Porsche had to battle hard for its latest World Endurance Championship victory, earned in Mexico City on Saturday. A winning margin of just over a minute for world champions Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley after six hours of rain-interrupted racing revealed little of just how hard it was.
The No. 1 Porsche 919 Hybrid took the lead early in the second hour and remained ahead until early in the fourth hour, when the car was awarded a drive-through penalty for crossing the pit entry line after Bernhard aborted a pitstop after what he described as a “miscommunication.” That handed the advantage back to the pole-winning No. 8 Audi R18 e-tron quattro of Lucas di Grassi, Loic Duval and Oliver Jarvis that had led much of the opening hour.
The Audi was in the lead when the rain arrived, but Jarvis went off almost immediately after taking over the car when the front left wheel bearing failed. That put the Porsche back in the lead, but it would come under attack from the No. 7 Porsche.
Andre Lotterer and Marcel Fassler had lost time with an early first pitstop, and continued with the bad luck during two full-course yellow virtual safety car periods. But the right calls on tires when the rain came brought the car back into contention.
Lotterer was only 20 seconds down on the leader and closing when a brake problem briefly put him off the track and then into the pits to replace flat-spotted tires, all but ending Audi’s challenge.
Bernhard survived a late scare when he nudged the wall in the stadium section when the rain returned in the closing stages, but the German hung on to take the flag.
Hartley said, “I always said that it would be tight and whoever executed the race best would be on the top stop — and that’s what happened.
Toyota claimed third with the TS050 Hybrid shared by Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Stephane Sarrazin despite a drive-through for avoidable contact. The Japanese car wasn’t in the hunt initially, but the rains played to its strengths and allowed it to come back into contention.
Championship leaders Neel Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas finished fourth in the second Porsche on a day when they were rarely a match for their teammates in the winning car and were on the wrong tires for the conditions in the penultimate hour.
The No. 5 Toyota driven by Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima went out in the second hour with a hybrid problem, while hyraulic problems for the Np. 8 Audi left it last of the classified finishers.
The G-Drive Racing squad looked on course for its first LMP2 victory of the season until misfortune struck again in the closing stages.
Rene Rast, who shared the team’s ORECA-Nissan 05 car with Alex Brundle and Roman Rusinov, had a lead of just over 40 seconds with 35 minutes of the race to go when front-right brake failure sent him off the track and then straight into the pits.
Eight minutes were lost to repairs, which dropped the Jota-run car to eighth in class at the checkered flag.
G-Drive’s problems turned the race into a straight fight between the RGR Sport Ligier-Nissan JSP2 and the championship-leading Signatech Alpine ORECA.
The Signatech car with Nicolas Lapierre at the wheel had dropped behind Filipe Albuquerque in the RGR Ligier in the final hour, but a quick turnaround at the final round of pitstops for the ORECA halved a deficit of a dozen seconds.
Felipe Albuquerque was able hang on to claim a first victory together with Bruno Senna and Ricardo Gonzalez since the season opener at Silverstone in April.
Aston Martin Racing claimed victory in GTE Pro with with Richie Stanaway and Darren Turner.
The pair of Aston Vantage GTEs that had qualified one-two dominated until the rain came and then Turner was able to compete a nine-second victory in front of the AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE of Gianmaria Bruni and James Calado.
Patrick Long, Khaled Al Qubaisi and David Heinemeier Hansson claimed victory in GTE Am for the Proton Porsche team.
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