6 hours of Nürburgring for the FIA World Endurance Championship offered fantastic races in all four classes.
In the LMP1 class there was a battle between the three factory teams, despite Toyota’s general lack speed over the weekend. What’s special about Nürburgring is that the track requires extremely high downforce on the cars, which is why the LMP1 teams have to use the third version of their bodywork this season. One that will be used on this track, as well as in Mexico.
Audi Sport Team Joest started the race with both cars in the front row, but the #8 car already lost their position to Porsche #1 on the first lap. After that there was a battle that lasted throughout the race between the two German teams. Audi was the quicker car, however Porsche got in front and claimed the victory at their home track, thanks to the clever pit strategy and a bit of luck during some Full Course Yellow periods.
For a long time, it looked like Porsche was going to finish 1-2, but car #2, the Le Mans winner, didn’t make it easy for itself. Early in the race Neel Jani made a mistake in the traffic and spun under the braking towards turn 1, when he cut in front of Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Team UK #66. The car was okay and could continued the race, until Marc Lieb hit Abu Dhabi Proton Racing #88 with a little over an hour to go. The incident gave a drive through penalty for Lieb. After that Porsche #2 got involved in an intense duel with both Audi Sport Team Joest #8 and #7. Under the duel #2 car also got hit by SMP Racing LMP2 #27 and lost a part of their rear end, which forced them to pit and change the damaged part.
When the chequered flag fell after six hours, it was Porsche #1 who crossed it first, with Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley behind the wheel, in front of Audi Sport Team Joest #8 and their sister car #7.
Porsche #2 finished fourth in front of both Toyotas.
It means that Porsche #2 is still keeping their lead in the championship, but both Audis have come closer, although there is Toyota #6 between them.
Amongst the privateers in LMP1, Bykolles Racing Team #4 was in front of both Rebellion Racing cars for a long time, but they unfortunately had to retire with around two hours to go. That meant Rebellion Racing #13 once again took the victory in front of #12. It was their third win this season, but because they retired at Le Mans, they are still behind #12 on the table, whilst Bykolles is quite far away in 3rd position.
In GTE-Pro there were dramas on both the track and in the pits. Aston Martin Racing #95 got the Pole Position but lost the lead already at the start of the race. Nicki Thiim fought his way back to the front and when Marco Sørensen took over, they were having a huge lead. However, the team was extremely unfortunate with a few FCY periods, so halfway through the race they fell back to the second place, and when the last hour of the race began they had fallen even further back to the fourth place.
It really wasn’t Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Team UK’s day. At the first pit stop, the fuel valve didn’t close and fuel spilt out over the car and into the cockpit. It caused towering high flames in the pits. The team and track’s fire fighters were quick to extinguish the fire, but the car lost a lot of laps as the fuel valve problem had to be fixed before they could go back to the track.
#66 was in a favourable position, but a mistake under a pit stop gave them a penalty and caused them to lose a podium place. Instead, it was AF Corse #51 who won the race in front of #71 and Aston Martin Racing #95. With this result, the battle for the top spot of the championship intensified. #66 is still leading, but #71 and #95 are only seven points away from the lead.
G-Drive Racing #26 was the quickest car in the LMP2 class this weekend with Pole Position in their hands. Unfortunately they had to retire from the lead due to gearbox problems. Signatech Alpine #36 didn’t waste the opportunity and snatched their third victory in a row. RGR Sport by Morand #43 finished second, whilst Extreme Speed Motorsport #31 claimed the last place on the podium. #36 also has a comfortable lead in the championship in front of #43 and #26.
In GTE-Am class, Abu Dhabi Proton Racing #88 started from Pole Position, but the car didn’t have as much speed as what they showed in the qualifying, and it slowly but surely fell further back. Yet, they were not really out of the battle for a place on the podium when they got hit by the aforementioned Porsche #2. The victory went to Aston Martin Racing #98, who had had a great race, in front of KCMG #78, that later on got disqualified because the car was too low, and that gave the remaining podium places to AF Corse #83 and Larbre Competition #50 respectively.
In the championship #83 is leading in front of #98 and #88.
After Le Mans there was a lot of discussions about the Balance Of Performance in both GTE classes, but in my opinion it was almost perfect this time. Perhaps it was just the characteristic of the track or the FCY periods, but at least Ford, Aston Martin and Ferrari drove really close together – bumper to bumper for a long time during the middle third of the race. We saw the same pattern in the GTE-Am when the professionals were behind the wheel, until the Gentlemen drivers took over and the difference grew bigger. But of course it had nothing to do with the cars.
For the fifth round of the FIA World Endurance Championship, the teams will travel to Mexico on 1-3 September.