also came in, Bernhard taking over for Hartley and Lucas di Grassi taking the race lead in the #8 Audi. The #47 pitted 2 min later, retaining the LMP2 lead. The leading Audi pitted shortly afterwards, with the #17 retaking the point.
The fourth yellow flew when Pierre Kaffer (#4 Team Bykolles CLM P1/01-AER) lost his rear wing coming down the start-finish straight. The #92 911 (Makowiecki) crashed into the back of the #71 Ferrari as it decelerated, damaging its left rear. The two ran 2-3 in GTE Pro at the time.
When green-flag action resumed the #92 Porsche (Pilet) passed the #71 (Rigon) on track, the latter still suffering from clear tire rub on the left rear. The Ferrari tried to retake the spot and was forced wide by the Porsche. With 2:56 left the respective class leaders were Bernhard (#17), Howson (#47), Lietz (#91), and Lauda (#98). Bernhard’s lead was 56 sec over the #7 Audi and Andre Lotterer.
The #71 pitted at 2:49, with the left rear cut down again. The #47 pitted from the LMP2 lead with 2:34 to go, Bradley getting behind the wheel. The #26 took the class lead, driven by Rusinov. Long (#77) led GTE Am with 2:26 to go. Rusinov came in at 2:23. At 2:13 Webber led Jani by 56 sec, the #7 Audi running 1 lap down. The #47 was back in front in LMP2.
The #77 pitted at 1:55, Seefried taking over.
Porsche Team took a 1-2 finish in the end, Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley driving the #17 to their first victory. It was the second consecutive WEC win for Porsche after its Le Mans triumph in June. Porsche also took victory and second place in the GTE Pro. The win for Webber, Hartley and Bernhard put them just 17 points behind Silverstone and Spa victors Lotterer, Fassler and Treluyer in the fight for the 2015 FIA World Endurance Driver’s Championship standings.
“Neel took off (at the start),” said Bernhard. “I could not keep the speed because this piece of carbon stuck in my tire. The balance of the car was gone but once this was fixed, the car ran perfectly. We had a good balance. Car 18 had a couple of issues so we were able to take the lead. Overall a very good day and a good race. There were lots of close races last year; we’ve been looking forward to this moment for a long time.”
The #18 Porsche recovered from its early penalties behind exceptional stints from Jani and Marc Lieb in the race’s final hours. Jani dueled both of the Audi R18 etron quattro’s in the final hour, ultimately taking second at the final pit stop, after which Lieb was able to ward off any threat from Di Grassi in the #8 Audi and Lotterer in the #7. Lotterer found a way by Di Grassi for third place in the final moments of the race, keeping the #7’s 100% podium record in 2015 intact.
Toyota Racing finished fifth and sixth after a clean run. The reigning champions – Anthony Davidson, Kazuki Nakajima, and Sebastien Buemi in the #1 beat the #2 of Stephane Sarrazin, Alex Wurz, and Mike Conway.
KCMG scored its second LMP2 win in as many races to extend its title leads in the drivers' and teams' title fight. Nick Tandy initially opened up a healthy gap over the chasing G-Drive Racing Ligier-Nissan entries, but the lead was temporarily lost after the second scheduled stops. Matt Howson was able to chase down Roman Rusinov’s #26 G-Drive, with subsequent stints from Bradley and Tandy sealing the victory and extending their class lead to 15 points. Rusinov, Canal and Bird were 71 sec back in second place, with Luis Felipe Derani, Gustavo Yacaman, and Ricardo Gonzalez following in the sister #28.
The #91 Porsche duo of Lietz and Christensen led the majority of the six hours following the #51 AF Corse Ferrari’s problems, scoring Christensen’s first WEC win. The win moved Lietz to the top of the FIA World Endurance Cup for GT Drivers points standings, just a single point ahead of Calado and Rigon.
The Pilet/Makowiecki #92 Porsche was eventually penalized for its contact with the AF Corse Ferrari, Pilet taking a drive-through in the final half hour of the race. By then, however, the gap to third was long enough to not affect the race results. Calado and Rigon finshed third.
“It was hard – not just for us but for everybody,” said Lietz. “It’s not easy around here with the gravel traps waiting for you to make a mistake. That was the key – we controlled our pace a little towards the end but of course we are very happy with the end result, it was a great team effort this weekend.”
The GTE Am podium had the #72 Ferrari on top, followed by the #98 Aston, and the #83 AF Corse Ferrari driven by Francois Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard, and Rui Aguas.
The fifth round of the World Endurance Championship will take place Sept. 19 at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Tex.
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