The modern layout of the Nürburgring may not have quite the romance of it’s elder relative – the Green Hell that is the Nordschleife – alongside which it sits, but it will likely be remembered with great fondness by Mark Webber, who previously took his debut Formula One victory at the Ring and has now done the double with his first FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) victory at the same circuit.
Webber finished the last stint to take the chequered flag in his No17 Porsche 919, the first WEC win for him and team-mates Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley, having completed 203 laps. It had been a dominant run that saw them finish a lap ahead of their sister car the No18 919 of Neel Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas in second and the No7 Audi of Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler in third.
After the No18 crew took the win at the Le Mans 24 Hours, with Webber’s squad in second, another one-two in the fourth round of the FIA WEC has made the championship battle even closer. Audi had won the two opening races at Silverstone and Spa but with four rounds to go, the Audi No7 team now lead Webber, Bernhard and Hartley by just 17 points and are only 19 ahead of the second Porsche.
“Achieving the second one-two after Le Mans is great for our team,” said Webber. “This is my first Porsche victory and, of course, it is a big day for Brendon, Timo and myself, and it is always a team effort. The two of them were awesome, we had no technical issues and took an important step by improving our performance on shorter tracks. Traffic was sometimes brutal today, but we made it.”
Indeed at times for the top-end LMP1 prototypes threading the needle through the slower cars looked harder than ever on the tight challenge of the Nürburgring, which, hosting the WEC for the first time, was understandably popular with German fans – over 62,000 turning out for the weekend.
Nor had it been entirely plain sailing for the winning car. Webber won here in F1 for Red Bull in 2009 after a brilliant performance in which he had to come back from a drive-through penalty. Never one to shirk from a challenge, this time he was given a setback from the moment he stepped into the car for his first stint, as a replacement nose had to be fitted.
Making up the lost time would have been difficult, with the No18 out front and showing some pace but they set to it and were there to take over when the other Porsche was given three separate stop-and-gos, amounting to 1minute and 35 seconds, for using over the allocated fuel allowance due to a faulty sensor.
Webber, Bernhard and Hartley responded as might have been expected, putting the hammer down and punishing their main rivals Audi. “We stayed focused,” said Hartley, and they had, taking a lap lead and maintaining it for the rest of the race.
All of which will be worrying for Audi, who won the manufacturers championship in 2012 and 2013. Porsche were running a new high-downforce configuration on their 919s at the Nürburgring and it worked to perfection. They had a clear pace advantage over their rivals, which will carry through to the remaining races of the season at Circuit of the Americas, Fuji, Shanghai and Bahrain.
Porsche lead the manufacturers championship from Audi by 33 points, so the latter are still in the chase. However the fact that the second-placed Porsche had secured that spot by the last set of stops, despite having taken the three penalties, is an ominous display of form that Audi cannot ignore. They look like they need to find at least three-tenths of a second per lap in pace before the next round at Austin on 19 September.
The No8 Audi of Lucas di Grassi, Loïc Duval and Oliver Jarvis let their sister car past in the final hour, as it is in the fight for the drivers title, and finished in fourth.
Last year’s champions, Toyota, remained well off the pace and although they continue gamely, clearly next year’s new car cannot come soon enough. They finished three laps back with the Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima in fifth and the sister car of Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin and Mike Conway a further lap back in sixth.
Nick Tandy, Richard Bradley and Matt Howson drove KCMG to the class win in LMP2, continuing in style after doing the same at Le Mans in June; Richard Lietz and Michael Christensen made it an even better day for Porsche with the win in GTE Pro, while Victor Shatter, Andrea Bertolini and Aleksey Basov took the flag for SMP Racing in GTE Am.
This article was written by Giles Richards, for theguardian.com on Monday 31st August 2015 15.43 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010