Image credit: Nick Dungan – Photo Copyright 2015 Nick Dungan / AdrenalMedia.com
Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley extended their title lead in the 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship by scoring a fourth consecutive victory, at Shanghai today.
With the No.18 Porsche finishing in second place, 26-seconds behind the No.17 car, Porsche clinched the 2015 FIA World Endurance Manufacturers’ Championship, sending the Stuttgart mark into ecstasy. Now holding a 70-point lead in the Manufacturers’ standings over Audi, Porsche cannot be beaten no matter what happens at the final race at Bahrain.
Like Fuji last month, Shanghai produced another sensational WEC event today. In changeable weather and track conditions, each of the Porsche and Audi entries led the race at stages, thrilling the crowd and TV viewers alike.
Brendon Hartley led for the opening phase of the race but, right from the start, there was excitement as the No.18 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Marc Lieb had contact with André Lotterer’s No.7 Audi R18 e-tron quattro and spun onto a kerb. The incident ensured that Lieb had to then begin an awe-inspiring drive back through the field.
The opening three hours was punctuated by extremely challenging conditions for the drivers. An early safety car was followed by several Full Course Yellows to retrieve cars stranded in gravel traps.
With Audi seeming to have a slightly faster package on a fully wet track, a battle royal was played out after the first driver-change pit stops.
At one stage in the third hour, all four cars were covered by just 3.8 seconds as they fought a classic encounter around the Shanghai International Circuit.
After Neel Jani took over the No.18 Porsche 919 Hybrid, the rapid Swiss claimed the lead just after the halfway mark when he overtook both Audi R18 e-tron quattros.
As the race wore on, so the track slowly dried, handing an advantage to Porsche who were able to extract more laps in a stint from their wet-weather Michelin tyres than Audi. However, in a fascinating game of strategy and risk, Audi switched to full slick tyres earlier than Porsche, bringing them back into contention late in the race.
There was also last hour drama as the recovering No.18 fell back behind the Audis after Romain Dumas spun at turn two. The Frenchman redeemed himself though and posted some remarkable laps to emerge from a final ‘fuel-splash’ pit-stop in second position. Dumas also soaked up late race pressure to ward off a hard-charging Lotterer, who started and finished the race in the No.7 Audi.
The No.8 Audi of Loic Duval, Oliver Jarvis and Lucas Di Grassi came home in fourth place once again after some tenacious fights throughout the race.
Toyota Racing took fifth and sixth places after several problems throughout the event. The No.2 car of Mike Conway, Alex Wurz and Stephane Sarrazin headed the No.1 Toyota TS 040 after Kazuki Nakajima lost time with a gravelly spin at turn 16, triggering the third Full Course Yellow period.
The No.12 Rebellion R-One-AER took privateer LMP1 honours in the hands of Nicolas Prost and Mathias Beche despite an accident just 15-minutes from the end of the race. Beche hit the wall at turn 10 but was able to get back to the pits where the team performed miracles to return to the track before the chequered flag fell.