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FIA World Endurance Championship 6 Hours of Nürburgring 2016

22nd - 24th July 2016

Event report

Just like the last season, we are back to Germany, for the fourth round of the World Endurance Championship, actually the third consecutive WEC race in a row covered by RSC, before entire championship moves out of Europe for its second half, this year extended by one race (in Mexico) to a total of nine events. The 6 Hour of Nürburgring, new to the series last season, immediately became one of the classic venues of the championship.

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Nothing new or surprising on the entry list, or in the programme - there are 33 cars here, as well as on the original entry. Some driver changes to the standard line ups, mean for example just two drivers at Audi no.7 or BR01 no.27, while three driver teams still continues to be a standard for most WEC classes but GTE Pro.

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The weather forecast was not good for the weekend. Fortunately two Friday's practice sessions at 12:00 and 16:30 were still held on the dry track. This year the slower Grand Prix chicane (behind the paddock) is used. The time were about 3 seconds slower than last year - what is the influence of the chicane and what is the LMP1 restriction for this year we can only presume.

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It was not then possible to compare times on Saturday, as the rainy weather forecast fulfilled completely. Fortunately, both Saturday's sessions started wet but since there was almost no rain during them, the track was drying and the times were not much off the Friday's pace, during qualifying, they were even beaten.

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Now to the real performance of individual cars. First LMP1 - so far the Toyotas look to be a little off the pace, compared to Audis and especially the Porsches. All three factory teams run here the third iteration of their bodywork. While Toyota's and Audi's high performance pack does not look much different from earlier races, the Porsche aero solution is noticeable on the front and looks actually pretty good. Audis also looks way better than in Le Mans or Spa, but they remind their Silverstone configuration so that a common spectator would likely not notice the difference.

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Porsche started on Friday 1-2 but in the afternoon session both Audis broke into the Porsche dominance and finished 2nd and 3rd behind the Porsche no.1. Toyota could not do better than 5th and 6th, between one and one and half seconds behind. Saturday practice in the morning witnessed a trying track and all three manufacturers at the top, at some point of the practice. Even Toyotas now looked stronger, one of them classified second behind Porsche no.1. While the Toyota improved by almost a second compared to Friday, generally the time were slower and it did not change anything on combined positions from the three practice sessions: Porsche no.1, Audi no.7, Audi no.8, Toyota no.5, Porsche no.2, Toyota no.6.

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Fastest practice time in LMP2 was set by G-Drive Oreca no.26, on Friday. In GTE it was split between Ferraris and Aston Martins. No Ford dominance, like in Le Mans, so far in practice.

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Qualifying

Two 20-minute qualifying sessions on Saturday afternoon were strongly influenced by the drying track. GTE cars ran the first 20 minutes and their times continuously improved and since the final grid position is based on average of two driver in each car, it was best to let both drivers ran at the end of the session. With the final lap on progress Ford no.67 was in the lead with Porsche no.77 - then four GTE Pro cars crossed the finish line for the last time and moved the Ford and the Porsche to 5th and 6th place respectively. It much more about ideal timing of driver changes and a good luck, having no traffic or error, in the final lap.

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During the LMP session, with the drying in progress, the times were very soon close to those from yesterday. Porsches were at the top at the beginning but as the session progressed and as the second drivers were taken into account in the provisional standings, it more and more looked as if Audi was determined to dominate. Most of the LMP teams managed to exchange the drivers in a way to have very similar qualifying laps, unlike with GTE, when some team have the difference between the drivers 6 or even 10 seconds, as the improvement on still wet track was more significant. With Audi 1-2 and 1:50 minutes before the chequered flag, Porsche no.2 changed drivers and tyres, and shoot out for the final flying lap in an attempt to break into the front row on the grid. Unfortunately it started raining and while to Porsche started the lap with about 7 seconds to go - it gave it up right on the main straight and even did not finish this flying lap - actually leaving the Audi the Pole Position and entire first row. Toyotas, once again, being a little off the pace, only little erase the 2.5 second gaps from the first part of qualifying to some 1.3 second on average but nearly 2 seconds on the really best lap.

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The so far unmentioned LMP1 privateer subclass was now seeing the Lotus CLM splitting otherwise slightly dominant Rebellions, though the Lotus CLM was already 2nd in the second Friday's session as well. This class is usually decided by terms of reliability and despite close times between all three cars in it, we do not expect that anything else than pure reliability would matter in this class. Rebellions were nice in the first two races, actually reaching a podium finish, after struggling factory cars filled lists of DNFs, in Le Mans it was back in normal - factory cars running entire distance ahead of LMP2 cars while sparse surviving LMP1-privateers deeply in the field of GTEs.

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Tomorrow we will continue with the race starting at 1 PM of a local time. We hope there is not so much rain anymore - especially because it seems that nowadays almost nobody is able to organise a race in such conditions without implementing huge safety car periods. Two support races in the afternoon were spoilt by that. Porsche Cup did not attract much of our attention (though several different types were present 997, 991, Cayman and one 996, it was still boring one make series race). But classic touring cars, with DTM, Group A and even Group 2 BMW 635 CSi, sometimes with their original driver brought so desired variety and also memories that it was really worth watching, once the annoying safety car turned to the pits and fortunately never appeared again. A bit messy situation arose during the race when cars went to the pit lane and stayed there usually doing nothing, for somewhat like a random time... we did not care the rules but this was really strange and only bad part of the show - unfortunately it was again raining and the fastest Alfa Romeo DTM from the 1990s and Group 2 BMW 635 CSi of Jürg Dürig, who raced it already in the early 1980s, were not that quick as before (bad tyre choice??) and thus it was a battle between late 1980s Mercedes-Benz and BMW M3 - ending with a victory of famous Kurt Thiim in the Mercedes-Benz. The Alfa managed to improve to third but the oldest but very powerful BMW Group 2 was sliding to the finish one lap back.

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Race

Race started exactly at 13:00, after two formation laps. It was sunny and pretty warm since the beginning and nothing changed about the weather throughout the race, still finishing under full day light. All 33 cars were gridded, ordered by qualifying times, i.e. no penalisation like in Le Mans, where we saw several prototypes starting from the back of the grid.

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Audi immediately went ahead just after the green light, but already in the first corner one of the Porsches managed to take second. In this formation (Audi-Porsche-Audi-Porsche-Toyota-Toyota - and then surprisingly CLM-Rebellion-Rebellion) and those positions remained unchanged until the first series of pit stops. CLM kept the Rebellions behind until refuelling. Then the LMP1 privateers had a nice battles, with the CLM again in the lead by lap 70. Unfortunately, it later suddenly slowed down and stopped two turns later. Any attempts to start the smoking car again, were unsuccessful and in the end led to a little fire, which was quickly extinguished.

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Other fire was seen in the pits at Fords, when their no.67 got fire while refuelling - probably due to some bad manipulation with the fuel. Unfortunately, despite little to no real damage on the car, it took a long time before it emerged on the track again - desperately last, and nothing changed about it until the very end of the race.

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Soon it began to be apparent what was partly expected after the practice - the Toyotas were really not competitive here, and lap after lap the gap between them and those ahead was increasing. During the second series of pit stops the Toyotas appeared briefly in the lead, thanks to their longer stints (the first pit stop of Toyotas was in the same lap as Porsche no.2, which led by then)

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After the first series of pit stop, which Porsche managed to be faster with, the no.1 Porsche appeared in the lead - already during the first stint, there were really were close and dramatic battles between the first four factory cars. One of them even led to a spin of Porsche no.2 at the end of the main straight. Both Porsches were trying to overtake their respective Audi ahead and while no.1 Porsche did not succeed by centimeters, no.2 Porsche braked too late and to avoid a GT car which was added to the mix, it spun off to the left, which the curve is to the right. Since then only three cars circulated in front: Porsche no.1, Audi no.8 and Audi no.7. The Porsche no.2 recovered and was easy ahead the Toyotas.

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During this sting the Audis were quicker than Porsches and closed the gap to the leading no.1. In lap 45 the Audi no.8 took the lead, three laps later also the Audi no.7 overtook the Porsche no.1, which was now third safely ahead of no.2. Due to puncture the Porsche no.1 pitted much earlier than Audis (in lap 54) and since then the Porsche pit stop strategy differed. It was significant during one Full Course Yellow (FCY), when both Audis and Porsche no.1 had already pitted before the FCY - pit stop under FCY appeared to be a huge advantage (which should and would be probably solved one day by the rules) - it saw delayed Porsche no.2 easily taking the lead and both Toyotas moving ahead, one of the unlapped - but still desperately 5th and 6th.

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By this time it almost looked as if Toyotas gave it up, were much careful during lapping slower cars and generally not pushing as at the beginning. Once they were lapped again, they easily kept the pace with the Porsches and Audis for the last two hours of the race. Just one Toyota (no.6) lost three laps in the garage for repairs.

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In the meantime, Porsche no.2 hit a slower GTE Porsche - quick repair of no.2 finally helped the Porsche no.1 back to the lead. Unfortunately for the Porsche no.2, the collision was evaluated as avoidable incident and as such penalised by drive through penalty for the factory prototype. It was now sandwiched within the Audis. While trying overtake the second Audi, the other Audi appeared from behind and when overtook the Porsche no.2, the Porsche was hit by one of the Russian BR01. Repairs following a bodywork damage, cause the Porsche no.2 being lapped by its sister car no.1 and providing Audis comfortable 2-3 podium finish. The Porsche no.1 won the race with a relative huge margin, and allowed the Porsche no.2 unlap itself.

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To complete a report for LMP1 cars, the best Rebellion no.13 finished 7th just behind the factories, but in the same lap as LMP2 leaders. The other Rebellion no.12 suffered more problems and was classified only 17th behind all competitive LMP2 cars, but still one lap ahead of the GTE Pro cars.

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LMP2 class started with a show of Oreca no.26, which emerged to be much faster than the rest of the smaller prototype field. During pit stops, it was a Gibson of Strakka Racing that took the class lead briefly, but then again Oreca no.26 featured. It was all fine for the car, until a sudden slow down before the middle of the race, garage visit and then first confirmed retirement... Alpine no.36 took the class over and won after some brief period for the Strakka Gibson again.

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While the class was dominated by Orecas (+Alpines) from the beginning, with only the Gibson providing some variety in front positions, later two of three Ligiers surprisingly improved and took the second and third podium finish, behind the Signatech Alpine no.36. Ligier RGS by Morand no.43 was the more successful one, ahead of ESM no.31 car.

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The GTE class was originally a battle between Aston Martins and Fords - after some close battles, two Astons appeared in the front. One of the Ford then got the fire and the remaining one was still in battle for podium. As the race progressed Aston Martin faded away from the lead and the Ferraris took over. In the end Ferrari no.51 won ahead of Ferrari no.71. One of the Aston Martins (no.95) finished in the lead lap, while the Ford no.66 and Aston Martin no.97 were lap down - similarly as sixth in class, the Porsche no.77, which was more or less a little off the pace.

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Half field of the smallest 6-car class GTE Am, was formed by Porsches. But in the end it was Aston Martin no.98 that took the honours, ahead of best of Porsches - KCMG no.78, and a lone Ferrari (nicely screaming no.83) and a lone Corvette (no.50, Larbre, as usual).

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Attendance was slightly down compared to the last year, perhaps due to unstable weather over the entire weekend, but still 58000 is a decent crowd for the German round of WEC, which was recently confirmed also for the 2017 season.

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Final note before leaving Media Center: it was just announced that the second placed GTE Am KCMG Porsche no.78, due to ride height infringement. Thus no Porsche would feature on the podium of the class.

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