What a year it has been on the WEC circuit in 2014, with the old order being pushed aside (in a way), and Toyota claiming pole position in the Championship battle at the last race of the season. But before we get all emotional about the winners, let us take a step back and see how the season unfolded in our FIA WEC 2014 summary.
After the drivers of the #2 Audi R18 e-tron quattro, Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen and Loic Duval were crowned World Champions in 2013, the 2014 season saw a resurgent Toyota team at the opening Prologue in March at the Circuit Paul Ricard in France. Porsche re-entered the scene after a 15 year absence, but while their driver line-up needed no introduction, it was their car that got everyone talking. While Porsche are not inclined to take risks, they are not averse to taking the odd calculated gamble, but the question was, why on earth did they opt for a V4 petrol engine to drive their LMP1 919 Hybrid car? Time would tell…
The battle for pole was a real ding-dong affair at the season opener at Silverstone, with the final starting order being Toyota-Audi-Porsche. Although practice and qualifying had taken place in the dry, the forecast was for rain on the Sunday, and boy, did it rain! Toyota’s pace showed right from the green lights at Silverstone in April, taking first and second place in a rain-shortened race, with the #20 Porsche of Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley grabbing third place. Despite a few mutterings from certain quarters that the race was shortened, Porsche were probably quite happy to grab a podium place on debut. Things were looking quite bright for the Porsche team on their first outing then, but one must remember that both Audis were involved in shunts and were out early on. In the GTE Pro class, the two 911 RSRs made a clean sweep with first and second places.
The next race at Spa is usually treated as a Le Mans trial run, and so it is a race that is taken very seriously being just six weeks before the big one. The #14 Porsche set pole by more than half a second but this could only be converted into a fourth place in the race which saw the #8 Toyota of Davidson/Lapierre/Buemi scoring their second successive victory. There was much head-scratching after the race as many teams went away to fix cars, repair egos and generally prepare for the Le Mans test weekend two weeks before the race.
The big one, the Le Mans 24-Hours in June, was shaping up to be a humdinger because everyone wants to win this one, more than any other race in the season. Practice and qualifying threw up its usual batch of problems, but the Duval accident in the #1 Audi during Wednesday’s practice had everybody staring open-mouthed at the TV screens, it was truly horrific. Such is the strength and integrity of the modern-day sports car chassis though, that despite becoming airborne and slamming into the catch fencing above the concrete barrier, Duval was fine the next day. Despite being comprehensively destroyed in the accident, the #1 Audi was back in the fray and was qualified on the Thursday night for the race.
In typical 1980s Porsche fashion, Audi’s patience in the race paid off as the #2 Audi of Fässler/Lotterer/Tréluyer finished on the top step of the podium and Di Grassi/Gené/Kristensen in the repaired #1 Audi, second. Porsche were ever-hopeful and right up until the final two hours they stood a realistic chance of claiming a podium, possibly even a win, but it wasn’t to be as the #20 car with Webber behind the wheel, ground to a halt out on the circuit. The #14 car too was limping along, and so it was that the #8 Toyota of Davidson/Lapierre/Buemi grabbed third spot. The top LMP2 car was the #38 Zytec-Nissan of Dolan/Tincknell/Turvey while in the GTE Pro class Porsche could not repeat their success of 2013, managing a third place only with Ferrari first and Corvette in second.
A three month break followed, the next race being round four at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA), Austin, Texas towards the end of September. The long break obviously did Duval a lot of good, as he was back in the Audi following his Le Mans accident. Once again the two Audis occupied the top two steps of the podium with Toyota in third, while the two Porsches came home in fourth and fifth, the first time in the season that both cars had finished. Typhoon Vongfong threatened the Fuji race three weeks later, but fortunately the typhoon dissipated the day before the race. As was to be expected, the two Toyotas took first (Davidson/Buemi) and second place (Wurz/Sarrazin/Nakajima) in front of their home crowd with the #20 Porsche in third and the #14 Porsche in fourth. If the reliability of the Porsches was improving, the woes of the Lotus team were just growing as their #9 burst into flames with an hour to run.
While the Porsches occupied first and third on both the Shanghai and Bahrain grids, it was the Davidson/Buemi Toyota which took the chequered flag in China with the #7 Toyota of Wurz/Sarrazin/Conway victorious in the Gulf. Of note though was the fine second and third place finish by the two Porsches in Bahrain, and while their speed was never in doubt through the year, their fragility was of concern early on. However, as the season unfolded, their reliability seemed to improve race by race.
The final race in Sao Paulo on 30 November would see the two Porsches on the front row (#20 followed by #14) with the #8 Toyota of Davidson/Buemi in third. The two Porsches were within a whisker of each other’s grid time, but the lead Porsche was almost a half second ahead of the Toyota. The race would have a most unfortunate end for Porsche driver Mark Webber who was involved in a horrific accident with the #90 8Star Motorsport Ferrari of Matteo Cressoni. But Porsche’s dark cloud would have a silver lining, as they notched up their first win of the season. What made it a good win was that it wasn’t a victory by attrition, the #14 car of Dumas/Jani/Lieb won a good straight fight with the #8 Toyota of Davidson/Buemi, even though the final twenty-two minutes was played out behind the safety car. In third place was the #1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro of Di Grassi/Duval/Kristensen, a lap down on the winning pair. In LMP2, it was the #47 KCMG Oreca-Nissan of Howson/Bradley/Imperatori who were once again victorious. In the GTE Pro class it was a mixed bag with Aston Martin taking the honours with the #92 Porsche of Makowiecki/Pilet in second and the #71 Ferrari in third. In the Am class it was Aston Martin on the two top steps of the podium again with Ferrari in third.
These results, when fed into the great FIA/WEC computer, revealed that Toyota had won the Manufacturers title in the LMP1-H class, Rebellion Racing took the LMP1-L class, SMP Racing were the victors in LMP2, while AF Corse Ferrari and Aston Martin walked away with the spoils in the GTE Pro and GTE Am classes respectively.
The season was indeed a memorable one for many reasons. Congratulations must go to the Driver’s Championship winners, Anthony Davidson and Sébastien Buemi, for a magnificent year-long fight with the team from Ingolstadt. Congratulations too are due to Toyota Motor Sport on taking the Manufacturer’s title. Porsche must also get a big mention for having logged no fewer than four pole positions and scoring one victory, one second place and four thirds in their debut year.
The 2014 season also sees the retirement of ‘Mr. Le Mans’, the Dane Tom Kristensen, who after being the face of endurance racing for so many years, has decided to hang up his helmet. Of course he won’t be disappearing from the scene, but he just won’t be wearing that four-ringed racing suit anymore, at least not in WEC. It’s a sad moment but not unexpected, so we wish him everything of the best in the future.
Next year we will see Nissan returning to the LMP1 fray, it will certainly be interesting to watch four manufacturers battle it out at the top of the field. News of a third Porsche 919 Hybrid to run at Spa and Le Mans was welcomed by all, with the news that F1 Force India pilot Nico Hulkenberg will be one of the drivers in this car. Obviously much more will come out during the winter months as teams decide whether to stay in or opt out, but one thing is for certain, 2015 will an interesting season.
At the time of going to print, both Mark Webber and Matteo Cressoni were reported to be recovering after their Interlagos accident, which is excellent news!
Following Tom Kristensen’s retirement, Audi will be looking for a replacement driver for the #1 Audi, but as yet there is no news as to who this might be. Applications can be sent to Virtual Motorpix, but we cannot guarantee a place.
Written by: Glen Smale