2014 FIA WEC: Silverstone preview
This weekend, Silverstone will play host to the most eagerly anticipated opening to a sports car season in nearly two decades. For the first time in nearly two decades, Porsche is back in the top class and, if testing is anything to go by, the 919 Hybrid looks competitive.
Due the parallel schedule of the Porsche North America Racing team, Porsche will eschew the usual Le Mans dress rehearsal at Spa, instead using the Silverstone Six Hours as their warm up for the 24-hour enduro this June.
The fast, sweeping nature of the Northamptonshire circuit should prove both the Porsche Team squad (running a pair of 919 Hybrids) and the Porsche Team Manthey outfit (with the 991 RSR duo) with a reasonable chance to perfect their processes ahead of Le Mans.
The GTE-Pro class Porsche 991 RSRs have already enjoyed a successful start to the 2014 season, with the American factory team securing victories at both Daytona and Sebring, on top of the 2014 specification car’s strong debut last season in the FIA WEC event in Bahrain.
With the weather forecast for Sunday six-hour encounter set to be wet, the 911’s legendary traction could provide the two cars with the perfect opportunity to get their World Championship campaign off to a winning start.
The #91 entry will be piloted throughout the season by Patrick Pilet and Jörg Bergmeister (the duo moving across from the #92 machine). As part of Porsche’s Le Mans preparation, they will be partnered by Total 911 columnist, Nick Tandy at Silverstone.
The sister 911 RSR will feature the new pairing of Marco Holzer and Frédéric Makowiecki (the latter moving from Aston Martin Racing). Their #92 RSR will also feature Tandy’s US series partner, Richard Lietz at Silverstone.
The two Porsche 911 RSRs feature arguably the strongest driver line-ups amongst the GT ranks however, the highly competitive nature of the class means the works Ferraris and Aston Martins cannot be discounted (especially with the latter on home turf at Silverstone).
In the GTE-Am class, Proton Competition will campaign the sole European customer 991 RSR. Christian Ried returns for the 2014, joined by Khalid Al Qubaisi, and Porsche Supercup racer, Klaus Bachler.
While the 991 RSR is entering its second season in the FIA WEC, the big news is the competitive debut of the Porsche 919 Hybrid. The new prototype will compete in the top LMP1 class, providing Porsche with its first bid for overall victories since the 911 GT1-98 16 years ago.
Porsche pulled off a major coup last season by signing Mark Webber. The former Red Bull Racing driver moves across to sports cars after a successful stint in the Formula One World Championship, garnering nine victories.
The Australian will be joined in the #20 919 car by fellow Antipodean, Brendon Hartley (who set the fastest overall time at the Paul Ricard Prologue test in March), and Porsche stalwart Timo Bernhard (a Le Mans winner with Audi in 2010).
Across the Porsche Team garage, the talent is no less obvious, with Bernhard’s long-time partner, Romain Dumas leading the charge in the #14 car. He will share the second 919 Hybrid with Swiss, Neel Jani, and former GT ace, Marc Lieb (the man who drove the record-breaking 918 Spyder lap at the Nordschleife).
Despite the encouraging testing pace, Fritz Enzinger, Vice President of the LMP1, program is keeping expectations in check ahead of Silverstone: “The main priority for the first race outing of the 919 Hybrid is that we finish,” he explains. “We drove six hours at a stretch several times during testing, but racing is always a special challenge.”
Today sees all the teams get two 90-minute practice sessions ahead of Saturday’s qualifying (12:00pm GMT for the GTE classes, and 12:35pm GMT for the LMP classes). The race will then get underway at midday on Sunday. As ever, Total 911 will bring you all the coverage.