Being a motorsport photographer combines my passions for travel, motorsport and photography so the prospect of driving the length of France was a delight to behold and certainly an adventure to savour. Then, en route to the WEC Prologue 2015, I get the news that Porsche were launching the 2015 919 Hybrid LMP1 to the world press at 13:30 on Thursday 26th March. No more leisurely driving I had a date with some superb pieces of engineering.
I left the UK in bright sunshine and arrived in France to gloomy and wet conditions which stayed with me until south of Lyon, where I had a very welcome overnight stay. The following morning dawned gloomy but a very faint hint of some sunshine lifted my hopes. As the morning wore on and the miles tumbled the weather got better until clear blue skies and the vista of mountains in the distance welcomed me to La Castellet and the famous Paul Ricard circuit.
Driving into the circuit I wondered if I was in the right place, this is not like any other circuit I had been to, surely I was entering a millionaire’s playground, some playboy’s mansion or at the very least, an exclusive golf resort. No grubby paddock, no oily garages, and upon being directed to the media suite it just got better, mission control or a media suite, hard to tell, but certainly better than anything I have seen before. Three days working here…why not?
And so to the Porsche launch, three shrouded curvaceous beauties sitting on the helipad, the cheeky Mistral wind licking at the covers teasing us with tempting glimpses of Porsche underpinnings and mechanics struggling to maintain the modesty of the main attractions. Not long to wait before the Pilotes arrived to reveal the subjects of their desires for 2015, their partners in the romance of the FIA/WEC 2015 season and the love/hate affair of the ACO 2015 LM24. As the covers were drawn back, gasps and applause rang out from the assembled hacks and a rattle of machine gun shutter releases heralded the beautiful sight of the Porsche 919 LMP1 line up.
With the start of theWEC Prologue 2015, all of a sudden the 2015 season was real and all the planning had paid off, I’m here, I’m ready, I’m waiting. Bring it on, and so they did, shots of the cars, shots of the drivers, photographers briefing, more cars on the track static photo shoots of single cars and groups of cars and as the afternoon ran into evening, the tempo slowed and thoughts moved to the first day of testing. What will Friday bring?
It brought the Mistral for one, a wind so fierce that it caused difficulty around the circuit trying to keep one’s camera gear steady. 27 cars were on track for the morning session which saw the #18 Porsche LMP1 of Dumas/Jani/Lieb setting the quickest time. In the LMP2 class, Howson/Bradley/Imperatori in the #47 KCMG Oreca 05 – Nissan set the fastest time. In the GTE Pro class, it was the lone Ferrari 458 followed by the two works Porsche RSRs in second and third places. The GTE Am class produced a more mixed result with Aston Martin followed by the 911 RSR and the Ferrari. In summary, Porsche put up a good showing in the morning.
The afternoon session of the WEC Prologue 2015 saw Porsche dominating with the same trio claiming top spot in LMP1, and the two Team Manthey Porsches occupying the top two spots in GTE Pro. In LMP2 the #39 Morgan Evo-Sard claimed the fastest time with again two Porsche RSRs leading the way in GTE Am. A reduced field of twenty cars ran in the test session on Friday night, but this was when the #18 Porsche once again set the fastest time which stood as the target over the two days.
Day two saw the #18 Porsche still at the top of leaderboard, with teammates Bernhard/Webber/Hartley in the #17 Porsche just behind them. In the GTE Pro class the cars were having a field day as the #95 Aston Martin of Sørensen was in first, followed by the #91 Porsche RSR and the #51 Ferrari third. The overall standings after the two-day, 17-hour test session saw the #18 and #17 Porsches the fastest in LMP1 with the #7 Audi R18 e-tron quattro third and the #8 stablemate in fourth. The two Toyotas were fifth and sixth. In the LMP2 class it was the #47 KCMG Oreca 05-Nissan that took the class honours.
The quickest GTE Pro car was the #99 Aston Martin of Rees/MacDowall, followed by Ferrari and the #95 Aston Martin. The GTE Am class leader, the #96 Aston Martin, was in fact quicker than its fastest Pro counterpart, which no doubt left some scratching their heads on Saturday night.
Before one starts making season-long predictions, it would be wise to remember that this was just a test session and not all the contenders were present. It is also of course that some were there to just put in the lap time to prove reliability and to suss out the opposition at the start of the season. So the most one could read into the test sessions is perhaps that the cars are ready, that they are reliable at the start of the season, and that there is certainly a lot more performance to come. The 2015 season has started!
Check back on our website, we will be putting up more photos over Easter. The next track action after the WEC Prologue 2015 will be the 6-Hours of Silverstone on the weekend of 11/12 April.
Words & photographs by: John Mountney