Audi Sweeps WEC 2013 Opener at Silverstone
Audi started the 2013 World Endurance Championship season by sweeping the first two places at the 6 Hours of Silverstone Sunday, April 8. Audi’s 2013-spec R18 e-tron quattros proved to be faster, if a bit more thirsty, than the 2012-spec TS030s Toyota brought, even after the No. 1 car broke a left front driveshaft and lost use of its hybrid power.
The new Audis, one of which had been tested at Sebring, seemed more stable that the Toyotas over bumps, under braking, and through traffic. These advantages added up to give the No. 2 Audi, driven by Allan McNish, Loic Duval, and Tom Kristensen, a 3.5 second edge over the damaged e-tron of Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer, and Benoît Tréluyer, and a lap lead over the third-place No. 8 Toyota of Anthony Davidson, Stéphane Sarrazin, and Sébastien Buemi. The second Toyota driven by Alex Wurz and Nicolas Lapierre finished a further minute back.
The Toyotas started one-two, having guessed correctly during a damp qualifying session, when it was safe to switch to slicks. It only took Alan McNish four laps to overtake Davidson and another two laps to take the lead from Alex Wurz.
The two Audis swapped the lead between them on pit stops, and with the Toyotas in the early part of the race. The new 58-liter fuel tank mandated for diesels for 2013 took away the few laps fuel advantage Audi held in 2012. The greater pace of the Audis erased the one-lap mileage deficit by quarter distance on the 197-lap race. The winning Audi ended up lapping the course a full second quicker than the quickest Toyota.
Part of Toyota’s trouble was tires. The combination of the aero setup and the tire compound made the Toyotas unstable. The No. 7 in particular could be seen porpoising (to move forward with a rising and falling motion) violently over the bumpiest sections of the track.
After 75 laps the stewards called a full-course caution—not a safety car—to clean up debris from a series of accidents caused by the rain, which had started falling for the first time all day. Lapierre in the No. 7 Toyota took advantage to change to intermediate tires, which proved to be a costly gamble, as the rain stopped and he had to repit a few laps later.
Another full course caution was called 28 minutes later to clean up the debris from another collision a task, which took only 13 minutes.
Twenty-five minutes after going back to green, André Lotterer opened a 15 second lead over lead Tom Kristensen, setting a new course record in the process. The multiple Le Mans-winning Dane responded with a string of his own fastest laps, cutting the lead by a third by the end of his stint.
While there was nothing wrong with the record-setting laps Kristensen was turning, there was something very wrong with the No. 1 Audi. It had broken a left front driveshaft, rendering the hybrid power unit useless and possibly affecting braking (the hybrid system uses braking energy to recharge the batteries.)
McNish needed only 11 laps of his stint to retake the lead and start setting his own record laps, eventually setting the record himself with a lap of 1:42.767 at 206.3 kph.
Despite the damage the No. 1 car wasn’t done. Tréluyer had an eight-second lead with one hour to go, notwithstanding the lost power. He pitted on lap 166 for a timed fill—his engineer calculated how many seconds it would take to add just enough diesel to get the car to the finish line. He roared out of the pits after only 51 second, ahead of McNish, who had opted for a full fill.
Tréluyer promptly spun, losing half his lead—and still the action wasn’t over. The No. 1 car had to pit for a splash of fuel on lap 174, giving the lead to McNish in the No. 2 car. McNish then spun exiting Beckett’s Corner, and had to pit because of a vibration—maybe just pickup on the tires, but possibly something worse.
When McNish rejoined with 35 minutes left in the six-hour race, he was 33 seconds behind his teammate. The plucky Scot had to make up a second a lap to have a shot at winning.
Audi’s pit strategy called for the No. 2 car to take four new tires on lap 175, putting McNish back on track 26 seconds behind Tréluyer with 40 minutes left in the race.
McNish eagerly accepted—no, attacked—the challenge. He needed to take 1.5 seconds off his teammate’s lead in every lap—and he did. Tréluyer’s tires were a stint-and-a-half older than his rival’s; this proved too much of a disadvantage, while McNish driving like a Pamplona bull chasing a tourist.
McNish set the track record while pursuing, and caught Tréluyer with six minutes to go. Unfortunately McNish caught Tréluyer right in the middle of a hammer-and-tongs GTE battle, and the Scot was briefly balked. Briefly.
On the next time around McNish caught his teammate behind a GTE Porsche coming through Brooklands; Tréluyer had to lift slightly, giving McNish a run up the inside into Luffield Corner, and McNish didn’t waste the slightly open window.
Both drivers eased up a little after the overtake, but not much—McNish opened a 3.5 second gap in the final two laps and cruised home to victory at Silverstone.