Image credit: Nick Dungan – AdrenalMedia.com
This weekend’s 6 Hours of Shanghai produced one of the most dramatic races of the year thanks to the very wet conditions. Two great battles in the LMGTE Pro and Am classes resulted in victory for Porsche in the Pro class and the first win of the year for the #83 AF Corse Ferrari in the Am class.
The race got underway behind the Safety Car and while the race went green after 13 minutes of running, the conditions caught out several drivers and one safety car and four Full Course Yellows were declared during the six hour race to recover stranded cars and clear gravel from the track. The tricky conditions also made tyre choice critical and the timing of the move from full wets to wets and then slicks at the end of the race was crucial to the eventual outcome of the 7th round of the FIA World Endurance Championship.
The two Team Manthey run Porsche 911s had to fight hard with the two AF Corse Ferraris with Richard Lietz and Michael Christensen in the #91 911 taking control when it mattered, moving well ahead of the #51 Ferrari of Toni Vilander and Gimmi Bruni and taking the chequered flag with a 45-second margin.
The #92 Porsche of Fred Makowiecki and Patrick Pilet were challenging for the top spot on the podium but a run wide into the gravel in the first hour dented the French duo’s challenge. However, they were able to get back on terms with the leaders and also hold off a determined challenge from the #71 Ferrari of Davide Rigon and James Calado to take the final podium place and deny the Ferrari duo much needed championship points in the race for the drivers’ title.
The two Pro class Aston Martins were still clearly suffering from the recent BoP adjustments. The #99 Vantage V8 of Alex MacDowall, Fernando Rees and Richie Stanaway were always near the front of the action but, as the race progressed, their challenge faded and they finished 2 laps behind the lead Porsche and 22 second aheads of their teammates Darren Turner and Jonathan Adam in the #97 Vantage.
The third win of the 2015 season for Richard Lietz sees the Austrian extend his lead in the race for the FIA World Endurance Cup for GT Drivers. With a total of 135 points, Lietz is 18 points ahead of his teammate Michael Christensen, who in reality has no opportunity to overtake his partner. His nearest rivals are the Ferrari duo of Davide Rigon and James Calado who are now on 115 points, 20 behind Lietz with 26 still available in Bahrain. With 112.5 points Gimmi Bruni and Toni Vilander have an outside chance of defending their 2014 title but will need a lot of things to go their way in the Middle East.
The race for the FIA World Endurance Cup for GT Manufacturers is a lot closer, with Ferrari currently leading Porsche by just 4 points and a maximum of 44 points still to be won in the final race of the season.
The road to victory in the LMGTE Am class was a hard one to predict right up to the final hour of the race. The early pace was made by the #98 Aston Martin Racing Vantage of Paul Dalla Lana but the Canadian was passed by the #50 Larbre Competition Corvette of Paolo Ruberti. Pat Long in the Dempsey Proton Racing Porsche came from the back of the grid following a spin behind the safety car to sweep past the Corvette to take the lead after 30 minutes into the race.
As the race progressed the two Aston Martin Racing Vantages got back up to the front of field with Mathias Lauda (#98) and Francesco Castellacci (#96) fighting for the lead of the category, with Lauda holding the upperhand as the half way point of the race was reached.
The championship leading #72 SMP Racing Ferrari finished the first half of the race in 5th after a stop-go penalty for pitting during the first three laps of the second safety car period and a couple of spins in the treacherous conditions but the Russian team fought their way back up the field, with Italian Andrea Bertolini, despite a spin as the rain fell again, pushing the F458 towards a podium finish. A trip into the gravel for the #96 Aston Martin of Liam Griffin promoted the SMP Racing Ferrari into 3rd place with just 50 minutes of the race remaining.
But it was the #83 AF Corse Ferrari of Emmanuel Collard, Rui Aguas and Francois Perrodo who made the most progress in the race, reading the conditions well and making the right call at the right time with regards to tyre choice. Aguas moved past the Aston Martins to challenge for the lead at the right time. Even a drive through penalty for a pitstop infringement failed to dent the Franco-Portuguese challenge for their first class honours of the year and keep their title aspirations alive.
The AF Corse Ferrari took the chequered flag 41 seconds ahead of the #98 Aston Martin Racing Vantage of Pedro Lamy, Paul Dalla Lana and Mathias Lauda and 1 lap ahead of the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari of Victor Shaytar, Alexsey Basov and Andrea Bertolini.
This leaves the SMP Racing Ferrari with a slightly reduced points advantage of 19 points over the AF Corse trio with 26 points available at the 6 Hours of Bahrain on November 21. The destination of the 2015 LMGTE Am titles will be decided between these two teams, the only certainty is the winners will be driving a Ferrari 458.