WEC 2015 - A one-two in China, plus the 2015 WEC Manufacturers’ title for Porsche and Michelin after a race of two halves
Saturday’s all-dry qualifying session in mild conditions saw Porsche and Ferrari top the LM P1 and LM GTE Pro orders respectively, but Sunday’s poorer weather reshuffled the pack somewhat, notably during the early part of the 2015 6 Hours of Shanghai.
Sunday’s race was essentially divided into two distinct parts, with the first three hours effected by heavy rain which prompted Race Control to kick off the action behind the Safety Car for the first five laps.
When the Safety Car peeled off after round 10 minutes, the real competition got underway as the cars threw up plumes of water, with their Michelin rain tyres capable of clearing up to 120 every second.
In LM P1, the Audi R18 e-tron quattros immediately challenged the Porsche 919 Hybrids which were running first and second, and the early battle also involved the Toyota’s two TS040 Hybrids which tried to make life as hard as possible for the two German makes. It was during this phase of the race that the N°18 Porsche (Dumas/Jani/Lieb) span after a tangle with the N°7 Audi (Fässler/Lotterer/Tréluyer).
At this stage, the two Audis focused on chasing the N°17 Porsche (Bernhard/Webber/Hartley) as closely as possible in order to prevent Brendon Hartley from pulling out too big a gap, but the Toyotas started to lose ground.
The low grip and difficult visibility forced Race Control to deploy Full Course Yellows twice on safety grounds, while a number of accidents brought out yellow flags.
By the two-and-a-half hour mark, the N°18 Porsche had fought back to join the fight between the Audis and its N°17 sister car. After the third round of refuelling stops, the N°7 Audi – the drivers of which can still win the 2015 Drivers’ crown – and the similar N°8 car (Di Grassi/Duval/Jarvis) succeeded in appearing in front, with the two Porsches around five seconds back.
It was around this time that the rain started to ease off and eventually stop, meaning there was less and less water on the track. That’s when Porsche chose to double stint on rain tyres, a strategy that saw the team’s two cars recover the lead before steadily extending their cushion as the track dried out more or less completely over the final three hours.
The two 919 Hybrids eventually took the chequered flag in first and second places, thereby clinching the 2015 WEC Manufacturers’ crown and claiming the team’s fifth straight victory since June’s Le Mans 24 Hours.
Meanwhile, victory for Bernhard/Webber/Hartley has put the crew of the N°17 Porsche in a strong position for the 2015 Drivers’ title, ahead of Fässler/Lotterer/Tréluyer (N°7 Audi) who were third in China.
In LM P2, Michelin tyres give Pegasus Racing the wings to appear in front
Greek mythology’s Pegasus is a winged white horse. In endurance racing, it is the name of Michelin’s only LM P2 partner in Shanghai.
The experienced Franco-Chinese team Pegasus Racing runs an open-cockpit Morgan-Nissan of an older generation compared with the closed-cockpit cars which currently dominate the class at WEC level.
Cheng/Tung/Brundle (N°29 Morgan) started the 6 Hours of Shanghai from second-from-last place in LM P2 after lapping almost four seconds slower than the class’s fastest prototypes in qualifying.
Even so, in the hands of Alex Brundle, the car succeeded in slicing its way up the order, helped by its Michelin tyres in the torrential rain. The British driver succeeded in lapping almost 15 seconds faster than all the other LM P2 runners!
Pegasus Racing/Michelin ended up pulling out a substantial lead over the other, potentially faster prototypes and the N°29 Morgan still topped the class’s leaderboard at the four-hour mark.
As the conditions dried, though, it began to fall back gradually and was finally fifth over the finish line.
“We are very proud of the performance produced by our partner Pegasus Racing and we were delighted to see it run at the front in LM P2 in the European Le Mans Series when the conditions were poor,” says Jérôme Mondain, manager of Michelin’s FIA WEC programme.
Ferrari and Porsche entertain the Chinese spectators in LM GTE Pro
The 6 Hours of Shanghai produced another breath-taking clash between Ferrari and Porsche in LM GTE Pro as the two prestigious makes fought for potentially decisive points in the class’s 2015 World Cup.
AF Corse’s N°51 (Bruni/Vilander) and N°71 (Rigon/Calado) Ferrari 458 Italias started from pole in their bid to ward off Porsche Team Manthey’s N°91 (Lietz/Christensen) and N°92 (Pilet/Makowiecki) Porsche 911 RSRs.
As the race progressed, the German cars started to show their heels as the two Italian cars seemed to be less at ease in the wet conditions. As the track dried during the race’s second half, the N°51 Ferrari – in the hands of Gianmaria Bruni – succeeded in finding a good pace while at the same time enjoying efficient pit stops.
Even so, the win finally went to the N°91 Porsche, thereby earning big Drivers’ points for the championship’s leader, Austria’s Richard Lietz. Second and third places in the class went to Bruni/Vilander (N°51 Ferrari) and Pilet/Makowiecki (N°92 Porsche).
Victory for the Ferrari 458 Italia of Perrodo/Collard/Aguas in LM GTE Am
AF Corse’s Perrodo/Collard/Aguas reduced their deficit in the LM GTE Am standings to SMP Racing’s Shaytar/Bertolini/Basov (N°72 Ferrari 458 Italia) thanks to a fine class win, ahead of the N°98 Aston Martin V8 Vantage (Della Lana/Lamy/Lauda) and the N°72 Ferrari 458 Italia.
The last round of the 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship will take teams to Bahrain on November 21, 2015.