So that’s your lot. The 2017 World Endurance Championship ended in Bahrain at the weekend, and with it Porsche’s LMP1 programme.
Having secured the driver’s and team championships in Shanghai two weeks earlier, the pressure was off but the committed and passionate crews were determined to go out on a high.
The weekend began promisingly with British endurance veteran Nick Tandy putting car No. 1 on pole, a position teammate Neel Jani fought doggedly to defend during the early stages of the six-hour day/night race.
Behind him Le Mans winner and new world champion Timo Bernhard leapfrogged the second place Toyota at the start, before an errant bollard became trapped under his car on lap seven. Bernhard was forced to pit to get the debris removed and change the 919 Hybrid’s damaged front end, emerging almost a lap behind the leaders.
More misfortune was in the offing when car No. 1 was handed to Tandy, who swapped positions with the second-place Toyota through scheduled pit stops before picking up a puncture in contact with the GTE-Am Gulf racing RSR. The incident saw Tandy limp to the garage for a front-end change and later a stop-and-go penalty when André Lotterer had assumed driving duties.
Meanwhile car No. 2 was pushing hard, with Bernhard eventually hustling the car from fourth to second after the No. 7 Toyota made contact with our own GTE-Pro RSR.
After 199 laps the 919s would both finish on the podium, but a lap down on the impressive lead Toyota of Buemi, Nakajima and Davidson who enjoyed a deserved fifth win of the year.
Although disappointing not to finish with a win, it was a fitting end to a fiercely contested season at the top table of endurance racing, with all the highs and lows, hazards and happenstance of this high tech, high risk class laid bare.
After the ceremony, it was Timo Bernhard who best summed up the bittersweet mood in camp: “It is the end of great era. I’m honoured having been part of this programme from the very beginning until the last lap. A great crew, great people and great team mates. I will miss them. This programme definitely is the highlight of my career.”
Porsche’s endurance racing future now lies in the tight and busy GTE-Pro class, where its teams were in with a technical chance of winning driver’s and team titles. Both RSRs struggled for pace at the start, until a new tyre strategy after the first pit stop allowed Kévin Estre in car No. 92 to mount a charge that eventually saw him battle his way into the lead.
After two hours he would hand over to Michael Christensen, who enjoyed similar pace and position before being hit by the No. 7 Toyota LMP1 car, abruptly ending their race.
The sister car had also worked its way up from the back of the field, running in second behind the lead Ferrari for much of the race. They were unable to maintain the pace, however, and lost two further positions in the closing laps, and with it the chance of a final podium.
But there was some consolation for No. 91 drivers Richard Lietz and Frédéric Makowiecki, whose consistency this season meant they still finished runners up in the drivers' championship.
Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser, Porsche's VP of Motorsport and GT Cars, rounded up the year with a positive note: “We were only narrowly beaten in the debut season of the 911 RSR. Like the last race of the season, all the other races in the GTE-Pro class were extremely competitive. Spectators were treated to truly spectacular racing. Unfortunately, our No. 92 car was often hit by competitors. In 2018 we’ll return with the goal of winning the world championship.”
A special mention must go to Dempsey Proton Racing, with Porsche Junior Matteo Cairoli among the drivers of its 2015 911 RSR. The customer team took fourth in Bahrain and with it an impressive second place in the FIA Endurance Trophy.
Congratulations to Porsche’s LMP1 team and drivers at the end of an historic era. And to the GT team at the start of something we hope will be similarly special. The tribe will keep you updated on all news and developments in the off season and will, of course, be there when wheels roll again in 2018.