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 in China.
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. 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.
“It was an action packed race. When I jumped in the car the track was really very wet,” Bernhard said.
“A full course yellow was on and I drove between the two Audis in a lot of spray. Actually I had to familiarise myself with the conditions because I didn’t do a single lap in the wet before and didn’t want to take too much of a risk. The car was fast. When the track was drying, it definitely was the fastest of all. I had nice battles with the Audis and with Neel. In the end I could take the lead and we have reached our great target today.”
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.
Taking a fine, first LMP2 win in the WEC at Shanghai was the Signatech Alpine squad of Nelson Panciatici, Paul-Loup Chatin and championship newcomer Tom Dillmann.
Driving the Alpine A450b-Nissan, the French trio came good in the second half of the race after Chatin drove an excellent middle portion to set up a useful gap to the chasing G-Drive Racing Ligier-Nissan entries.
Two great battles in the LMGTE Pro and LMGTE Am classes resulted in victory for Porsche in the Pro class and the first win of the year for the No.83 AF Corse Ferrari in the Am class.
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 No.91 911 taking control when it mattered, moving well ahead of the No.51 Ferrari of Toni Vilander and Gimmi Bruni and taking the chequered flag with a 45-second margin.
The No.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 no71 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 driver’s title.
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.
In LMGTE Am it was the No.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 No.98 Aston Martin Racing Vantage of Pedro Lamy, Paul Dalla Lana and Mathias Lauda and 1 lap ahead of the No.72 SMP Racing Ferrari of Victor Shaytar, Alexsey Basov and Andrea Bertolini.