Porsche LMP1 team prepares to begin FIA WEC title defense

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It’s an interesting year ahead for Porsche as it prepares to defend two titles within the FIA World Endurance Championship.

Porsche Team, of course, won the final six races of the 2015 season – including the 24 Hours of Le Mans with the team’s third car of Nico Hulkenberg, Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber scoring a surprise but welcome overall win.

None of the three will have the chance to win overall this year – Hulkenberg is at the European Grand Prix in Baku, Azerbaijan while Tandy and Bamber will be in separate Porsche 911 RSRs in GTE-Pro.

It’s the team’s World Championship-winning trio of Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley, though, who will look to get off to a better start this year than last in their No. 1 Porsche 919 Hybrid. Their first win didn’t come until the 6 Hours of Nürburgring in July.

“We have had good tire testing, good endurance running and have improved constantly,” Bernhard said in Porsche’s advance release. “To me, Silverstone stands for heritage and driving fun. There couldn’t be a better track to kick off the season. In 2014 and 2015, our car missed out on a tiny bit of luck there, which hopefully will change now.

“Mark has won in every race category in Silverstone, so now it’s time he also gets a win there at the wheel of a prototype. Also Brendon has a great Silverstone tally. Let’s go now.”

Webber, as Bernhard noted above, has secured some famous wins at Silverstone in the past – notably his “not bad for a number two driver” crack after winning the 2010 British Grand Prix for Red Bull.

“The number one looks gorgeous on our Porsche,” Webber said. “It is the fruits of everything we have done last year, and we will have to work incredibly hard to keep it in our team. We’re super respectful of the opposition.

“Silverstone is a track on which you really can let fast cars like our prototypes go. I’m expecting a good crowd again for the season’s opening round, because the British fans like sports car racing a lot.”

In the second car, the No. 2 Porsche, Romain Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb look for a more consistent challenge from a results standpoint.

Team principal Andreas Seidl outlined the technical changes to the revised Porsche 919 this year. A reduction in fuel consumption has posed challenges to the manufacturers, but they’ve all sought to get on top of them – times were close to last year’s pace at the Prologue test and only figure to improve from here.

“We have kept the car’s concept and thanks to this stability were able to develop the 919 in detail,” Seidl said. “Weight reduction and performance improvement from various components have made the 919 even more efficient. Suspension and aero development have meant better handling.

“For the first time we have a high downforce aero package in place for Silverstone circuit’s fast corners. In the previous years we had no resources to do that, because we focused so much on Le Mans. Since the 2015 WEC finale in November we have covered almost 23,000 kilometers [14,290 miles] of testing with the 919 in different specifications.

“It was partly endurance and partly performance testing. Also as a team we have improved over the winter. We are ready for the new season and excited to see were we stand compared to our competition.”

Porsche also has the GTE-Pro crown to defend, albeit with the Dempsey-Proton Racing team rather than a works run effort. Still, expect Richard Lietz and Michael Christensen to do well throughout the course of the season in their No. 77 Porsche 911 RSR in the seven-car class.

The Dempsey-Proton Porsche is the lone Porsche of seven; there’s two Ferraris, Fords and Aston Martins apiece.

Porsche also has three cars entered in GTE-Am. They’re listed below:

  • No. 78 KCMG Porsche 911 RSR, Wolf Henzler, Joel Camathias, Christian Ried
  • No. 86 Gulf Racing Porsche 911 RSR, Michael Wainwright, Ben Barker, Adam Carroll
  • No. 88 Abu Dhabi Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR, Khaled Al Qubaisi, David Heinemeier Hansson, Klaus Bachler (substituting for Patrick Long)

While the Abu Dhabi Proton Porsche has a more traditional pro-am pro-Silver-Bronze lineup, the Gulf and KCMG efforts have deployed arguably questionably rated Silvers (rising pro stars without pro Gold or Platinum ratings) to fill out the lineups. Camathias and Barker wouldn’t be mistaken for amateurs as they’re decent shoes, with Barker in particular a young Englishman on the rise.