Over the fast and abrasive Shanghai GP circuit, the 2017 WEC was decided yesterday in a manner more fitting than it was strictly speaking poetic.
Round eight would prove a challenging weekend for Porsche, with our 919 Hybrids qualifying second and fourth on the grid on Saturday, split by the rapid and ever-impressive TS050 Toyotas.
Nick Tandy, celebrating his 33rd birthday with another gruelling day in the office, started proceedings for car No. 1 by successfully defending second place against the faster Toyota behind him. But a technical issue on lap 19 would force him to concede two places to run most of the remaining race in fourth behind the sister car.
Earl Bamber in car No. 2 enjoyed a spirited battle with the third place Toyota, passing for position early on before also having to yield to the TS050’s superior race pace around the 3.4 mile Shanghai International Circuit.
The penultimate WEC round had the makings of a Toyota lock-out, which would have taken the championship to the final weekend in Bahrain in two week’s time. It was only on lap 174 of 195 that the second place Toyota was involved in a collision that would force it to pit, allowing both Porsches to leapfrog into second and third respectively.
And despite being denied the win, two podium places meant enough points to secure the Hartley/Bamber/Bernhard car the driver’s championship and Porsche the manufacturer's title for a third year running.
Porsche Team Principal Andreas Seidl, summed up another momentous moment in Porsche’s motorsport history: “First of all congratulations to Toyota for a strong performance in today’s race. Congratulations also to Earl Bamber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley for the drivers’ championship. For sure it’s a sensational story to win all these titles and races three years in a row. At the same time, it was a big relief today not just for me but for the entire team that we could seal the two championships with one race remaining.
"It was not an easy situation in recent months, especially after the announcement was made to stop after this season. But we kept everyone focussed and built up a points gap in the middle of the season. We are really happy that this worked out today. A big thank you to everyone back home in Weissach for the sensational work they have done again this year. A big thank you to the race team here that was delivering despite all of the pressure at each race.”
A gigantic effort from the top down has again reaped the rewards that have made this period in Porsche’s racing history so remarkable. Newly crowned champion and recent F1 signing Brendon Hartley stressed the importance of the weekend to him: “Taking the World Championship title after winning Le Mans – it might take a while until it all sinks in. I had a few busy weeks but sharing this moment with Earl and Timo I will not forget for the rest of my life.”
Meanwhile, another solid weekend in the GT classes saw our RSR find its way onto the podium again, with the 911 RSR of Richard Lietz and Frédéric Makowiecki reducing the gap in the GT Drivers World Championship to just two points with one race to go.
It was an encouraging weekend for both cars, with teammates Michael Christensen and Kévin Estre leading the class for the first third of the race before being forced to retire with engine damage.
Lietz and Makowiecki themselves came close to clinching their first WEC victory, having fought their way to the front from a qualifying spot of seventh. Both drivers displayed a brilliant balance of aggression and sensitivity, with Lietz in particular enjoying a nail-biting battle with the leading Ford which was only curtailed by contact with a prototype with half an hour to go. He still managed to bring in car No. 91 just 11 seconds behind the winner, after six hours of scintillating wheel-to-wheel action.
In the GTE-Am class it was a similarly strong weekend for Porsche’s customer teams with the Gulf Racing RSR taking second and Dempsey Proton Racing clinching third to keep the their Endurance Trophy title hopes alive. Roll on Bahrain then, with several titles still up for grabs ...