A late-race penalty didn’t deny Marcel Fassler victory, as Audi held off strong challenges from Porsche and Toyota to claim top honors in Sunday’s Six Hours of Silverstone.
The thrilling season-opening round for the FIA World Endurance Championship saw a titanic three-manufacturer fight for nearly the entire race that went right down to the wire, with the top three finishers separated by less than 15 seconds at the checkered flag.
Fassler took his No. 7 Audi R18 e-tron quattro to a narrow 4.610-second victory over the No. 18 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Neel Jani, who cut the gap in half in the final 15 minutes of the race.
It came following the penalty for the Swiss driver for abusing track limits with advantage while battling with Jani for the lead prior Fassler’s final fuel-only stops.
Despite having to make two consecutive trips down pit road, Fassler retained the lead over the Porsche, which pitted more than 30 minutes earlier, out of sequence compared to the Audi and Toyota.
The win for the No. 7 car of Fassler and co-drivers Andre Lotterer and Benoit Treluyer marked a return to form for the German manufacturer, in one of the most hard-fought FIA WEC races in recent history.
While the trio claimed the Royal Automobile Club Tourist Trophy, it nearly all ended at the start when Treluyer slowed with gear selector problems. The Frenchman, however, charged through the field, despite the car not having telemetry.
Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas settled for second in their No. 18 Porsche, making one less stop than the competition, with the No. 1 Toyota TS040 Hybrid of Sebastien Bueumi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima completing the podium.
All three cars fought tooth-and-nail from the third hour, following a frantic start to the race that saw the pole-sitting No. 17 Porsche of Mark Webber bridge out nearly a 20-second lead.
However, drivetrain failure in the second hour resulted in early retirement for the race favorite for Webber and co-drivers Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard.
The second entries from Toyota and Audi also faced setbacks.
The No. 8 Audi lost one lap with a rear deck change after Loic Duval made contact with a GTE-Am class Porsche, setting off a spiral of issues for the car that included a trip to the garage and off-course excursion for Oliver Jarvis.
It finished fifth, behind the No. 2 Toyota, which pitted for a nose change in the fourth hour after Mike Conway hit a bollard on-track.
G-Drive Racing claimed a 1-2 class victory in LMP2, with the No. 26 Ligier JS P2 Nissan of Sam Bird, Roman Rusinov and Julien Canal taking top honors following a dominant performance virtually from the start.
Bird took over the lead on Lap 6 and the Russian-backed squad didn’t relinquish it from that point, cruising to a one-lap win over the pole-sitting sister No. 28 car of Gustavo Yacaman, Pipo Derani and Ricardo Gonzalez.
Tequila Patron ESM kept its FIA WEC podium streak alive, with Scott Sharp, Ryan Dalziel and David Heinemeier Hansson taking their HPD ARX-03b to a third place finish in class, two laps behind the winning G-Drive car.
The Florida-based team lost ground in the fourth hour when it had to replace the rear deck after it was damaged from contact with the Larbre Competition Corvette C7.R, which served a penalty.
ESM’s No. 31 entry came home sixth in class after brake issues in the opening hour cost the Jon Fogarty, Ed Brown and David Brabham-driven entry more than 30 minutes in the garage.
AF Corse got its season off to an ideal start by taking the GTE-Pro class victory, while Aston Martin Racing scored the GTE-Am class win.
The No. 51 Ferrari 458 Italia GT of defending champions Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander took the lead from teammates James Calado and Davide Rigon in the No. 71 Ferrari during the fifth hour of the action-packed race.
Aston Martin Racing held control in the opening two hours following issues for Bruni at the start, but the Italian squad’s No. 71 Ferrari took the lead by the second hour during a pivotal Full Course Yellow, which caught the Astons out.
Both the pole-sitting No. 95 Aston of Nicki Thiim and Darren Turner in the No. 97 car pitted under green just prior to the yellow, and lost over one minute to the AF Corse drivers, who pitted under the low speed conditions.
Bruni crossed the line 10.664 second ahead of the No. 91 Porsche Team Manthey Porsche 911 RSR of Michael Christensen and Richard Lietz, who drove their way to second in the end, with Rigon and James Calado completing the podium in third.
The three Astons finished fourth through sixth, unable to make up the lost ground early, with the No. 92 Porsche coming home seventh in class after losing two laps due to front suspension issues.
In GTE-Am, AMR made it three wins in a row at Silverstone, with the No. 98 Vantage of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda taking class honors.
A late splash and dash for Lamy meant the No. 83 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia of Rui Aguas, Emmanuel Collard and François Perrodo closed in on the Aston, but at the finish the gap at the line was still 13.712 seconds.
SMP Racing’s Aleksey Basov, Andrea Bertolini and Viktor Shaytar finished third, almost half a minute behind the race winning Aston Martin.
Klaus Bachler in the No. 88 Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR led the race early on, but the German entry dropped down the order and eventually finished in fifth place, behind the No. 96 Aston Martin.
Dempsey Racing-Proton was scored in sixth, ahead of the Larbre Competition Chevrolet Corvette C7.R.
The French squad was unlucky on its return to the FIA WEC, with the Corvette making contact with two prototypes and also getting a one-minute stop and go penalty for rolling tires into the pits.