In a dramatic end to the 2016 6h Nürburgring, Porsche overcame a strong challenge by Audi to extended its lead in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
Timo Bernhard crossed the line 53.787s ahead of Loic Duval in the #8 Audi, taking the #1 Porsche 919 Hybrid to its first win of the season. Bernhard, Webber and Hartley were ecstatic with the win having recovered from an early puncture and then capitalising on various FCY and a drive-through penalty handed to Neel Jani in the #2 sister car following a collision with the #88 Abu Dhabi Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR.
“We had a tough first part of the season,” exclaimed Bernhard after the race. “We really wanted a victory on home ground for Porsche. I’m really proud for our crew to come back and win after such a hard start to the year.”
The #2 car’s late-race collision dropped Jani to third, and finally fourth following a duel with a fast-charging Andre Lotterer in the #7 Audi R18, which led to the Porsche’s rear legality panel getting damaged resulting in an additional stop for repairs as the team failed to repair it on the car’s scheduled pitstop.
Wearing the new high-downforce aero kit the Toyota TS050 Hybrids offered no challenge to either of the German manufacturers, with the #5 car finishing two laps adrift in fifth, while engine issues affected the #6 car in the fourth hour, ultimately finishing the race in sixth position.
Speaking after the race, Audi’s Lucas di Grassi, driver of the second place R18 said “We can be happy with our second place. We made no mistakes and constantly drove at the limit. When you’re on the front row you’d obviously like to win. But today we were lacking the necessary fortune. That’s why positions two and three for our team is okay.”
In the LMP1 category, the #4 ByKolles car performed well and took the class lead until the car caught fire while being piloted by Ollie Webb and forced the car’s retirement. Rebellion ultimately took the class win with the #12 car while the #13 took second place honours some laps down following issues for part of the race.
In LMP2 it looked a ‘sure thing’ at the start for the #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca however, an on-fire Alex Brundle was stopped in his tracks when called into the pits for a gearbox issue which lead to the car’s retirement.
Ultimately, the #36 Signatech Alpine scored its third straight LMP2 victory ahead of the #43 RGR Sport by Morand Ligier of Ricardo Gonzalez, Bruno Senna and Filipe Albuquerque and the hard-charging #31 ESM Ligier which just pipped the ageing yet totally capable Strakka Racing Gibson by 0.071s in a race to the line to secure the final podium spot.
Strakka Racing briefly held the lead and new driver Lewis Williamson put in a hugely impressive performance, showing that he has a future in this sport and leading to the odd “he was born to drive that car” statement in the media centre.
Manor had a fast car but ultimately the best they could do was a fifth with the #44 car and the #45 retiring with brake failure.
In GTE Aston Martin showed that with a little favourable BoP adjustments there is life left in the ageing Vantage V8 and claimed pole in both Pro and Am classes. During the race the British marque led the majority of the race with the #95 ‘Dane Train’ car of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørensen but with 2.5hrs remaining AF Corse’s #51 Ferrari 488 of Gianmaria Bruni and James Calado made a move that stuck and maintained the lead to the line, claiming their first win of the season and a first class win for Calado, 29 seconds ahead of the sister #71 car of Sam Bird and Davide Rigon in second.
Having slipped back through the field, Thiim passed Frenchman Olivier Pla in the #66 Ford GT during the final minutes of the race when he was forced to serve a drive-through penalty for a pit-stop infringement bringing the #95 Aston Martin Racing Vantage home in third to claim the final step on the GTE Pro podium.
Pla and co-driver Stefan Muecke finished fourth in class in the #66 GT, ahead of the #97 Aston Martin of Darren Turner and Richie Stanaway which had suffered time-loss during the race when it required a door to be replaced.
The #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK GT finished in last place following a pitlane fire as Andy Praiulx got in to start his stint. The mechanics and marshals did their job and it was quickly under control allowing Praiulx to exit unharmed.
Aston Martin Racing’s #98 GTE Am car took their second win of the season in that class when Pedro Lamy, Paul Dalla Lana and Mathias Lauda charged to the front of the pack around halfway through the race taking a lead the trio would not relinquish.
The #50 Larbre Corvette, #78 KCMG and #88 Abu Dhabi Proton Porsches all led during the first three hours, but ultimately were left wanting in the second half of the race; a fire and the collision with the #2 919 Hybrid ruining any chances for the Abu Dhabi Proton car and although initially classified second the #78 KCMG car was excluded from the results after failing to pass the post-race ride-height check.
As a result, the #83 AF Corse Ferrari 458 of Francois Perrodo, Rui Aguas and Emmanuelle Collard moves into second and the #50 Larbre Competition Corvette C7.R of Yutaka Yamagishi, Pierre Ragues and Paolo Ruberti now claims the final podium spot.
Full race results are available here.