2016 FIA WEC: Six Hours of Spa-Francorchamps race report
Thanks to rivals falling by the wayside, Porsche Team managed to salvage second place at the 2016 Six Hours of Spa as Marc Lieb, Neel Jani and Romain Dumas were able to nurse the no. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid to the finish line in Belgium, despite driving for most of the race with a deficient hybrid system.
In an unusually attritional FIA World Endurance Championship encounter, all of the factory LMP1 entries from the three manufacturers encountered problems during round two of the 2016 season, with both Porsche 919 Hybrids especially hard hit.
Starting from the front row, the no. 1 car with Brendon Hartley at the helm, opened up a 14 second lead during the opening stint however, Lieb in the no. 2 entry was soon in trouble. On lap six, he radioed back to the pits to inform the team that he had lost the hybrid drive element.
Porsche informed the German that there was nothing they could do, the no. 2 919 Hybrid dropping quickly down to the order to sixth as a result and almost falling into the clutches of the non-hybrid privateer LMP1 cars from the Swiss Rebellion team.
Meanwhile, at the front, the Timo Bernhard in no. 1 Porsche lost the lead to the no. 5 Toyota TS050 of Sébastien Buemi at the first round of pitstops when the latter only took fuel at the first round of pitstops at the 45-minute mark.
On fresher tyres though, Bernhard closed down Buemi’s 20-second lead rapidly as the race headed into its second hour, the duo duelling spectacularly through La Source and Eau Rouge. The Toyota just retained the lead although it only appeared to be a matter of time until the Porsche gained the upper hand.
However, just after starting lap 37 (having already passed the pit entry) Bernhard suffered a left front puncture and was forced to tour back to the pits. Porsche put a fresh set of rubber on the no. 1 car with Mark Webber jumping behind the wheel only for the Australian to suffer a similar deflation a lap later.
The no. 1 Porsche 919 Hybrid was dragged back into the garage upon Webber’s return where the two punctures were found to have damaged the front axle gearbox. After a lengthy stop, the car would eventually finish 27th overall, picking up the points for fifth in the LMP1 manufacturers class.
The no. 1’s misfortune promoted the no. 2 car up into a fifth-place that would soon become fourth when the no. 7 Audi R18 e-tron quattro also hit mechanical problems. Dumas then found himself on the podium when the no. 6 Toyota TS050 hit a number of problems, culminating in a terminal electronics glitch.
Second-place was then gifted to the no. 2 entry when, with Jani behind the wheel of the Porsche 919 Hybrid, the race-leading no. 5 Toyota was forced into the pits with a smokey engine failure around the four-hour mark.
Despite finishing two laps down on the winning no. 8 Audi of Oliver Jarvis, Lucas di Grassi and Loïc Duval, it was a remarkable result for the Porsche crew as they battled the lack of a fully functioning hybrid drive and the subsequent brake issues the former failure usually creates.
In the GTE-Pro class, it was a similarly difficult race for the no. 77 Proton-Dempsey Racing Porsche 911 RSR of Michael Christensen and reigning world champion, Richard Lietz.
Thanks to a combination of high temperatures and favourable Balance of Performance for the new Ferrari 488 GTBs, the updated works-supported RSR was never truly competitive, struggling to match even the pace of the factory Aston Martins and new Ford GTs.
As conditions cooled towards the end of the race, the no. 77’s competitiveness improved and, combined with an engine failure for the leading Ferrari, Christensen and Lietz eventually crossed the line in fourth (albeit it two laps down) picking up some valuable points ahead of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
In the GTE-Am class, the no. 88 Proton-Dempsey 911 RSR looked set for a podium finish as Patrick Long went on a charge in the final stint after some sterling work by teammates, Khaled Al Qubaisi and David Heinemeier Hansson only to be taken out by an LMP2 car with just a few laps left to run.
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