Earl Bamber, Brenson Hartley and Timo Bernhard delivered a one-two finish for Porsche in Texas despite a spirited fight from Toyota after looking all but done after qualifying.
Neel Jani got the jump at the start and lead the majority of the first stint in the number 1 Porsche 919 Hybrid, however both Porsches would be regulated to third and fourth after Toyota elected to stay out on used tyres. That would be the story of the race in LMP1, with the lead ebbing and flowing between the German and Japanese manufacturers attempting to get the best out of their rubber, but with Toyota certainly enjoying more competitiveness after a lacklustre qualifying. Sixty minutes in, the field remained compacted with Andre Lotterer ran five seconds off the lead, with Brendon Hartley a further sixteen seconds adrift, sandwiching both Toyotas.
In LMP2, Gustavo Menezes took over the lead in the number 36 Signatech Alpine from Nicolas Lapierre, running five seconds ahead of Nelson Piquet Jr. Both Vaillante Rebellion’s featured in the podium spots throughout most of the day.
AF Corse ran ahead of Aston Martin Racing in GTE Pro in the able hands of Davide Rigon. The number 71 Ferrari 488 had the measure of the number 95 Aston Martin Vantage but would struggle later on tyres, falling back into the hands of the number 92 Porsche of Kevin Estre. Weng Sun Mok’s Clearwater Racing Ferrari capitalised on a strong qualifying to head GTE-Am while Paul Dalla Lana had a shocking opening stint after contact with Francesco Castellacci dropped the Aston stalwart to the rear of the field.
At the half-way mark, Jani again led the way in the number 1 Porsche 919 Hybrid after a strong stint from Nick Tandy, followed by the number 7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid of Conway in second.
Matt Griffin was now behind the wheel for Clearwater Racing, enjoying a clean run up front of GTE-Am field with a -second in hand over over Pedro Lamy’s Aston Martin. However, the first virtual safety car made a virtual appearance after Michael Wainwright spun his number 86 Gulf Racing Porsche 911 RSR and ripping off his rear wing – and the barriers – in the process. Lamy and Lauda would eventually take the Am victory ahead of Griffin.
In Pro, Daniel Sera was slim pickings for Sam Bird, who was fighting back on a new set of tyres. The AF Corse driver scythed past the Aston driver and set about chasing down the sister Aston of Nicki Thiim – a further 1 minute down the road albeit travelling 2 seconds a lap slower than Bird. Up front, the sister Ferrari was now back in front after James Calado sold a dummy to Kevin Estre in the number 92 Porsche.
Bird would retake the lead with 90 minutes remaining after a phenomenal drive and potentially taking the championship-lead. Meanwhile back in GTE am, Pedro Lamy was leading the way for Aston Martin.
LMP2 was also producing its fair share of thrills, with the DC Jackie Chan Racing pair of Ho-Pin Tung and David Cheng running three-wide with the G-Drive Oreca of Alex Lynn. Lynn was struggling for pace with an apparent straight-line deficit to the opposition.
Up front, Nicolas Lapierre continues to lead the way in the number 36 Signatech Alpine, while an arm-wrestle for second and third was being fought out between Thomas Laurent and David Heinemeier Hansson. Hansson eventually capitalised on an out-braking moment from Laurent to out the number 13 Vaillante Rebellion entry ahead of the DC Chackie Chan driver.
In LMP1, Kobayashi and Bamber would both pit for fresh tyres, putting the Toyota and Porsche in-sync for the first time in the race and begging the question who would have a fresh set left for the final stint. Up front, Tandy was still leading the way by the margin of a minute but after pitting found himself fighting for the top spot with Bamber. A big lunge under brakes from the Kiwi forced Tandy to yield the position, knowing Buemi was a further thirteen seconds down the road in third. More drama would ensue when Tandy came across the fourth-placed Kobayashi and the pair clashed heavily in traffic – both would emerge unscathed. With 37 minutes remaining, Tandy took his final stop and retained his lead over Bamber by five seconds.
Nicolas Lapierre would bring in the number 36 Signatech Alpine in for what was the final of the stops for LMP2, handing over to Gustavo Menezes to lead the way home, but with Prost and Laurent now within spitting distance in the final podium positions. Nelson Piquet would eventually swap spots with team-mate Prost to steal second in class.
A sting in the tail would be for the leading car of Lapierre, being forced to pit to change a faulty rear tail light. Failing to pit would incur a minute timed penalty and with only a 57 second lead in hand discretion was the better part of valour.
While they were making the decision a puncture from the class-leading #51 Ferrari of Alessandro Pier Guidi nearly took out Lapierre as both class leaders pit. Lapierre would emerge with a gap, but Guidi would just hang onto the lead of Pro from Michael Christensen by the barest of margins. Christensen couldn’t believe his luck after surviving an intense battle with Sam Bird to seize second in GTE Pro and deny the number 71 Ferrari a chance of taking the championship lead.
Meanwhile in GTE Am, the championship-leading number 77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche would slow after smoke from the left rear tyre forced Matteo Cairoli to pit, elevating Miguel Molina into third position in class in the number 54 Ferrari.
Nonetheless it was Bamber, Hartley and Bernhard who would take overall victory by the barest margin over the unlucky trio of Tandy, Jani and Lotterer and the third-placed Toyota of Nakajima, Buemi and Sarrazin. It was now four wins in a row for the number two Porsche 919 Hybrid.
“Toyota kept us honest”, said Hartley. It was sad for the number one car as they went off like a rabbit, but handed us the win for the championship”.
Images: Adrenal Media
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