FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) at Silverstone, England, April 12-14, 2013
story by Tim Hailey with material from Audi and Toyota
Audi’s dominance is more than carbon fiber deep, as the team continues to win despite looking on the ropes
Audi won the famous RAC Tourist Trophy for the first time last weekend at Silverstone. The tradition-steeped trophy that has been awarded since 1905, was the main prize for the 2013 FIA’s World Endurance Championship opening event. The Scotsman Allan McNish (GB) was pleased to win this important motorsport trophy at his “home” round. Together with Tom Kristensen (DK) he was on the grid for the first time with his new teammate Loïc Duval (F).
From the start, a thrilling battle had ensued with challenger Toyota, whose cars swept the front row in qualifying. McNish in the number 2 Audi grabbed the lead for the first time on the sixth lap. The sister car – number 1 – driven by Marcel Fässler/André Lotterer/Benoît Tréluyer (CH/D/F) completed Audi’s one-two lead at an early stage as the Toyotas unexpectedly struggled on raceday. On lap 77, the Swiss fought his way forward to the very front. A defect on the left front driveshaft after four hours of racing though meant that the hybrid system of car number 1 was no longer able to deliver its power to the front wheels. With that, the current World Champions had to admit defeat. “It’s been a good race even though we were lacking a bit of fortune toward the end,” said Tréluyer. “But the new Audi R18 e-tron quattro is a car that feels great. A good omen for the future.”
In the fifth hour of the race, after 151 laps, Audi #2 took the lead. Despite an excursion while lapping another car and an additional tire change, McNish went on to recover the lead and crossed the finish line with a 3.4-second advantage. “We knew it would be a difficult race,” said McNish. “The competition with Toyota was tough, plus there was a thrilling duel between both Audi cars. In the end, it became a battle between Benoît Tréluyer and me. After I spun, I went for maximum attack on new tires. I managed to move to the front only on the penultimate lap. I’m happy about having scored the maximum number of points at the WEC opener for the second consecutive time.”
“An extremely thrilling race,” said Fässler. “Allan McNish was running on new tires toward the end while our tires had already run for many kilometers. Congratulations to the drivers of car number 2. It was a great race for both cars and a nice one-two victory for Audi in the battle with Toyota.”
“A nice race in which we clearly showed how we increased our pace in the winter,” said Kristensen. “Toyota’s performance deserves respect as well. We’ve seen a thrilling battle in which Allan McNish recovered despite a spin. And Loïc Duval experienced a very nice debut in our driver squad.”
“A fantastic weekend,” agreed Duval. “Allan McNish was incredibly strong at Silverstone. He was very quick and even recovered the time loss after spinning shortly before the end. I’m delighted about immediately clinching a victory on my first start in the Audi R18 e-tron quattro at Silverstone.”
Even if the blame can be placed on tire choice, Toyota must be disheartened with their poor raceday run
So in the technologically challenging battle of the best hybrid sports cars Audi – like last year – achieved victory in front of Toyota at Silverstone. The two R18 e-tron quattro cars had been set up for particularly high aerodynamic downforce. The smaller air restrictor prescribed by the regulations this year was to reduce the output of Audi’s LMP sports cars. The engineers from Audi Sport worked on compensating for this disadvantage, which also included a power-oriented engine development. Furthermore, the 58-liter fuel tank capacity of the diesel hybrid sports car being around 20 percent smaller than that of the gasoline engine sports car of competitor Toyota resulted in shorter refueling intervals for Audi. Despite an additional refueling stop Audi managed to win with a one-lap advantage in front of the best Toyota finishing in third place.
The Japanese manufacturer claimed a poor choice of Michelin tire compound for their woes, but one has to think this raceday failure was more comprehensive. Following weather-affected qualifying, the two TS030 HYBRIDs started from the front row of the grid and led the opening laps, with Alex Wurz and Anthony Davidson respectively. “It was a difficult race for us,” said Wurz. “During the first stint, the tires went off quickly due to the track temperatures. That affected our pace and our strategy as we were not able to do two stints on the same tyres which cost us additional time in the pits. Then we drove as hard as we could but it was not possible to fight with Audi and ultimately we missed out on the podium. So we have to go back to Cologne and work hard to get a better result at Spa.”
“That was a tough race and one of the harder podiums of my career,” agreed Davidson. “It was a case of the tires being out of their temperature range; we were suffering from graining and a lack of front grip. Both Alex and I had to nurse them through the first stint and we were not able to double stint with them. We changed to a different compound towards the end and the track temperatures dropped more which helped us. That’s why our speed came back, but it was not enough.”
“A great day for Audi, for our team and for the spectators,” said Ralf Jüttner, Technical Director of Audi Sport Team Joest. “Our pit stop intervals were shorter than Toyota’s but we compensated for that with a faster race pace. The drivers did everything right and the pit stops were superb. Allan McNish set an exclamation mark in the end and went on to win a race that was almost believed to be lost. The other driver pairing accepted the result in true sporting spirit. That was a nice start into the season.”
“It’s very nice to be able to finish the first WEC race in 2013 with a one-two victory,” said Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, Head of Audi Motorsport. “From the beginning to the end, we showed a consistently good performance. Both cars were running on different strategies and it was thrilling through to the end. Although car number 1 was ultimately handicapped the lap times were very strong. A duel of the kind fought between Allan McNish and Benoît Tréluyer is unrivaled in motorsport. That proves that our drivers are free to battle on track. But they also know that they’re driving for the Audi brand and they impressively showed that.”
“It was an open battle up to the end,” agreed Lotterer. “For us, the race lasted two minutes too long… But it was a great result for Audi. For the Championship, the starting base is perfect even though we’d have liked to have been one step higher. We can be pleased nonetheless.”
The winning trio is now leading the WEC drivers’ standings with a seven-point advantage. In just three weeks from now, the next competition is on the agenda. At Spa-Francorchamps, on May 4, Audi is fielding three R18 e-tron quattro cars in the race for the first time this year in preparation for the Le Mans 24 Hours.
1 Duval/Kristensen/McNish (Audi R18 e-tron quattro) 197 laps
2 Fässler/Lotterer/Tréluyer (Audi R18 e-tron quattro) + 3.462s
3 Buemi/Davidson/Sarrazin (Toyota) – 1 lap
4 Lapierre/Wurz (Toyota) – 1 lap
5 Heidfeld/Jani/Prost (Lola-Toyota) – 4 laps
6 Beche/Belicchi/Cheng (Lola-Toyota) – 7 laps
7 Graves/Pizzonia/Walker (Oreca-Nissan) – 13 laps
8 Brundle/Heinemeier-Hansson/Pla (Morgan-Nissan) – 14 laps
9 Dyson/Kimber-Smith/Marsal (Zytek-Nissan) – 17 laps
10 Kaffer/Perez Companc/Minassian (Oreca-Nissan) – 18 laps
Toyota Sweeps Front Row at Silverstone
TOYOTA Racing made the perfect start to its FIA World Endurance Championship season by taking first and second on the grid for the season-opening Six Hours of Silverstone. The #7 TS030 HYBRID of Alex Wurz and Nicolas Lapierre took pole position – the team’s fourth from seven races since its 2012 debut – with the #8 of Anthony Davidson, Stéphane Sarrazin and Sébastien Buemi in second.
A new qualifying format for this season means two drivers from each car must set a minimum of two flying laps each. The grid is decided by the combined average of each driver’s fastest two laps.
In changing conditions, the #7 crew’s decision to switch to slick tires for Alex, having started on intermediates with Nicolas, paid dividends. A rain shower just before the session left the track damp, but a dry line gradually emerged and Alex took advantage of this on the slick tires to improve the #7’s average time and set the fastest lap of the session in the process. “It was a new qualifying format, but today it was totally overshadowed by the weather conditions,” said Wurz. “With a rain shower at the beginning and a drying track at the end it was quite tricky. Nico did a super job in the first stint. I took over the car with slick tyres and the circuit was dry enough to put in a good lap time. So we are very happy; we have pole position and that’s what we like.”
“It is a really good start to the season getting the pole position here at Silverstone in those difficult conditions,” said Lapierre. “It was a good strategy from the engineers, drivers and all the team. Pole position is one thing but also getting the fastest lap is very important for us and gives us confidence for tomorrow. The car is looking good. It will be a tough race but it’s so important for us to start first and second on the grid so we are very happy right now.”
Anthony started the session in the #8 on intermediate tyres and handed over to Sébastien, who stayed on intermediates and secured second spot. With only two drivers taking part in the session, Stéphane watched from the garage. “It was a difficult qualifying session with mixed conditions, but it was good fun,” said Davidson. “It was the right call to start on the intermediates; I felt really confident and was pushing as hard as I wanted. When we swapped drivers we continued on the inters whereas the #7 went on to slicks and ultimately that was the right thing to do. We played it safe because we had a comfortable advantage and we got the result we needed. First and second is a really good start to the championship.”
“It was a fantastic qualifying,” agreed Buemi. “We can be very happy to beat the Audis. Obviously it is just qualifying and in endurance this doesn’t decide anything but to start from the front row is great. Tactically it was a very difficult call on the tyres because the circuit was wet to start with and dried really quickly. We split the cars, with us staying on intermediates and the #7 switching to slicks. At the end of the session the inters were not the ideal tyres for the conditions but we managed first and second, which is the most important thing.”
Audi #1 struggled to 5th on the grid
True enough, Audi is smarting at Silverstone. With only 20 minutes duration and a rain shower setting in, Audi did not manage perfect timing. Both Audi R18 e-tron quattro cars started the qualifying session on untreaded intermediate tires, but returned to the pits due to a shower. When they went out again to chase for times on rain tires, the rain stopped and the track quickly dried off.
Loïc Duval on treaded tires achieved the fourth-best time twice. He turned over his number 2 Audi to Tom Kristensen, who went out on intermediate tires. The average time, which determines the grid position, achieved by the duo resulted in grid position three with a 3.2-second gap. “In addition to the new qualifying mode, there were other incalculable factors,” said Duval. “I was driving in relatively heavy traffic plus rain set in. After we changed to rain tires the track dried off surprisingly fast. With only 20 minutes of time for two drivers we didn’t have a chance to make another tire choice. Tom Kristensen then had better chances on untreaded tires and made good use of them.”
“A very intensive qualifying session!” noted Kristensen. “Only 20 minutes for two timed laps of two drivers, respectively. On intermediate tires I encountered a relatively dry track. My car was very good when I caught a Toyota on my second lap and lost time. I even drove another lap but the tires had already gone past their best point. I’m looking forward to a nice, tough competition in the race.”
The sister car’s situation was less fortunate. Benoît Tréluyer in car number 1 complained about a malfunction of the traction control system that cost him a significant amount of time compared to car number 2. His team-mate André Lotterer achieved the third-fastest time on his first outing and ultimately set the best time of his group. On average, these performances resulted in grid position five. Despite the adverse conditions Audi is looking toward the race with optimism, as the balance of both Audi R18 e-tron quattro cars gives rise to expecting a thrilling competition over the six-hour distance. “I was driving on untreaded intermediate tires on a relatively dry track,” said Lotterer. “The times were good and we were able to reduce our gap. Benoît Tréluyer had a problem with the setting of the traction control. That’s why he had no chance of achieving good times. But we’re in for a long race and we know how fast our car is.”
“Unfortunately, there was a small software problem with the traction control so that I wasn’t able to perfectly accelerate,” complained Tréluyer. “We’re going to analyze the error in detail. In addition, there was the challenging tire choice. It’s nice that André Lotterer caught up again with excellent times.”
“We knew that the qualifying format wouldn’t be easy,” said Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, Head of Audi Motorsport. “In addition, rain set in today on the first lap. We started on intermediate tires with both cars in order to take advantage of the just partially damp track. The rain was very heavy at two locations of the track and after receiving feedback from the drivers we switched to rain tires. But then the rain abruptly stopped and our drivers had to finish their two laps on their treaded tires. Our competitor Toyota opted for untreaded tires. In the qualifying session of our second drivers we were no longer able to recover the big time difference. Tom Kristensen and André Lotterer achieved good lap times nonetheless. Our grid positions aren’t ideal but at a 6-hour race the starting positions aren’t the most important thing.”
“New rules for the first time plus changeable weather. That was a bit difficult,” agreed Ralf Jüttner, Technical Director of Audi Sport Team Joest. “We did the right thing by starting on intermediates but both drivers on their warm-up lap said that it was too wet. These were borderline conditions and we didn’t make optimum use of them. Today, a lot of luck was involved. In retrospect, we were a bit too conservative in our tire choice.”
“The conditions were relatively difficult for my teammates after heavy rain had set in,” observed Marcel Fässler of Audi #1. “In addition, Benoît Tréluyer wasn’t able to exploit our car’s full potential. André Lotterer then managed two good laps.”
“For two days there’s unsteady weather all the way into qualifying and it’s very cold,” said Allan McNish of Audi #2. “It wasn’t easy to warm up the tires; that’s why we weren’t able to make optimum use of them right from the beginning. The balance of our car though is very good. I’m expecting a tough rival on Sunday and believe we haven’t seen the full potential yet – neither with Toyota nor with us.”
1 Lapierre/Wurz (Toyota) 1m 48.021s
2 Buemi/Davidson/Sarrazin (Toyota) 1m 49.995s
3 Duval/Kristensen/McNish (Audi R18 e-tron quattro) 1m 51.283s
4 Heidfeld/Jani/Prost (Lola-Toyota) 1m 52.124s
5 Fässler/Lotterer/Tréluyer (Audi R18 e-tron quattro) 1m 53.488s
6 Beche/Belicchi/Cheng (Lola-Toyota) 1m 53.835s
7 Graves/Pizzonia/Walker (Oreca-Nissan) 1m 55.148s
8 Brundle/Heinemeier-Hansson/Pla (Morgan-Nissan) 1m 57.629s
9 Conway/Martin/Rusinov (Oreca-Nissan) 1m 57.697s
10 Baguette/Gonzalez/Plowman (Morgan-Nissan) 1m 58.729s
The race at Silverstone starts on Sunday at 12:00 local time. The racing action can be watched on the internet by live streaming on www.audi-liveracing.com and on www.fiawec.com.