Text: Rick Kiewiet
Images: Toyota Motorsport, Porsche Newsroom, Cool Racing (race-film.de) , FIA WEC / Adrenal Media
There were a couple of things to look forward to in our preview of the 4h of Silverstone earlier on. How did they play out? And were there any other surprises during the weekend, pleasant or unpleasant?
That Toyota won the race was no big surprise, but the relative ease at which the winning no. 7 car of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José Maria Lopez, and the sister no. 8 defeated the Rebellions and Ginetta's somewhat was. Where at the Prologue the non-hybrids could approach the Japanese hybrids by three to five tenths, and even in qualifying still by half a second, in the race the competition was no match. Toyota lost the lead with at a FCY in the first phase of the race, but flew passed the leading Rebellions effortlessly. The gap slightly shrank when the rain started to fall, but this was mostly due to the Toyota's stopping later than the others.
In the pits the no. 8 took over the lead from the 7 and together they quickly opened a considerable gap to the Rebellion no. 3. At the next series of pit stops the lead switched back to the no. 7 again. Hartley, making his debut in the no. 8 car, managed to close the gap to Kobayashi and pass him for the lead after which a slow last stop of the no. 8 lost it the lead to the 7 indefinitely. Alonso, Nakajima and Hartley had to settle for 2nd. The Rebellion with Berthon, Derani and Duval at the wheel took up the last podium spot. After the race came the announcement of Rebellion that they will not field the second car the entire season. The car will only return for the 24 hours of Le Mans 2020, and maybe the 6 hours of Spa in advance.
The Ginetta's couldn't really play a role in the race. In their debut race Team LNT suffered from a loose wheel in the opening stages, some technical issues and a spin for the no. 6 after contact with the GT Pro Ferrari of Miguel Molina, ending the race of the latter. There's much to improve over the season as the gap in qualifying was also considerable at 1.2 seconds off the pace.
It remains to be seen if the new success handicaps that come into play this year can level the playing field. By limiting, among others, fuel flow, fuel rig flow and minimum weight, the Toyota's should be significantly slower at the next WEC race at Fuji.
The competition in GT Pro was strong as expected. After the AF Corse Ferraris confiscated the first starting row on Saturday, it were the Manthey Porsches that claimed the honors on Sunday. The updated 911's didn't have a clear run, especially winner Bruni suffered a remarkable temporary loss of speed, but in the end they came out on top. The Ferrari's seemed the faster car, the #71 with Rigon and Molina leading the race early on until the crash with the Ginetta. Later in the race Alessandro Pier Guidi in the #51 closed a considerable gap to the leading Porsche's with relative ease and passed the two quickly. A drive through penalty for overtaking during the safety car ended his and James Calado's hope of winning the race. Right after the Ferrari came into the pits, the penalty was canceled by the stewards, but the damage was already done.
Aston Martin, especially the #97 car with Alex Lynn and Maxime Martin, came pretty close and was only 2.4 seconds of the second Porsche.
Racing Team Nederland enjoyed immediate success from their switch to the Oreca chassis, claiming pole position in the TDS run car at their debut. They also led most of the first three hours of the race, only to lose the lead to Nico Lapierre in the Cool Racing car in the last hour. A failing 2nd gear also lost them 2nd to the #36 Signatech car in the last lap, but Job van Uitert, Giedo van der Garde and Frits van Eerd managed to cling on to third. Lapierre and Borga went on to win the race on their debut. World Champions Signatech with their new driver line-up Negrão, Ragues and Laurent took 2nd. The race was close as expected, with the positions 2 to 5 within 10 seconds of each other at the finish.
United Autosports didn't have a succesful race, suffering from electrical issues forcing them to retire after two laps. Both Jota run cars weren't far off the podium, missing out on a mere 7 seconds.
In contrast with the GT Pro podium, there were no Porsches in the GT Am top 3. Only Ferrari and Aston Martin were represented on the GT Am podium. AF Corse scored the victory with their new entry, the #83 car with Francois Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard and Nicklas Nielsen at the wheel. Paul Dalla Lana, with his new teammates Darren Turner and Ross Gunn came in second and MR Racing picked up the last podium spot. Best Porsche was the Gulf Racing UK entry that came in 4th.
Both last year's World Champions and runner-ups had a difficult race: Project 1 finished 6th (#56) and 10th (#57) while the first Dempsey-Proton Porsche (#77) finished 5th. Many cars led the class during the race, underlining the competitiveness of the outfits in class. If you're looking for the closest fights, keep an eye on the GT Am class.