Audi has won the opening round of the 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship at Silverstone on Sunday following a thrilling fight with Porsche that saw the race be decided in just the final few laps.
The no. 7 car of Marcel Fassler, Benoit Treluyer and Andre Lotterer claimed the LMP1 class win having fended off the advances of the no. 18 Porsche and the no. 1 Toyota in the final few minutes of the race. At the checkered flag, just 14.8 seconds separated the three manufacturers after six hours of racing.
After going one-two in qualifying on Saturday, Porsche looked poised to make an impressive start to the season, and led the early stages with the no. 17 car piloted for the first stint by Mark Webber.
However, the Australian’s hopes of claiming the first win of the year were quickly dashed due to a problem with the rear drivetrain on the car, causing him to retire the car after 90 minutes.
In the sister no. 18 Porsche, Marc Lieb moved into the lead, but soon found himself embroiled in a battle with the no. 7 Audi, which had fought back at the hands of Treluyer from a poor start caused by a lack of telemetry.
Despite having the straight line advantage, Porsche struggled to pull away from Audi in the corners, creating some fascinating racing throughout the race as the no. 1 Toyota circled behind, ready to pounce should the two leading cars come to blows.
Porsche looked to get the jump on both Audi and Toyota by pitting six times instead of seven, with the no. 18 making its final stop with 50 minutes to go in the race. Neel Jani was tasked with bringing the car home, but Marcel Fassler was pushing on at the front for Audi, trying to create a gap before a final splash and dash pit stop.
However, his efforts were hindered when the stewards at Silverstone deemed the no. 7 car to have gained an advantage by running off track, going wide at the final corner to avoid a GT Aston Martin Racing whilst battling with the no. 18. This left Fassler with a pit stop and a stop/go penalty to serve in the final 20 minutes of the race.
After being given the hurry-up by his engineer, Leena Gade, Fassler completed his two stops and remarkably retained his lead, emerging with a 11 second advantage over Jani with just 12 minutes remaining. Jani pushed on, cutting the gap in half, but eventually ran out of time.
With a record 201 laps on the board and eight pit stops completed, Fassler crossed the line in the no. 7 Audi to win the 6 Hours of Silverstone and clinch the RAC Tourist Trophy, the oldest trophy in motorsport.
“For sure it was really exciting to do these nice fights with Neel,” Fassler said after the race. “A good race with a good end for us.
“I actually don’t know why we got this stop and go penalty, but in the end it was good. I’m just happy to be back on the top step of the podium.”
Jani was just 4.6 seconds behind Fassler at the line, whilst Sebastien Buemi began his title defence in third place, 14.8 seconds down on the race winner. The no. 2 Toyota finished fourth ahead of the no. 8 Audi as both cars hit trouble across the course of the race. The ByKolles car retired with 116 laps on the board during its debut weekend in LMP1.
In LMP2, the G-Drive team made good on its pre-season form and practice showings by claiming a one-two finish in class. The no. 26 Ligier car finished 16 laps down on the lead LMP1 car in fifth overall, with Sam Bird crossing the line first ahead of Pipo Derani in the no. 28 car. Extreme Speed Motorsports completed the class podium with the no. 30 in third place ahead of the all-British no. 42 entry from Strakka Racing.
Defending GT WEC champion Gianmaria Bruni kicked off his title defence in style by winning the GTE Pro class in the no. 51 AF Corse Ferrari, enjoying an advantage of ten seconds over the no. 91 Porsche Team Manthey car at the flag. Davide Rigon and James Calado completed the podium for AF Corse in the no. 71 as Aston Martin Racing finished fourth fifth and six with the no. 95, the no. 97 and the no. 99 respectively.
Pedro Lamy, Paul Dalla Lana and Mathias Lauda did manage to bring some joy to Aston Martin Racing, though, by winning the GTE Am class ahead of AF Corse’s no. 83 and the SMP Racing no. 72. With just 30 seconds separating the top three in class, it was another close affair.
At the start of what looks poised to be the WEC’s biggest season to date, Silverstone played host to an incredible feast of racing on Sunday as the LMP1 titans all laid claim to their title bid. However, a very good omen for the no. 7 car is the fact that the winners of the 6 Hours of Silverstone have always gone on to win the world championship.
The second round of the WEC season takes place at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium on May 2.