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Porsche Dominates U.S. Round of WEC

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 20 2015
Porsche 919s run side by side through a turn during Saturday's World Endurance Championship race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. (Photos courtesy Porsche North America)

Porsche 919 Hybrids run side by side through a turn during Saturday’s World Endurance Championship race at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. (Photos courtesy Porsche North America)

AUSTIN, Tex. – Does Audi Sport have anything for Porsche’s 919 Hybrid in the second half of the World Endurance Championship season? Judging from the qualifying and results at the Circuit of the Americas, the answer is probably not.

bugfeaturePorsche Team won Le Mans going away in June with both better lap times and fuel efficiency from its combination of a V-4 turbo and energy regeneration from braking and exhaust. It followed with a victory at the Nurburgring.

At COTA in the first race of the season’s second half, the song remained the same in America’s live music capitol. The 919 Hybrids swept the front row in qualifying – determined by the average time of each car’s two drivers – and then proceeded to outrun the Audi R18 e-tron quattro for almost the entire duration of the six-hour, day-night event. Only an electrical problem that sent the No. 18 Porsche to the garage with 33 minutes remaining
prevented a one-two finish.

The only other problem for Porsche was a one-minute penalty to the eventual winning No. 17 car of Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley when a mechanic worked on a cockpit problem while the car was being refueled on the team’s second stop. Once a penalty

The No. 17 Porsche 919 cuts through the Texas sunset en route to the podium at Circuit of the Americas on Saturday.

The No. 17 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley cuts through the Texas sunset en route to the top step of the podium at Circuit of the Americas on Saturday.

was administered it put the pole-winning No. 18 Porsche of Romain Dumas, Marc Lieb and Neil Jani into the lead with a 60-second cushion until its late-race trip to the garage.

The No. 7 Audi of Andre Lotterer, Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer finished third, just over one minute behind the winning Porsche, which was paced in the closing minutes in light of the sister car’s problem.

The result came after WEC officials did its annual rules adjustment following the 24-hour, where, it was implied by Audi officials, Porsche had finally revealed just how much power had been developed from its unique hybrid system. Audi, meanwhile, has continued to use its V-6 turbo diesel coupled with regeneration from braking and remains behind on the development curve.

Although the No. 18 Porsche started from the pole, it was the No. 17 Hybrid of  Webber that snuck past at the top of the hill at Turn 1 on the first lap in a moment that probably had Porsche’s brain trust holding its collective breath in the pits.

Webber said qualifying had been frustrating due to a red flag period that cut short the No. 17 squad’s two-man effort. So he elected to make up for it on the start. “I know from having done a lot of races how difficult it is to pass once you get into a groove,” he said. “So I decided to get it done from the get go.”

The No. 17 led at the end of each of the first three hours, which included two full course caution periods, from its sister car. It was not until the end of the fourth hour that the penalty was administered and the 17 relinquished its lead, not gaining it back until the No. 18 headed for the garage.

For Webber, who competed at COTA in Formula 1 for Red Bull and at the U.S. Grand Prix in Indianapolis for various teams, it was a victory on American soil at last. “We’ll probably see sunrise tonight,” said the Aussie as he headed off to the post-race party.

The runner-up No. 7 Audi had stayed within hailing distance but was nearly a lap down despite the two yellow periods and never threatened the Porsches. Even so, the redoubtable Lotterer nearly set the race’s fastest lap in his closing stint, falling short by a tenth of a second behind Hartley, who ran the final stint in the winning Porsche as temperatures dropped. “With the boost they have, it’s easier for them in traffic,” said Lotterer. “They have a lot more power.”

The windfall of an additional position helped keep the winning Porsche drivers at bay in their battle with Lotterer, Fassler and Treluyer for the driver championship. But the message was clear if the Audi drivers, now just 10 points ahead unofficially with three races remaining, are to win on pace. “We have to keep pushing to stay in front in the championship,” said Treluyer. Porsche continues to lead the manufacturer category by 33 points unofficially.

Loic Duval, Lucas di Grassi and Oliver Jarvis finished third in the No. 8 Audi, dropping back after a pit lane driving infraction that resulted in a stop-and-go penalty.

Defending world champion Toyota Motorsport, which has fallen behind in the pursuit of megajoules from its hybrid system, lost its No. 2 car after a spin by Mike Conway put his TS040 into the barrier shortly before halfway. The No. 1 Toyota of Sebastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima was generally two to three seconds off the pace and was more than two laps down by halfway, eventually finishing fourth, 10 laps down.

American Ed Brown, owner of Extreme Speed Motorsports, brought out the first full course caution with a crash in his Ligier JS P2-HPD after clipping the curb in Turn 20 due to a brake problem. But he could take solace in the fact the sister car of Scott Sharp, Ryan Dalziel and David Heinemeier Hansson had one of its strongest performance of the season in the LMP2 category.

Using some pit strategy by double stinting tires, the No. 30 Extreme Speed entry took over the lead during the early round of green flag pit stops with Dalziel at the wheel before the Ligier-Nissan of G-Drive Racing and the Oreca-Nissan of KCMG reeled it back in. The team eventually finished fourth due to the chassis not adapting to the cooling temperatures behind the winning Ligier of G-Drive Racing driven by Sam Bird, Roman Rusinov and Julien Canal.  It was Extreme Speed’s best finish of the season.

Porsche had its way in the LMGTE Pro category as well, where the two 911 RSR entries of Porsche Team Manthey steamrolled the competition, including the pesky Ferrari of AF Corse, which finished third. The Porsches ran in tandem throughout the race with the No. 92 entry of Frederic Makowiecki and Patrick Pilet trailing the winning No. 91 that carried points leader Richard Leitz and co-driver Michael Christensen.

Another bright spot for American fans was the solid showing of Dempsey-Proton Racing’s Porsche in the LMGTE Am class. After qualifying on the class pole, factory driver Patrick Long (rated Platinum), team owner Patrick Dempsey (Bronze rated) and Marco Seefried (a Silver) led by 13 seconds once darkness had fallen. But the strategy of one fewer pit stop for tires eventually caught up with the Dempsey-Proton Porsche, plus Dempsey’s slower pace compared to the other Bronze drivers.  The team, which finished on the podium at Le Mans, came home fourth behind the winning Ferrari of SMP Racing, where Andrea Bertolini was the Platinum driver. He shared with two Russians: Victor Shaytar (Silver) and Aleksey Basov (Bronze).


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 20 2015
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