Audi edges Toyota to win FIA World Endurance Championship at Silverstone

Audi clinched the 6 Hours of Silverstone after an intriguing and tight tactical battle with Toyota to take the manufacturers title in the inaugural FIA World Endurance Championship after just four rounds.

Andre Lotterer guided the #1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro over the finish line, 55 seconds in front of the sole Toyota TS030-Hybrid entry with the #2 Audi R18 ultra completing the podium places. Lotterer now leads the WEC drivers championship with team-mates Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer.

Audi had locked out the front row of the grid for the fourth round of the FIA World Endurance Championship at Silverstone with Lotterer in the R18 e-tron quattro having the edge over Tom Kristensen in the non-hybrid R18 ultra.

Third was held by Alexander Wurz in the Toyota TS030-Hybrid, racing for only the second time this year after an impressive albeit ultimately frustrating debut at Le Mans two months ago.

And it was Wurz who made the best of the rolling start, immediately taking second place from Kristensen before the first corner to take the challenge to the lead Audi.

Lotterer was able to pull away from the chasing Toyota but Wurz began closing in before taking his chance at Maggotts on lap 12 to sweep past the e-tron quattro. The German immediately began to pull away and establish a 10-second gap before pitting 10 laps later.

The Audis stayed out for longer with Lotterer in the pitlane after 26 laps and Kristensen a lap later. They weren’t able to change the race order though and after nearly one hour Wurz was back in the lead, six seconds to the good.

The Toyota and Audis were the only cars on the lead lap after the one-hour mark. In fourth and the first of the unofficial privateer class (ie those not diesel or hybrid-powered) was the #12 Rebellion Racing car driven by Neel Jani, who had taken fourth spot from the #21 Strakka Racing car.

At Toyota’s second pitstop after 45 laps, Kazuki Nakajima replaced Wurz and rejoined in third. Lotterer stayed out until lap 53 and Kristensen until lap 55 before being replaced by Treluyer and Allan McNish respectively. McNish was held up for an extra 20 seconds because of a hitch in the pitstop, leaving him more than a minute behind the leader.

The Scot was to lose even more time because of a slow right-rear puncture that forced him to pit just five laps later. When he rejoined, he soon found Nakajima filling his rear-view mirror with the Toyota threatening to lap him.

The safety car was called out just before the two-hour mark so the #32 Lotus could be removed after stopping on the Hangar Straight. On the restart, Audi were once again caught out when Nakajima unleashed the power of the Toyota to streak past McNish to put the #2 R18 a lap down, the Japanese marque clearly demonstrating its dominance in terms of outright speed.

After setting another fastest lap, Nakajima pitted again and although that handed the lead back to Treluyer, the Japanese driver was still able to rejoin in second ahead of McNish who had managed to unlap himself during the Toyota’s pitstop.

Nakajima reclaimed first place when Treluyer pitted the #1 Audi for the third time but the Frenchman was within half a second of the leader when he returned to the track and began to lap faster than the Toyota, closing the gap over the ensuing laps before making his move at Stowe on lap 89 when Nakajima has held up in traffic. Nakajima was quick to respond though and he had regained the advantage when they crossed the start-finish line a few second later.

Audi’s cause was further hampered by a stop & go penalty after race stewards penalised Treluyer for an earlier collision with the #57 Ferrari of Krohn Racing. He was able to keep the lead from Nicolas Lapierre who was now in the Toyota but lost time and then lost P1 when he made his scheduled pit stop on lap 110 and handed the #1 Audi over to Fassler. Toyota now held a 38-second lead.

A stop & go for Jani’s team-mate Nicolas Prost after colliding with the unlucky Krohn Racing Ferrari opened up the competition for the non-works teams as the four-hour mark approached. The penalty gave the ‘lead’ to the #13 Rebellion Racing Lola driven by Andrea Belicchi, the Italian three laps down on the third-placed car of McNish. Rebellion held onto the ‘win’ in spite of a late charge in the dying minutes from Danny Watts in the all-British Strakka Racing #21 HPD Honda.

The battle for the overall lead had developed into something of a stalemate with Lapierre not matching the lap times of his team-mates because of traffic and debris on the track and unable to make any inroads into Fassler’s lead. However, he recorded the fastest lap of the race – 1.44.059 – just before he pitted with one hour and 40 minutes remaining. Wurz was now back in the Toyota.

A second safety car period failed to bring the leaders together because they were separated by the two safety cars but into the final hour, Wurz was bringing the gap down to the lead car of Fassler (and then Lotterer).

However, the Audis were expected to take one less pitstop than the Toyota before the end of the race. Could Wurz make the up the time spent in the pits with faster lap times on the track? After his final stop with just over 35 minutes left, he was just 66s behind Lotterer and 15s ahead of third-placed Kristensen but in the end had to settle for second place as Lotterer took the chequered flag to Audi’s delight.

Other British interest of note was with the Greaves Motorsport team, where father and son duo Martin and Alex Brundle were joined by Brazilian Lucas Ordonez. The trio had put their Zytek-Nissan on pole in the LMP2 class but made a disastrous start when Alex Brundle had to take evasive action in a first corner incident and found himself nearly at the back of the LMP2 field. It was a case of catch-up thereafter not helped by an unscheduled pitstop for Ordonez and the trio finished fifth in class.