The season opener of the FIA World Endurance Championship was held at the Northamptonshire’s historic Silverstone racetrack last weekend. The opening round was eagerly awaited by fans worldwide due to the return to top-flight LMP1 prototype racing of Porsche, who have Ex-Red Bull Racing F1 driver Mark Webber driving the number 20 car. Porsche’s return to the top-flight of endurance racing along with Webber, who has raced prototypes previously at Le Mans as a factory driver for Mercedes, has increased the publicity and interest in the WEC tenfold, this is definitely a good thing !
The weather also played its part over the weekend with rapidly changing conditions ranging from sun and clear blue sky’s one minute, to torrential rain and virtually undrivable conditions the next; this was the source of a lot of the action early on however as the attrition levels rose was the sole reason for the race to be red flagged 30 minutes before the end.
Reigning WEC Champions Audi had a dreadful season opener with neither of their R18 e-tron quattro’s making it to the end of the race, both being retired due to heavy frontal damage. The no.1 car suffering monocoque damage and the no.2 car, after receiving a new nose following a light accident, was eventually retired following a second, heavy hitting trip, into the armco in the hands of Benoît Tréluyer (FR), causing the loss of both front wheels as well as heavy structure damage. Up to this point, Audi had had a faultless weekend even setting the single fastest lap in the race on Sunday showing that even with the new restrictive regulations the R18’s were still very quick. The Inglostat based team now has a huge technical effort to rebuild both their cars ready for the next round at Spa in 2 weeks time.
Porsche also had a mixed weekend with their 919 Hybrids. The Stuttgart team were undoubtedly the centre of attention during this opening round and following ‘The Prologue’ at Paul Ricard, expectations were high. Although they had 1 retirement with the no.14 car of Romain Dumas (FR), Neel Jani (CH) and Marc Lieb (DE) due to a drivetrain problem after only 1hour 15 min, the car of Timo Bernhard (DE), Brendon Hartley (NZ) and Mark Webber (AU) remained strong throughout the race to finish third and showed that the team had pace and were able to fight at the front. All in all Silverstone proved to be a successful first competitive outing for the LMP1 Porsche team.
Toyota’s 1000PS four-wheel-drive TS040s made the perfect start to the 2014 FIAWEC, with the no.7 car taking pole position by 5000th of a second over Audi and the Japanese team’s first ever one-two finish with the no. 8 car of Anthony Davidson (GB), Nicolas Lapierre (FR) and Sébastien Buemi (CH) taking the top spot and the prestigious RAC Tourist Trophy and the no.7 TS040 of Alex Wurz (DE), Stéphane Sarrazin (FR) and Kazuki Nakajima (JP) taking second spot. Both cars were at the heart of the action throughout the race, with several position changes due to driver changes and management of the tyres differing between the two cars. In summary a brilliant weekend for the Toyota team, as well as its second successive victory following their triumph in 2013 in the Bahrain season finale.