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FIA World Endurance Championship 6 Hours of Nürburgring 2017

14th - 16th July 2017

Event report

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After 24 Hours of Le Mans, where we almost saw the historic overall win of an LMP2 car after nearly complete factory prototype meltdown, the World Endurance Championship resurrected in Germany, hosting at the Nürburgring its third 6-hour race of the modern WEC era. LMP1 field now down to only 5 cars, Toyota team, after a disaster in Le Mans, now determined to win the race and also entire season, the championship title. Porsche, fresh from a lucky win at Le Mans, now entered high-downforce version of their 919 Hybrid prototype for the time. It is needed to say, that they look much better than the original low-downforce version used in the first three races. The only other LMP1, the private Bykolles Lotus-built Enso CLM is going to conclude the season here in Germany and prepare for 2018 when more private no-hybrid versions of LMP1 prototype are going to enter. Furthermore, new rumours regarding possible Porsche departure spread by Autosport really did not help much the current LMP1 situation.

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LMP2 entry is back to a situation in Spa - second Alpine and the lone Ligier of Tockwith Motorsports, now in Gulf colours as in Le Mans, are back despite not eligible for WEC points due to unwise administrative reasons. Despite those extra entries, only 29 cars would grid for the race. So we are down four cars compared to the race year ago. With at least three cars potentially not taking any part in the overseas races, we can see a slim field of only 26 or so car on American and Asian continent races later in the season.

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Free Practice

Several drivers are missing this weekend, due to a clash with Formula E Championship. The WEC programme started on Friday with the 90-minute practice sessions. Despite some rain drops during the second session, it stayed dry and fairly nice weather during both first days of the race meeting. The first day belonged to Porsche, which were fasted in both sessions - while Toyota team concentrating more on a race setup. The situation changed on Saturday when Toyota dominated third practice session, though still not beating the best Porsche times from Friday. Enso CLM, unlike in previous races on fast track in Spa and Le Mans, was not capable of beating LMP2 Orecas here, partly also due to problems with the car, including some vibrations.

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LMP2 was once again only about Orecas. Two Alpines belong to the faster Oreca. It is interesting to note that one of the Alpine is a new chassis compared to Spa. And also some other Orecas are different chassis than they were in Belgium. Rebellion no.13 is a new chassis 27, probably the last built so far, while their Spa 23 is here just as a spare and will be prepared for Petit Le Mans later in the season. Another spare chassis seen in the garage was G-Drive ex-no.26 from Spa, now replaced with another new chassis 26.

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Qualifying

Qualifying session was again split to GTE and LMP parts, and the final order is set by the average time of two selected drivers for each car. GTE cars went out first. The GTE positions by make according to the fastest time were: Porsche, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Porsche, Ford, Ford, etc. but averaging both drivers moved Ferrari down and Fords up: Porsche, Aston Martin, Porsche, Ford, Ferrari, Ford, Ferrari, Aston Martin, etc. Aston Martin also achieved Amateur Pole Position but by that time LMP1s and LMP2s were already preparing for their session. Toyota no.7 and both Porsches went out first and then controlled and dominated the top 3 position over the session. Toyota no.8 come out late and could actually never get in touch with the trio on lap times.

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In the end it was Toyota no.7 that gained the Pole Positions, ahead of Porsche no.2, followed by Porsche no.1, but the fastest time of entire meeting was set by the Porsche no.1, with 1:37.886 the only lap run under 1:38. The Enso was slow beating only Ligier while being between 1 and 3 seconds off pace of all Orecas. The fastest of them was the G-Drive car no.26 but failing post-qualifying scrutineering, it was delegated to the back of the grid for today's race. Despite that disqualification, Alpine did not manage to get better result than 4th and 6th in LMP2, while setting only 7th and 8th fastest LMP2 times (including the disqualified Oreca).

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This Sunday morning started with rain and the support races - Formula Renault Eurocup and World Series, as well as Porsche Cup, were ran on wet, and early races were even partly held behind the safety car. The skies are now getting better and with an hour to go it seems we will have dry start, but the weather forecast suggest and slight rain in the second half of the race. However, anything can happen, as there was no rain forecasted until now.

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The start of the race is scheduled at 1 o'clock. The cars already started gridding.

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The Race

As suggested the race started almost on dry conditions, and we can already reveal that it never rained during the race and even the Sun visited the track during the last hour. It was good to see all 29 cars gridded for the race, which begun with two formation laps. Unfortunately, the first formation lap meant the end of any chances of victory for Toyota no.8. Soon after the car left the Mercedes arena, it slow down rapidly. And then on electric power it slowly reached the pits, while the entire field was finishing the second formation lap. The Toyota no.8 than rejoined the race with five and half lap delay and continued at the standard pace of its sister car no.7 for entire race, safely overtaking all LMP2 cars but with no sign of podium.

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With just three competitive cars at the start, it needs to be said that they provided a great fight for more than one hour, running very close to each other. Within 15 minutes they lapped entire GTE field and only twice more time was needed to overtake entire LMP2 field as well. It was Toyota no.7 that was in the lead during this phase of the race. It lasted until the first pit stops and a little more into the second hour of the race. At 14 o'clock after 60 minutes of racing all three leading cars were separated just by one second.

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Soon after both Porsches passed the Toyota by and took the lead. Toyota no.7 driven now by Lopez was not that quick as when driven by Kobayashi during the first stint, but still could keep up with the Porsches for the second hour in a close distance. All three cars were separated by less than 2 seconds when the clocks showed two hours of race completed. Porsche no.2 lead for most of the second hour. Toyota no.8 meanwhile manage to pass the remaining LMP1 entry Enso CLM, which raced here at a rather slow pace compared to Spa or Le Mans. Since the start it just circulated, after letting all LMP2 including the Ligier go by - awaiting just delayed or retired LMP2 machines to become a victim of this 2017 farewell appearance of the Bykolles team.

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It was good to see the Enso CLM finishing the race, though it lost its 12th position from the early hours of the race, mainly due to a long pit stop in the fifth hour, but still secured 14th overall, just ahead of GTE winners.

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The race begun to lose its drama during the third hour when the Toyota no.7 looked as if given up the race. The third driver Conway was not able to keep up with the Porsches and lost more than 30 seconds before the half of the race was over. Then until the end of the race this gap only increased and the Toyota team could at least celebrate not being lapped - of course, along with a podium finish, which was however more than expected.

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Good for the race was that both Porsches kept in touch and swapped their positions many times during the second half of the race. The decision came during the last pit stops, more a splash-n-dash, when safely leading car no.1 lost a lot of more time and despite trying to catch one lap later pitting car no.2, there were still nearly two seconds separating them when the winning no.2 was given a chequered flag.

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LMP2 was originally dominated by the couple of Rebellion Orecas. But soon the Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca no.38 took the lead and kept it then almost safely until the finish. In the end it was 5th overall, of course behind the delayed Toyota no.8. LMP2 was probably most suffering class. The only two retirements in the race were the Ligier and one of the Alpine - in fact the only non-WEC entrants in the race. So they would not score points anyway. The Ligier continued to return to the track until some 12 minutes before the end of the race, but did not cross the finish line either.

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Several LMP2 cars were much delayed, especially G-Drive Oreca no.26, which served a 3 minute stop & go penalty and Manor entry no.24, which after 7 minutes of stop & go was completely outclassed. Both cars were penalized for infringements happening before the start of the race, so it was not unexpected. At the front and behind the Chinese winning entry no.38, it was Rebellion Oreca, Alpine and another Rebellion Oreca filling up the positions two, three and four.

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From the beginning, both GTE classes had very close race between several makes, with an Aston Martin originally leading both classes. But in neither class could Aston Martin defend its original position. In GTE Am after some nice battle the Porsche Proton no.77 took the victory, and even the Ferrari no.54 of Spirit of Race team could overtake the Aston and nearly taking on the winning Porsche - just 5 seconds separated them after the 6 hour long battle. In the Pro class, the Aston Martin faded away and while the Fords rarely featured in the top 3, it converted into a Ferrari-Porsche battle. With AF Corse Ferrari into the garage for repairs early in the race, it was uneven battle of one Ferrari against two Porsches, but in the end the Ferrari won GTE Pro, after leading most of the time anyway.

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