The Porsche Team followed up its Le Mans 24 Hours victory in June with a one-two finish after a dramatic race at the 2015 Six Hours of Nürburgring recently. The car No. 18 Porsche 919 Hybrid overcame three “Stop and Go” penalties (of five, 30 and 60 seconds), for excessive fuel consumption, to steal second place from Audi Sport thanks, in part, to the tire strategy that was adopted for Switzerland’s Neel Jani on Lap 143.
The weekend’s competition got off to a solid start for Porsche Team when it secured the first two places on the grid in Saturday’s qualifying, with the No.18 Porsche 919 Hybrid claiming pole ahead of the No. 17 sister car. Audi Sport Team Joest, which had topped other Friday’s two free practice sessions, had to settle for the third- and fourth-best qualifying times with the No. 8 R18 e-tron quattro and the similar No. 7 prototype.
Sunday’s Six Hours of Nürburgring started at the stroke of 1 pm in sunny weather with the track temperature standing at 37 degrees Centigrade. The cars of Michelin’s partners were fitted with ‘high temperature’ tires.
After the rolling start, there were no changes to the order established in qualifying once the Porsche Team had cars succeeded in shrugging off the Audis’ early threats. The gap gradually widened until Timo Bernhard (No. 17 Porsche) picked up damage to a front aerodynamic appendix. On Lap 24, the car pitted for its first refuelling halt, which was brought forward to change the car’s nose. Audi Sport took advantage of the stop to appear in second place with its No. 8 car. The No. 7 R18 e-tron quattro, in the hands of Marcel Fässler, stopped at the same time but was nine seconds quicker out of the pits.
The No. 18 Porsche 919 Hybrid continued to pull clear at the front while the sister car, now in the hands of Mark Webber, started to challenge the No. 7 Audi to recover second place. After applying pressure, the Australian passed Marcel Fässler on Lap 39. At around the one-hour mark, the two Porsches were back in front, split by almost 40 seconds.
At 2:30 pm, Race Control announced a five-second Stop and Go penalty for the No. 18 car for excessive fuel consumption.
Marc Lieb stopped for the punishment on Lap 54 and, as he re-joined, found himself battling with Mark Webber (No. 17) for the lead. The German held on to his advantage but the gap was down to almost zero.
The order then stabilized. As Audi dropped further and further back, it looked as though Porsche was on target for a straightforward one-two finish when the No. 18 Porsche was handed another Stop and Go penalty – this time for 30 seconds. When Romain Dumas complied, the lead was snapped up by Brendon Hartley who was driving the No. 17 Porsche at that moment. This time, the No.18 car re-joined in fourth spot, which meant that both Audis were now on the provisional podium after two hours of racing.
Dumas did his best to make up the lost ground but, at 3:23 pm, the car was dealt another Stop and Go penalty, this time requiring it to remain at a standstill for a whole minute.
With the No. 18 Porsche 919 Hybrid running back in fourth spot, it looked as though the Stuttgart firm’s chances of a one-two result had evaporated, but the No. 18 car continued to claw back time and home in on the No. 18 Audi R18 e-tron quattro. It took advantage of a long stop for the latter (1 minute and 23 seconds) to squeeze past into third place.
At this stage, Neel Jani was in the No. 18 Porsche and had Benoît Tréluyer (No. 7 Audi) in his sights, albeit some 35 seconds ahead.
A “Full Course Yellow” on Lap 143 enabled the Swiss driver to get closer to its prey while the No. 17 Porsche continued to lap with a comfortable lead. When the two Audis stopped for fuel and fresh tires again – an operation that cost them more than a minute – Jani decided to take advantage of the consistency of his Michelin tires, which had already completed 14 laps, to take fuel only and re-join on the same rubber. His stop lasted only 36 seconds, which meant that the No. 7 Audi was now only seven seconds ahead.
Jani then homed in on the No. 7 Audi, but the No. 8 R18 e-tron quattro was only three seconds behind him and, with an hour remaining, the three cars engaged in a thrilling scrap.
Around 175 laps into the race, the No. 8 Porsche 919 Hybrid managed to appear three seconds clear of the two Audis thanks to a quicker final pit stop than that of the two Audis.
After that, Porsche was able to cruise home to a one-two finish, followed over the line by the two Audi Sport Team Joest cars. Once again, the contribution of Michelin’s tires helped to ensure an exciting show thanks to their longevity and reliability.