The two Porsche 919 Hybrids will start the six-hour race at Fuji, Japan from second and third on the grid. This means the Porsche Team has managed to get onto the front row for the fourth time in what is only its fifth race with the innovative and complex Le Mans Prototype. Round five of the FIA World Endurance Championship will get underway at 11am local time on Sunday.
As usual in the WEC, qualifying was split into classes. The LMP1 and LMP2 classes shared 25 minutes on track. Two drivers from each car had to do at least two timed laps each. The average from the four best lap times determine the grid positions. Neel Jani and Marc Lieb took over qualifying duties in car number 14, while Timo Bernhard and Mark Webber shared the number 20 Porsche 919 Hybrid for the session. In the end the average lap time of car number 20 (1:26.929 minutes) was only 0.043 seconds away from pole position. The average lap time of the third placed number 14 sister car was 1:27.306 minutes.
Earlier in the morning, free practice three had also been a smooth session for the Porsche Team seeing car number 20 coming second (1:27.300) and car number 14 finishing third (1:27.764), covering 26 and 31 laps respectively.
"Qualifying was a great recovery by the team since we struggled a bit with the car’s balance yesterday," said Mark after the session. "We have managed to improve the car overnight and we were able to learn from the sister car as well. Our qualifying laps have been very good and pretty much the maximum we are able to achieve. Timo did a great job, so it all worked out really well for us. The Toyota is just a bit too strong for us, but this is fair enough as we are in our first year. Qualifying is only a small bit of endurance racing, but nevertheless we are very happy to be on the front row."
F1, Super GT, motor bike races and endurance racing - Japan is definitely a motor sport crazy county. I’ve got good memories of watching the Suzuka 8 Hours motorcycle race on TV when I grew up, as a lot of Australians ride in that race.
I’ve raced sports cars before in Japan but that was at Suzuka in1998 when I won the 1000 km race with Bernd Schneider at Mercedes. I did the final stint that day and taking the chequered flag in front of a huge crowd in the twilight with all fireworks going off is something I still remember fondly.
Of course, sports car racing has a long history at Fuji too with the 1000 kilometre races they’ve hosted in the past, the Super GT races and other categories. The track has been on and off the calendar for many years. It’s also hosted the Japanese F1 GP twice and I raced there in 2007 and 2008 in wet and in dry conditions. At the race in 2007 I had food poisoning which is not the best memory but I always enjoyed driving there and I love Mount Fuji providing such a spectacular backdrop. Also the fans are great; they’re very knowledgeable and passionate, get very emotional in a very polite way and they simply love their motorsport, whether it’s the two and four wheeled variety.
Fuji is a challenging circuit with a long straight and in the last sector it’s quite difficult to get everything together. I always enjoyed the start of the second sector, with a left and then long double right before the hairpin at the back and then into a high speed passage which is nice. There are combined corners, the car balance is important and the technique on braking is quite tricky.
We have been competitive on the sprint tracks and the weather should also be a bit cooler in Japan which is a little bit better for us.
I hear there are many Porsche fans in Japan due to the success the team has enjoyed in the past so I hope we will see many of them cheering on us on our return this weekend.
"In the beginning it was a good battle with the Audi, but they have clearly been more comfortable in traffic and could easily pick various different lines," said Mark. "Temporarily I also did not have the full boost, but we were able to fix this while I was running. We have definitely learnt a lot in the high temperatures of the early part of the race and also later in the stints."
Race result 6 hours of Austin (Texas):
1. Fässler/Lotterer/Tréluyer (CH/D/F), Audi R18 e-tron quattro, 157 laps
2. Di Grassi/Duval/Kristensen (BRA/F/DK), Audi R18 e-tron quattro, – 53,016 s.
3. Davidson/Lapierre/Buemi (GB/F/CH), Toyota TS040 Hybrid, – 1:03,945 min
4. Dumas/Jani/Lieb (F/CH/D), Porsche 919 Hybrid, – 1 lap
5. Bernhard/Hartley/Webber (D/NZ/AUS), Porsche 919 Hybrid, – 2 laps
6. Wurz/Sarrazin/Conway (A/F/GB), Toyota TS040 Hybrid, – 2 laps
“It was a good team effort to put the cars second and third on the grid. Due to changing weather conditions, it was a compromised weekend in terms of set-up for everyone. In qualifying the conditions were extremely favourable for us, as it was a little cooler, and we made the most of it. However, I regard qualifying as only 0.5 per cent of the job, the main task is the six-hour race tomorrow.”
"I started the first session today," Mark said after practice. "I did some basic checks on the hybrid systems and aerodynamics, then later on also a little bit of performance work to see how the car was. It really wasn’t a bad start, despite the fact we don’t know yet what it means for our performance in a six-hour race. I enjoyed the circuit in Formula One and I enjoyed it with the Porsche 919 Hybrid. The high ambient temperatures gave the cars and drivers an extra challenge. The night session was obviously tricky, but we kept the cars in one piece."
It’s been a rather long break after Le Mans and I was looking forward to being back in the cockpit when we tested at Lausitz three weeks ago. We’ve learnt a lot about the car in the first three races and were able to improve the car in all areas over summer. We’ve introduced a few aero updates which provide a higher downforce and should help improve the 919’s race performance for the remaining races.
The biggest difference for me coming back to Austin this year with the sports car is the temperature, because we never really raced there in super hot conditions in F1. The WEC race there is a bit earlier in the season and it looks like it’s going to be hotter and the track will behave a bit differently from a grip perspective.
The Circuit of the Americas is a very demanding track as it’s got a lot of different speed ranges, long straights and also lot of elevation changes. Turn 1 has got quite a spectacular and dramatic approach up a steep hill featuring a blind apex.
I think generally the low speed corners will be a little bit more awkward in the sports car because it’s heavier. The backend of the middle sector when we get into turn 12 to 15 is going to be a bit more challenging than in the Formula One car. I’ve got some pretty good knowledge about the track having raced there twice with F1 and I’m looking forward to swinging that across especially into the first two or three sessions.
The race will start at 5pm local time and we will race into the dark. I think it’s such a great atmosphere and it’s pretty rare in motorsport that you get the opportunity to run in the twilight window. We will be starting pretty much in the peak of heat of the day, very late in the afternoon. I’ve experienced this before racing in Abu Dhabi and have always enjoyed the special mood when the sun goes down and the night settles in, except Abu Dhabi has always been well lit. On the track in Austin I think it’s only the pit straight that has artificial light and the rest of the track will be pretty dark so the big lights of the Porsche will come in very handy.
Having raced in Austin before I’ve seen how passionate the fans out there are about motorracing and they seem to enjoy big powerful cars and endurance racing. The LM24 hours has a big following when it comes to the American audience and it’s the same with the Sebring 12 hour race which is very famous and the 24 hours of Daytona. It will be great to get out there again also because the North Americans particularly love the Porsche’s.
Cutting down from 20 to eight races in a season sounds like gaining a lot of downtime – and it would, if you weren’t a competitive, driven, outdoor loving Aussie who can’t quite sit still. Mark has a thirteen-week gap until the next race in Austin in September and he talks about the racing break, Wimbledon, the Football World Cup, mountain biking and why you should be careful of Kodak moments.
Thanks for clearing that up. I only saw that situation on the replays.