Porsche’s second and third place result in Sunday’s Six Hours of Silverstone “feels like a race win” according to LMP1 team principal Andreas Seidl, who, along with the entire team, headed into the season-opening FIA World Endurance Championship race with low expectations due to the car’s unfavorable aero configuration.
The No. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Brendon Hartley came 6.173 seconds from victory from the race-winning No. 8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid of Sebastien Buemi, who passed the Kiwi for the lead with just 12 minutes to go.
Seidl had set modest goals for the team pre-race, admitting they “did not expect be close” in the race and were just targeting a third and fourth place finish for its pair of 919 Hybrids, which ran in Le Mans-style low-downforce configuration.
“Today’s second and third place feels like a race win,” Seidl said post-race. “I am very proud of every single team member in Weissach and here on site – it is amazing what this team achieved today.”
While Toyota still had a slight edge on Porsche on race pace, the gap ended up being smaller than expected, particularly during the race’s changing conditions, which saw both Bernhard and the No. 1 car of Nick Tandy lead during the third hour.
A fuel-only final stop for Hartley with 32 minutes remaining kept the No. 2 Porsche out front, in what initially looked to potentially be an upset win, until Buemi began to hunt down the 2015 World Champion, and ultimately get around him in the closing moments.
It came after a dismal qualifying effort on Saturday that saw the defending World Champions nearly two seconds off the pace.
“I was optimistic, but I was a bit surprised with the pace of the Toyota in qualifying,” Hartley said.
“We didn’t get it right [in qualifying], but we also put all the emphasis on race pace. We knew that was the only way we stood a chance.”
Porsche focused most of its efforts in the build up to the race on long runs and double-stint simulations to get the most out of the tires, with new-for-2017 limitations forcing LMP1 teams to double stint for nearly the entire race.
Hartley also pointed out that the 919 Hybrid was able to stay out a little bit longer on every stint, and also had quicker stops than Toyota, which put them in a good position strategically.
“I think we can be happy,” he said. “We only finished six seconds off. It was clear that we didn’t have the right aero package for this track.
“We hope our choice will pay benefit at a later stage in the season.”
Bernhard echoed the positive outlook as his co-driver, saying that “the most difficult race is now out of the way.”
The German expects the gap to Toyota to be even closer at Spa, as the Belgian circuit shares more characteristics with Le Mans, for which the aero package was developed.
“I think we already saw that this package is quite competitive, so it’s looking good for Le Mans,” he said.
“The goal was to finish in front of at least one Toyota and we achieved that. The small gap is very encouraging.
“The points we scored today put us in a good position for the championship, especially compared to the past two years, when we left Silverstone with almost no points.”