Sunday, 20 April 2014

WEC 2014, 1st round, Silverstone

A great weekend of racing!

Friday's conditions were dry but chilly.  Track action comprised International F3, ELMS and WEC free practice sessions.

As ever the radio le mans team were on hand to give information and interviews with the drivers and team personnel.

The LMP1 cars were quick, phenomenally quick on both entry and exit of corners.  The main LMP1 manufacturer teams traded times as each one went through their testing programmes.  FP1 and FP2 allowed the teams to run through their programmes and ensure that drivers got enough time in the cars.  The 3 manufacturer teams were obviously watching each other and interested in the relative performance of their competitors.  Initially the teams were all running line astern, two by two.  The LMP1 teams had a few driver changes over the closed season and of course Porsche had re-entered the LMP1 fray.  Rebellion had a largely unchanged driver line up, but were using their old car due to delays with their new car.  It's hoped that both of the new cars will be racing at Spa, which is the next round of the WEC for 2014.

The Toyotas looked strong and quick and seemed to have a real urgency about them.  The cars look purposeful.  The LMP1 Porsches looked purposeful and almost as quick as the Toyotas.  The Audis are always impressive, but seemed to lack the edge of the other two manufacturers.  It's thought that Audi may well have made an incorrect selection on the combination of Hybrid Power vs. Traditional Power that they have chosen for their car.  Of course it's still very early in the season, the cars have had a lot of changes, both in terms of power plant and deploying the hybrid power, so only time will tell and that time may well only be 6 or 8 hours into the 24 hours itself.  You can't discount Audi, especially with 3 entries, but Toyota seem to be determined.  Porsche will probably be happy with completing the 24 hour race, to gain as much current information as possible about their package.

There were a number of interesting things to do in the Fan Zone.  The WEC had an area where race attendees could drive 3 laps of Silverstone.  Popbangcolour was completing an installation, quality as always and also interested in talking to fans.  The accessibility is something that the WEC has really done well.  Unfortunately the same can't be said of Timing - the WEC have locked down the timing data and either you have to pay for access to the information and also get a little information from a free App (Android and iOS).

Qualifying saw the number 7 Toyota take Pole Position.  The makes were evenly mixed up, with Audi in 2nd and Porsche in 3rd.

Race day, it was going to be cold, overcast and there was always a threat of rain.  The main question would be how much, when and for how long...  Audi certainly employ one of the best firms to supply a weather prediction service, would that make the difference for them?  Of course the main thing is to look at the circuit conditions you are actually racing in, you can't second guess the weather.

There was an opportunity to meet and greet a lot of the drivers at 10 am on Sunday.  The pitlane walk was busy.  There were two long queues snaking back from the top and bottom entrances to the pits..  We managed to get close to most of the cars and drivers, but the Porsche LMP1 drivers and cars were mostly impossible to gain access to.  In fact at one point the crowd passing the Porsche garages were at a standstill, literally no one could move!!  The Porsche team created a real buzz about the race and interest.

The race started at 12:00, prompt.  The Audis pushed the Toyotas, with the Porsches taking up a grandstand seat behind those 4 ahead of them and looked to ensure that they completed the 6 hours race with as much data as possible.  Audi and Toyota both seemed determined to stamp their authority on the 2014 WEC, neither giving an inch.  The two Rebellions ran together and unfortunately looked slow (comparatively).  LMP2 seemed to lack a real edge to it, which was a shame, they mostly ran around anonymously.  GT Pro and GT Am generated some great battles and there was a real ebb and flow to them.  Initially Ginmaria Bruni led the two factory Porsches, but eventually both Porsches found their way past the Ferrari and started to pull away from it.  Back in Am, the battle was more evenly spread between the manufacturers, with Aston looking quite decent, but also Ferrari and Porsche featuring.

The Astons didn't perform well and much of the 5mm ride height increase was made, but we're led to believe that the Astons were also quite detuned over the weekend, so maybe a certain amount of brinkmanship is being played out, to ensure that they can surprise their competitors when they get to Le Mans in June...

The race seemed to settle down into a rhythm in the first hour, but as the rain started to fall quite a few events suddenly meant that the Audis lost their lead, in quite dramatic fashion, at what was the penultimate corner before the circuit was reconfigured.  The number 1 Audi had a fairly big shunt and as most teams will tell you if the conditions are wet the cars don't lose much speed before impacts and they can be quite heavy.  The car was removed and got back to the pits, but the car was retired due to the damage suffered.  The lead running Porsche also suffered an odd issue where it seemed to lose one of it's wheels and had to limp back to the pits.  This car was eventually retired.  Later on in the race the number 2 Audi had a similar incident to the number 1 Audi and was also retired.  This is the first double non finish for Audi since 2011.  The Toyotas briefly fought each other for the lead of the race, whilst the sole remaining Porsche tried to get on level terms with the Toyotas, but it was never quite on the same pace.  The single remaining Rebellion LMP1 managed to hold on to 4th and the top ten was rounded of by a number of the GT runners, the LMP2 cars seemed to quietly fall away from the race and also suffered when running in traffic.

The rain started to fall quite heavily with about 1 1/2 hours left to go...  With about 45 minutes left to run the Safety Car (SC) was deployed, but the rain got heavier and heavier with the race eventually being red flagged.  Toyota triumphed with a 1-2 and Porsche posted a 3rd place finish in their first WEC race of 2014.  Both teams will be happy to have completed the races, gaining lots of data that they can use to further understand their packages and hopefully improve their setups.

Toyota looked dominant.  Audi seemed flustered.  Porsche quietly studious.  The 2014 WEC got off to an excellent start!