Dramatic Toyota win hands Porsche the championship
Toyota were on course to take their most commanding victory of the season in China, with the number 8 TS050 of Kazuki Nakajima, Sebastien Buemi and Anthony Davidson leading home the sister entry of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez until drama in the final 30 minutes let Porsche steal the final podium positions and the championship double.
Jose Maria Lopez held onto the lead in the pole-sitting number 7 TS050 Hybrid ahead of a hard-charging Nisk Tandy in the number 1 Porsche 919 Hybrid until a mistake from Lopez saw him make contact with the number 26 G-Drive Racing Oreca 07 Gibson Lap 15 – dropping him to third.
This elevated Sebastien Buemi into the lead, having already scythed past the number 1 Porsche of Tandy. The Brit would however drop to fourth after experiencing a throttle – losing over a minute and a half having to reboot the system on track.
This gave Buemi a sixteen-plus second advantage over the number 2 Porsche of Earl Bamber after the first round of stops, despite Toyota having 1-2 before a fule and tyre change relegating the number 8 Kobayashi driven Toyota to third.
The class pole-sitting number 31 Vaillante Rebellion Oreca of Bruno Senna led from the get go, with the second number 13 Rebellion split by the number 36 Signatech Apline entry of Gustavo Menezes, Nicolas Lapierre and Andre Negrao.
The number 92 Porsche of Kevin Estre led the lion’s share of the two hours in GTE Pro, but was eventually forced out with engine failure, handing the lead to the sister car of Fred Makowiecki, chased by the number 66 Ford GT of Olivier Pla while Mathias Lauda held a commanding lead for Aston Martin in GTE-Am.
Just after the half-hour mark, an incident involving the 37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca of Tristan Gommendy and the number 54 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GTE, inevitably saw the retirement of the GTE Am entry.
Lauda was still in complete in control of GTE Am with a 1 minute 18 second lead over the number 86 Gukd Porsche entry of Ben Barker.
Up front however, Anthony Davidson now held 13-second lead over the number 7 sister Toyota of Mike Conway – the number 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid now a distant third – close to one minute in arrears.
Tyre pick-up was beginning to become an issue, particularly in China where the steep bankings tear rubber off in clumps and (much like the Singapore Grand Prix) narrow the diameter of the front straight – giving cars less options to overtake in traffic.
In GTE Pro, Makowiecki was now under attack from both Fords, eventually losing the lead to Andy Priaulx – and then second to Stefan Mucke despite a spirited defence.
Things were also heating up in LMP2 with Oliver Jarvis seizing the lead after the pit stops ahead of Nicolas Prost in the number 31 Rebellion. Back in fourth and fifth, Nico Mueller was having a tough time sitting in the wake of David Heinmemeier Hansson’s number 13 Rebellion, making his feeling well and truly known over the radio.
Nico Mueller was in the thick of it again after having unsighted Ho Pin Tung emerging from his mirrors, the pair colliding into turn one but both able to continue. Roman Rusinov wasn’t as lucky however; spinning his G-Drive Oreca and flat-spotting his tyres within an inch of their life.
In GTE Pro, Richard Lietz was now enjoying a lot more pace in the number 91 Porsche, closing on the Ford of Olivier Pla, who in turn was backing up Lietz to stop the Porsche gaining the necessary acceleration out of the turns. Having to leave the door open to an LMP2 driver compromised Pla momentarily and gave Lietz the opportunity to steal second in class and possibly the GTE Pro championship lead.
Likewise, Bruno Senna was now trying to use traffic to attempt an overtake on LMP2 leader Ho Pin Tung, but the number 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing driver was holding his own against a demonstrative attack until a move from Senna around the outside forced Tung to lift and yield the lead position. Struggling for grip, Tung would later lose third to Piquet to give Rebellion a double class podium.b
A small mistake from Nakajima up front saw the number 8 Toyota driver run wide, but the 5 seconds it would cost the Japanese driver was negligible in the scheme of things – negligible given the drama that was about to unfold for the number 7 sister car of Lopez.
Contact between Lopez and the number 91 GTE Pro Porsche Lietz left the Toyota with broken right rear suspension, forcing the Toyota into the garage for repairs and effectively handing Porsche the drivers and teams championship in one foul swoop. It was a late dive from Lopez which did the damage, with Lietz powerless to anticipate the Argentine’s move.
This put the Porsches of Timo Bernhard and Andre Lotterer into 2nd and 3rd respectively with half an hour left on the clock. Lopez would re-emerge seven laps down in fourth. Harry Tincknell would hold on to give Ford victory in GTE Pro and Lamy, Lauda and Dalla Lana the spoils in GTE Am, while AF Corse took the GTE Pro teams championship.
Images: Adrenal Media/FIAWEC
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