No podium places in the Porsche 991 LMP1 Spa challenge today, as the number 14 hybrid failed to capitalise on its pole position start. That is not to say the race was disappointing! It was great racing all the way, with strategies right through the field playing out in the closing stages.
Porsche 919 LMP1 Hybrid Sets Early Pace
The first hour of racing was electric. Porsche works driver, Neel Jani, set his fastest lap early on: a 2:01.898, the fastest lap number 14 would achieve over 360 minutes of racing. With the chasing number 8 Toyota unable to close the gap, Jani double stinted, while Toyota pulled an early stop, putting Sebastian Buemi in the car.
Handing over to Marc Lieb in the lead, Buemi had been logging very quick laps, but was not close enough to take the lead with a clean Porsche pit stop. However, a problem in the stop caused a hiccup for the 919 on exit, allowing Buemi through.
Buemi Toyota shows untouchable pace
Once in front, the former Red Bull junior brought his A game and took off. The Toyota was soon almost half a minute in front, but Porsche had already decided to switch strategies, putting the number 14 on a fuel save and double-stinting tyres. Toyota’s game was drive it flat out: a driver swap to Anthony Davidson brought fastest lap of the race: a 2:01.3.
Behind the 14 car, Timo Bernhard’s sister Porsche hybrid was spending more time in the garage. Early in the race, the number 20 Porsche LMP1 car had a rear suspension problem which brought it out of pit lane two laps down. There followed a series of front end interventions, costing Porsche a lot of time: down 22 laps at one stage.
Number 20 Porsche Hybrid Reliability Problems
As the race rolled on, the Audi LMP1 cars were surprisingly slow on the straights, but came into play as the race rolled on. Both Toyota and Porsche advised their drivers to stay off the kerbs: apparently some driveshaft issues for the 20 over hard kerbs at Eau Rouge and Raidillon.
We live tweeted the event, which proved to be a lot of fun, as US followers searched web feeds and Romain Dumas struggled with electrical problems on the 14 car, dropping it a lap and a half at much-reduced pace. We were following pictures on Motors TV with commentary by radiolemans.com. A tweet of their comment “Porsche’s decision to leave Romain Dumas out and press every button he could reach has paid off” brought a few smiles.
When the chequered flag fell, Neil Jani took fourth, one lap down in the number 14, while the always-awesome Patrick Pilet in 911 RSR number 91 had hunted down some GTE Pro Ferraris and nabbed class second: fourteenth overall. With one car on the podium despite a 25-kilo penalty, the GT championship rolls on to Le Mans.
Le Mans test will follow Spa Francorchamps
LMP1 glory was never going to come easy. While Porsche leaves Spa with some work left to do, there was good early pace in the hybrid. Some gossip shared online suggested the Porsche 919 leaves the garage with a fully charged energy store, but that energy can never be fully replenished on track. How true that is is anyone’s guess.
Next month is Le Mans. The pre-Le Mans test day will be covered by radiolemans.com, and who knows how Porsche will fare in France. This is the culmination of their ‘return to racing’ promo: can the LMP1 project retain public attention post Le Mans?
It will be a huge shame if it doesn’t, as the car is clearly rapid. It should have winning potential when reliability is sorted and they start to get the max from the power train. The battle with Toyota is fascinating and those Audis won’t stay slow forever.
Are you following the LMP1 car? Share your thoughts on Spa in the comments.