2015 FIA WEC season review – part one

Porsche’s 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship season could not have gone much better, with the two factory teams wrapping up every available title in the LMP1 and GTE-Pro classes. Here’s how the season started for Weissach’s works efforts:

Round 1 – Six Hours of Silverstone
Porsche 919 Hybrid, Porsche Team: Romain Dumas, Neel Jani, Marc Lieb

Starting from pole, the no. 17 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley sprinted into an early lead. However, Webber was out after 80 minutes with a gearbox problem leaving Neel Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas to take up the charge in the no. 18 Porsche 919 Hybrid.

At the halfway mark, Jani came out second best in a wheel-to-wheel battle with the no. 7 Audi R18, the Porsche’s inability to double-stint its tyres counteracting its better economy compared to the Ingolstadt challenger.

A late penalty for the Marcel Fässler/Benoît Tréluer/André Lotterer Audi set up a grandstand finish but the no. 18 Porsche would have to settle for second, just 4.6 seconds behind at the fall of the chequered flag.

Porsche 911 RSR (91), Porsche Team Manthey: Richard Lietz, Michael Christensen

In GTE-Pro it was a similar story as the no. 92 Porsche 911 RSR of Patrick Pilet and Frédéric Makowiecki raced into an early lead, demoting the trio of Aston Martins that had dominated qualifying.

However, just after half-distance, the lead RSR was lost two laps to replace a broken damper, leaving Richard Lietz and Michael Christensen in the no. 91 machine to take the battle to the leading Ferrari 458.

The Austro-Danish duo moved into second during the fifth hour before Christensen took over for the final 60 minutes, cutting the Ferrari’s advantage to just ten second by the end of the race.

Round 2 – Six Hours of Spa-Francorchamps
Porsche 919 Hybrid, Porsche Team: Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley, Mark Webber

Spa acted as Porsche’s warm-up event ahead of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. A third 919 Hybrid was entered for Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber and Nico Hülkenberg, however, this entry was put out of contention after just 15 minutes when Tandy was tipped into the barriers by the no. 91 Porsche 911 RSR.

The no. 18 Porsche 919 Hybrid looked most likely to take victory for Porsche, leading much of the race. However, in the final stages, the no. 7 Audi’s alternative tyre strategy paid off, giving the Ingolstadt crew a second triumph in as many races.

Jani, Lieb and Dumas had to settle for second as the pole-sitting no. 17 Porsche 919 Hybrid would eventually finish third, taking its first points of the 2015 season.

Porsche 911 RSR (91), Porsche Team Manthey: Kevin Estre, Sven Mueller

Porsche Team Manthey’s fortunes were again similar to the LMP1 squad as the factory Porsche 911 RSRs came home second and third behind the no. 99 Aston Martin Vantage V8.

The no. 91 RSR – raced at Spa by Porsche Junior, Sven Müller and Kévin Estre – would be penalised for its collision with the no. 19 Porsche 919 Hybrid at the start of the race before charging back through to third.

Meanwhile, Lietz and Makowiecki (Pilet and Christensen were both on US duty) would eventually finish second in the no. 92 machine, despite incurring a drive-through penalty for abusing track limits.

Round 3 – 24 Hours of Le Mans
Le Mans LMP1

The blue riband event in the FIA WEC schedule finally saw Porsche take their first LMP1 victory of the season, taking their 17th overall triumph at the French classic in emphatic fashion.

Starting 1-2-3 (no. 18 from the no. 17 and no. 19 919 Hybrids), the race turned into a battle between the latter two Porsches and the trio of Audi R18s entered at La Sarthe.

As darkness fell, the no. 19 Porsche of Tandy, Bamber and Hülkenberg as the trio set a blistering pace that saw it draw away from teammates, Webber, Hartley and Bernhard, eventually finishing a whole lap ahead to take a famous 1-2 finish as the challenge from Audi crumbled.

Le Mans RSR

The 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans was not as straightforward for the works Porsche 911 RSRs. Lacking outright pace, the no. 92 RSR was the first retirement of the race thanks to a fiery engine failure before an hour had even passed.

Lietz, Christensen and third driver, Jörg Bergmeister were left as Porsche’s only representative in the GTE-Pro class but were still able to move through the field thanks to their good strategy and solid pace, sitting in third after 20 hours.

However, with under four hours left, the no. 91 Porsche 911 RSR succumbed to mechanical problems of its own. It would eventually cross the finish line ten laps behind the GTE-Pro winner to be classified in fifth at the double-points event.

Round 4 – Six Hours of Nürburgring
Nurburgring LMP1

After a two-month break, the FIA WEC returned for Porsche and Audi’s home race at the Nürburgring. Unlike the races before Le Mans though, it was the Weissach manufacturer that came out all guns blazing, taking a dominant one-two.

Starting second, the no. 17 Porsche 919 Hybrid dropped behind the no. 7 Audi after an early full-course yellow lost the team ten seconds before fighting back during the latter stages of Webber’s stint.

Hartley took over the wheel and then the lead when the no. 18 Porsche picked up the first of its three penalties for using too much fuel, leaving the no. 17 car to take its first win of the season as Lieb, Jani and Dumas were able to hold on to take second.

Porsche 911 RSR (91), Porsche Team Manthey: Richard Lietz, Michael Christensen

Porsche also scored a dominant one-two in the GTE-Pro class with Michael Christensen taking just 23 minutes to move from fourth into the lead in the race’s opening stages.

The no. 91 Porsche 911 RSR would continue to press home its advantage with Richard Lietz behind the wheel, eventually finishing a whole lap ahead of the chasing pack, giving the Austrian the lead in the drivers’ standings.

The Six Hours of Nürburgring wasn’t quite as smooth for Pilet and Makowiecki in the no. 92 RSR as two stop-go penalties disrupted their challenge for the lead. The two Frenchmen were able to hang on to second though, helping Porsche close the gap to Ferrari in the manufacturers’ battle.

Read part two of our mammoth FIA WEC season review to see how Porsche secured six world titles in the second half of 2015.

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