Ed Speak: Repeat of Silverstone will be a success for Porsche at Le Mans
As the heavens opened and the red flag was raised with 26 minutes of racing still to go at a sodden Silverstone on Sunday, jubilation erupted in the Porsche pit garages.
Aside from a dominant 1-2 for the 911 RSRs in the GTE class, car number 20, driven by Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and Mark Webber secured a deserved third place and a spot on the inaugural podium of the 2014 FIA WEC racing season.
The result was significant: that plinth has proved elusive for Porsche for the best part of fifteen years. The problem hasn’t been down to not being quick enough, of course – rather, there’s been no factory racing at the top level of endurance motorsport at all.
Now though, Porsche are back after a prolonged hiatus, much to the delight of motorsport fans who for decades have been galvanised by the sight of Weissach’s finest hurtling down the Mulsanne at the decorated Le Mans 24 Hours, often leading the field.
Porsche themselves have self-dubbed Le Mans 2014 as ‘The Return’, and after that well-deserved third place finish for the number 20 919 at Silverstone, many racing fans will already be looking ahead to the famous 24-hour race at La Sarthe in June (despite the fact there’s the small matter of Spa to content with first).
Certainly, the season looks geared up for success: Weissach have enrolled in their most committed racing program to date, contracting 20 works drivers who will represent the factory in top-level racing series across the globe, from USCC in the States to both LMP1 and GTE classes in the WEC.
Most attention will of course be on the fortunes of the LMP1 cars, and testing at Paul Ricard in pre-season added fuel to the fire in terms of the 919s capabilities with the four-pot hybrid racer sitting atop of the practice times. Then came a podium in the first race of the season. You might say, then, that success at Le Mans is guaranteed.
However, such zeal is premature, primarily because Porsche’s presence on the podium at Silverstone was as prominent as the absence of any Audi team. Reinhold Joest’s outfit have utterly dominated Le Mans in recent times but suffered from crash damage at Silverstone, and both cars had to retire as a result.
Audi will be back for the big race at Le Mans, and with the other heavyweight manufacturer in the discipline, Toyota, securing a commanding 1-2 in Northamptonshire, Porsche will have a battle on their hands at the 24-hour race.
Another podium finish, rather than a race win, will therefore represent an astonishing achievement for the new team in LMP1 this year as Weissach attempt to break the equilibrium enjoyed by the ‘big two’ for years and begin to re-assert themselves at the pinnacle of modern day endurance racing.