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, which initially finished third in class with its No. 30 HPD ARX-03b, was excluded after the front and rear plank showed more-than-allowed wear.
It promoted the No. 42 Strakka Racing Dome S103 Nissan to a podium position.
The No. 47 KCMG Oreca 05 Nissan led the opening laps in the hands of Porsche factory driver on loan Nick Tandy but went to the garage with water pressure issues in the second hour, dashing any hopes of a podium in the car’s debut race.
ESM’s No. 31 entry came home fifth 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.
RESULTS: Six Hours of Silverstone