The FIA WEC 6 Hours of Silverstone, the first race of the season is now behind us, and looking back on the event several interesting observations can be made. As expected, the April weather played its part as the Friday and Saturday practice and qualifying sessions were partly wet, while the race on Sunday was run in dry conditions, but the threat of rain was never far away.
Thursday’s activities were mostly of an administrative nature, with driver and team sign-ons, which also perhaps predictably produced the odd flurry of concern as some drivers were inevitably late or delayed for whatever reason. And on Friday all the teams were eager to get in some track time and so the 12h25-13h55 free practice session was quite a frantic affair. The first practice session was punctuated by rain, and at one stage the pits more closely resembled Piccadilly Circus as cars dived in and out to have suspension settings and/or tyres changed. The second practice session from 16h30-18h00 was similarly a mixture of sunshine and showers giving the teams much to think about.
The top of the lap charts was predictably occupied by the two LMP1 Audis followed by the two Toyotas with a Rebellion Lola thrown in for good measure, and in the Friday afternoon session the Strakka Racing Honda rose up the order to fourth place. The LMP2 Greaves Motorsport Zytek Nissan was making its presence felt and by the end of Friday was lying in second place in class. Perhaps as expected, the AF Corse #71 Ferrari led the GTE Pro class followed by an Aston Martin and a Porsche. The GTE Am class was headed by a pair of Aston Martins with a Corvette in third place.
The #12 Rebellion Racing Lola fired a warning shot in Saturday’s practice by posting the quickest time with the #2 Audi in second place and the #13 Rebellion in third followed by the two Toyotas. These sessions can often be misleading though as teams are still trying to establish strategies and final set-ups for the qualifying session which follows, but it certainly gave the race commentators something to talk about.
It was in the official qualifying session though that some confusion reigned and wrong decisions were taken, but this had as much to do with the weather as anything else. Basically the Toyota team made the right decision about tyres and the boys from Ingolstadt made the wrong decision, which left the two Toyotas at the top of the lap charts by the end of the qualifying session and the first two places on the grid. Audi occupied third place (as a result of a malfunction in the car’s traction control system) with the #12 Rebellion in fourth place, all of which had the effect of mixing the grid up a bit – ultimately it did not affect the end result of the race because that was almost a given situation, but it still provided some exciting racing.
Why, one might ask, was it a certainty that Audi would win the race? Well, that was down to the fact that Audi was running two of its 2013 cars whereas Toyota had two of their 2012 cars on track. At the ACO’s Thursday evening ‘meet and greet’ cocktail party, the Toyota lead engineer revealed to this writer that they were fielding their two 2012 cars at Silverstone, but at Spa they would have one 2012 and one 2013 car and at Le Mans they would run both their 2013 cars. So by the end of the race on Sunday we knew how fast the new Audis were, but Toyota have yet to race their 2013 cars and so the remainder of the season will be interesting. Toyota admitted that their 1-2 grid position for the race was ‘flattering’, but they honestly did not expect to win given that Audi had made a big step forward with their 2013 car, but I was assured that their turn will come, so watch this space as they say!
A team worth watching in the top echelon is the Rebellion Racing squad. As regular as a Swiss clock are these guys (pun fully intended), and with their quality driver line-up it is surely just a matter of time before they grab a podium spot, should one of the big teams falter. Strakka Racing too has been putting in some fine performances, and they deserve some recognition for their impressive efforts.
With the top six places filled with two Audis, two Toyotas and two Rebellions, it was left up to the #25 Delta ADR Oreca Nissan to grab the LMP2 class honours having led its group from pole. The LMP2 class is a bit like the ‘fight club’, with all contenders being limited by both budget spend and car spec, so with everyone having the same car under them, the class is very open but at the same time, lacking somewhat in innovation and new technology. Perhaps I am sticking my neck out here a bit, but some in the media feel that this class is now in need of a bit of refreshing.
Much attention was focussed around the Aston Martins in the GTE Pro class, and this was perhaps justified by the fact that the #97 and #99 cars topped the class for the start of the race. One team felt that the Aston Martins had outperformed themselves courtesy of a number of performance waivers granted to the cars (one of which is a larger air restrictor), and this certainly seems to have been the case as they were almost a full second quicker than the lead Porsche and lead Ferrari. In the race the Aston Martins finished first and third with a Ferrari splitting the two Gulf cars.
The media and spectator interest was clearly on the two new works Porsches which both performed well given that this was their debut race, but they finished out of contention in fourth and sixth places. During the middle stages of the race, the #91 Porsche dropped back to sixth due to a suspension component failure, but the #92 car moved up through the field and ran in third place for a couple of hours. Apart from the suspension gremlin, both cars performed very reliably which bodes well for the rest of the season.
In the GTE Am class, it was the #95 Aston Martin that grabbed top spot followed by the #50 Larbre Competition Corvette. These cars are all 2012 spec cars as the Am class always runs with 12-month-old technology, but the competition in this class is no less fierce in 2013 than it was in 2012 when these cars ran in the Pro class. The highest finishing Porsche in the Am class was the #88 Felbermayr Proton Competition GT3 RSR, occupying fifth place in class.
In summary, the opening round of the 2013 World Endurance Championship has come and gone and has left just as many unanswered questions after the race as we had before. We know that the Audis are quick, but then we haven’t seen Toyotas latest offering (don’t forget that the Japanese manufacturer won the last three races of 2012, and also finished second in the Silverstone race), and some uncertainty will be settled at the Spa round. The P2 class will continue to be closely fought with all cars running to the same basic spec. The fight in the GTE Pro class has only just begun as the Astons have shown their hand, but Ferrari won’t take their beating lying down, and don’t expect Porsche to sit back either, they just don’t know the meaning of defeat. Within the ranks of the Am class the competition is fierce and the teams are bristling with pride and enthusiasm and so you can expect some top performances to come from these ranks.
In closing, it is refreshing to see the likes of these top drivers expressing such genuine and overwhelming joy and relief when they win. McNish for instance, having just pipped his team mates in the #1 Audi in an all-out team battle to the line, punched the air repeatedly before dashing red-faced up onto the podium. While the drivers of the #1 car were understandably dejected, this is world championship racing and racing drivers are programmed to do one thing…and that is to win!