Mark Webber’s Porsche wins Shanghai Six Hours to close on WEC title

Mark Webber

Adding a spot of H2O almost always brings something intriguing to motor racing’s complex equation and the seventh round of the FIA World Endurance Championship was no exception.

But while the rain helped create a contest that ebbed and flowed across the Shanghai Six Hours, ultimately its bid to throw up a surprise was defeated by the sheer dominance of the Porsche entries.

With their third one-two of the season and the race won by the drivers’ championship leaders of the No17 car, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard, the marque also secured the manufacturers’ title with one race to go.

A jubilant team celebrated with abandon after the race, and well they might. In racing terms this is a remarkable achievement. The old rule of thumb used to be that for a new entrant to win the Le Mans 24 Hours, it takes at least three years. Porsche only returned to the top level of prototype sports car racing in 2014, yet earlier this year they not only won Le Mans but have now claimed the overall title as well. It is their 13th constructors’ championship in endurance racing and their first since Derek Bell took the title in 1986. All in only their second season and against formidable competition in the form of Audi who have utterly dominated the sport for over a decade.

“What this team have done in this short period of time is just incredible,” said Webber. “To come at this level and have the results they have this year – it’s really hard to produce these type of cars and this type of performance week in week out, it’s an incredible performance.”

That they achieved it this year is to a great extent down to the No17 car’s crew. Taking the flag here in Shanghai was their fourth successive victory and has put them within touching distance of the drivers’ title as well. The world championship that eluded Webber in Formula One is now within his grasp. They lead their Audi rivals, the No7 squad of Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benoît Tréluyer by 12 points, with the final race in Bahrain to come. Regardless of where the Audi finishes, they can clinch the win with a third place-or-better finish and if they score the extra point for claiming pole, fourth will be enough.

A murky, rainy morning had seen the six hours begin behind the safety car but racing proper was under way by lap three. The wet negates Porsche’s pace advantage but early in the race the No17 still seemed to have the measure of the Audis. However as the rain became heavier, and at times the track resembled a skid pan so many cars were taking excursions off the island, the playing field was further levelled and the leaders began scrapping. Tréluyer and Bernhard were all over one another and by lap 59 when the former took the lead, the front four had only four seconds between them.

It was thrilling stuff and had the rain continued Audi might have had a chance to upset Porsche’s plans but as it eased off just after the halfway point, the title winners took advantage. Able to double stint their wet tyres, the No17 and its sister car, the No18 of Neel Jani, Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb, regained the front two spots. When Webber took to the track for the final stint and began banging in fastest laps on the slick inters the No7 Audi was valiantly fighting but realistically only for second place.

On a drying track it was the best they could hope for to keep their championship hopes alive but both the Porsche 919 Hybrids, the class of the field this season, were proving hard to contain. They run longer on fuel, work their tyres better and are out and out quicker in raw pace. All amply demonstrated not only by the winners but by the No18 car. It had dropped to the back of the field on the first racing lap after Lieb was clipped by Lotterer, fought back to the front once, then in the fifth hour dropped second place to Fässler after Dumas spun at turn two. Soon after which the Audis where the first to take slicks and were immediately five seconds a lap quicker. But Porsche reacted quickly, switched to new rubber and with the No18 able to run a long last stint and take a splash and dash with 15 minutes to go, were, despite all their travails, still able to claim second place.

The final factor in Porsche’s dominance has, of course, been reliability, which the 919 now has in spades. The team have had only one DNF this season, the No17 at Silverstone and only one mechanical problem that compromised the No18 at COTA, although it finished the race. Should they maintain the record in Bahrain and stay out of trouble the drivers’ championship is theirs for the taking. Certainly at that race there will be no rain to trouble their parade.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Giles Richards in Shanghai , for theguardian.com on Sunday 1st November 2015 19.59 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010