2015 FIA WEC: Six Hours of COTA preview

After four consecutive races in Europe, the 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship heads to Austin, Texas this weekend for the first of four end-of-season flyaway events.

Home of the US Grand Prix, the Circuit of the Americas plays host to the fifth six-hour race of the year as Porsche search for their third overall FIA WEC victory in a row having won at both Le Mans and Nürburgring with the 919 Hybrid LMP1 car.

These triumphs have given Porsche a 33-point lead in the manufacturers’ standings. However, thanks to Weissach’s success being spread around different entries, the leading Porsche line-up of Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard are still 17 points away from leading the drivers’ championship.

The Porsche 919 Hybrids have been fast so far at COTA, although the Audis closed in during the cooler night running.
The Porsche 919 Hybrids have been fast so far at COTA, although the Audis closed in during the cooler night running.

With a length of 3.4-miles, and including 20 turns, COTA is one of the more technical circuits on the FIA WEC calendar, with a high-speed first sector giving way to tighter, slower corners later in the lap.

In high-downforce trim (debuted last time out at the Nürburgring), the Porsche 919 Hybrid proved it can take on the Audi R18 e-tron quattros. However, with fewer big braking zones at COTA, it will be interesting to see how Weissach’s chargers (that rely heavily on energy recovery) fare.

In yesterday’s practice sessions, Porsche topped the time sheets both times, with the no. 18 car of Neel Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas setting the fastest time of the day in FP1: a 1m47.231s.

Marc Lieb and the no. 18 Porsche 919 Hybrid crew are still looking for their first win of 2015. COTA could be the place.
Marc Lieb and the no. 18 Porsche 919 Hybrid crew are still looking for their first win of 2015. COTA could be the place.

The leading Audis were never far away though as the no.8 R18 of Lucas di Grassi, Oliver Jarvis and Loïc Duval lapping in 1m47.684s in the cooler conditions of FP2, run during darkness.

With the six-hour race kicking off at 5pm local time and running into the night, coupled with the Audis’ strong race pace, the Porsche 919 Hybrids are likely to have a tough battle on their hands in Austin.

In the GTE-Pro class, the two Porsche Team Manthey 911 RSRs also head to COTA on the back of a one-two victory at the Nürburgring. Richard Lietz and Michael Christensen triumphed in the no. 91 car, heading home the all-French duo of Patrick Pilet and Frédéric Makowiecki at Porsche’s home race.

Porsche is locked in battle with the factory Ferraris at the head of the GTE-Pro field. Some rivalries never die.
Porsche is locked in battle with the factory Ferraris at the head of the GTE-Pro field. Some rivalries never die.

The US has been a happy hunting ground for factory Porsche 911 RSRs this season, with Nick Tandy and Pilet giving Weissach three consecutive wins in the Tudor United SportsCar Championship (which joins the FIA WEC on the bill at COTA this weekend).

Yet, the World Championship is a whole different proposition for Porsche, as yesterday’s free practice sessions showed. FP1 saw Ferrari dominate. However, Porsche struck back in the second session as Pilet and Makowiecki topped the times with a lap 0.7 seconds faster than the earlier effort by the 458 Italias.

Victory in Austin would help Porsche to close the gap in the manufacturers’ standings as Weissach currently trails Maranello by 24 points in the battle for the 2015 title.

Porsche stalwart, Richard Lietz currently leads the World Championship for GT drivers.
Porsche stalwart, Richard Lietz currently leads the World Championship for GT drivers.

Lietz leads the drivers’ championship for Porsche thought (albeit by a solitary point from Ferrari pilots, Davide Rigon and James Calado, who have yet to win an FIA WEC race this year).

In GTE-Am, Porsche 911 RSRs also have a good chance of success, with the no. 88 Dempsey-Proton car of Patrick Long, Marco Seefried and Patrick Dempsey showing well in free practice.

Qualifying kicks off at 5:45pm local time this evening, with tomorrow’s six-hour race getting underway at 5:00pm on Saturday (rather than Sunday). We’ll bring you a full report from the Lone Star Le Mans on Monday.

For all the latest Porsche race and rally news, check out our dedicated motorsport section now.

The no. 88 Dempsey Proton Porsche 911 RSR was second and first in FP1 and FP2 respectively. Is a home win on the cards?
The no. 88 Dempsey Proton Porsche 911 RSR was second and first in FP1 and FP2 respectively. Is a home win on the cards?

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