Audi, Porsche, Toyota. All three had highs and lows in the season-opening round at Silverstone. Audi crossed the line first, but surrendered the victory to Porsche on a post-race technical infraction. Toyota took second. But all three marks had one car that didn’t finish, with the #12 Rebellion making the podium.
Porsche Team locked down the front row, the #1 919 Hybrid (Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley) outpacing its #2 sister car (Romain Dumas, Neel Jani, Marc Lieb). Toyota started third (#6 Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050 Hybrid; Stephane Sarrazin, Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi) and Audi Sport Team Joest fourth (#8 R18; Lucas di Grassi, Loic Duval, Oliver Jarvis). The #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca 05-Nissan topped LMP2 (Roman Rusinov, Nathanael Berthon, Rene Rast), followed by the #36 Signatech Alpine A460-Nissan (Gustavo Menezes, Nicolas Lapierre, Stephane Richelmi).
Ferraris topped the GTE Pro grid, Davide Rigon and Sam Bird (#71 AF Corse 488 GTE) ahead of teammates (#51) Gianmaria Bruni and James Calado. The #97 Aston Martin Racing Vantage V8 qualified third (Richie Stanaway, Fernando Rees, Jonathan Adam) and the #66 Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT fourth (Billy Johnson, Stefan Mucke, Olivier Pla). Aston Martin was quickest in GTE Am (#98 Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda), the #83 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia lining up next (Francois Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard, Rui Aguas).
The start occurred without major incident. Bruni passed Bird for the GTE Pro lead in the early running, with di Grassi taking third overall. Lieb lost his hybrid drive and dropped back to P6 just 13 min into the race, moving the #8 Audi to second and the #7 (Benoit Treluyer) to third. Two minutes later Sebastian Buemi (#5 Toyota) passed Treluyer for the spot.
One hour into the race and following the first round of pit stops the #5 Toyota had moved to the lead, Buemi still at the wheel, 8.3 sec ahead of Bernhard in the #1 Porsche and 24.1 up on Di Grassi in the #8 Audi. Rast led LMP2 by 16 sec on the #44 Manor Oreca 05-Nissan and Will Stevens. Calado led Rigon by 10.3 sec in GTE Pro with Lamy 5.5 up on Perrodo in GTE Am.
At the halfway point the #5 was still in front, Anthony Davidson driving, 1 lap ahead of the #8 Audi and 2 ahead of the #6 sister car. The #1 Porsche had suffered drive-train problems. The #44 Manor led LMP2, The #51 Ferrari GTE Pro and the #98 Aston GTE Am.
Both the #6 Toyota and #7 Audi suffered damage in separate collisions with LMP2 entrants. The #7 returned to competition at with 2 hr 43 min to go. The #6 followed 4 min later, Sarrazin at the helm. Lieb and the #2 Porsche had moved into third in the meantime, 3 laps behind the leading #5 machine.
Sarrazin was only out for 3 min before the #6 was pulled back into the garage. The #5 was running 2 sec/lap quicker than the second place Audi. The #36 Alpine closed on the #44 in LMP2 which was then spun by one of the Rebellion LMP1 entries, putting the #36 on point. Davidson pitted from the lead at 2:25, with Kaz Nakajima taking over.
Calado ran 21 second ahead of Rigon in GTE Pro with 2:09 left. Both cars pitted with Bruni and Bird getting in. Smoke began coming from the #5’s exhaust and it pitted with 1:53 to go, getting pulled into the garage. Jarvis assumed the lead in the #8 Audi. Nakajima got out of the Toyota at 1:47. The #2 Porsche with Jani behind the wheel moved into second and Matheo Tuscher in the #13 Rebellion R-One-AER, third.
With 1:36 left Jarvis led overall, Memezes topped LMP2 for Signatech Alpine, and Ferraris led both GTE classes, Bruni in Pro and Aguas in Am. Jarvis pitted from the lead a few minutes later, retaking the track with two laps on the Porsche and one more scheduled stop to take. Lauda and the Aston had returned to the front of the class by the 1:24 mark.
The #66 Ford GT hit the tire wall at the top of Eau Rouge hard after dropping its right-rear off the surface at the corner, Mucke behind the wheel with 1:07 left. The field circulated behind the safety car. Jarvis’ Audi was pulled into the garage from the lead during the caution but returned to the track in the lead by just under two laps. The green flag waved with 42 min to go.
The closest contest on track was for second in LMP2, with the #31 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P2-Nissan leading the #43 RGR Sport by Morand Ligier.
Jarvis took the checkered flag first, closing he and Di Grassi’s first WEC win. The #2 Porsche’s second-place finish extended its championship points lead. Rebellion finished 3-4, its best-ever combined WEC finish. The #36 Alpine won LMP2 ahead of the #31 ESM entry and Manor’s #45 Oreca 05-Nissan (Matt Rao, Richard Bradley, Roberto Mehri.
AF Corse’s #51 Ferrari retired with less than 10 min to go, surrendering the GTE Pro win to the team’s #71 entry. The #67 Ford GT (Marino Franchitti, Andy Priaulx, Harry Tincknell) finished in class. The #98 Aston topped GTE Am, followed by the #83 Ferrari.
“Today, the drivers, the team and the technology had to show real endurance qualities,” said Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. “I am very happy about the first joint victory clinched by Lucas, Loïc and Oliver. Sincere congratulations on their impeccable performance.”
“This was our first joint victory,” said Jarvis. “Especially in this of all races we hardly expected it, because our pure lap times weren’t good enough this weekend. But we stayed clear of all trouble and did a good job of finishing the race. That’s a fantastic success for the team which it has deserved for a long time. What a great feeling before Le Mans.”