After an impressive outing in the car’s debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Porsche’s Timo Bernhard heads into this weekend’s FIA WEC Six Hours of Circuit of The Americas looking for continued momentum as the Porsche 919 Hybrid seeks its first victory.
The German, teamed with Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley, led throughout the stages of the twice-around-the-clock endurance classic until its LMP1-H contender suffered engine failure with two hours to go. The performance of the gasoline-powered prototype, however, impressed many, especially in only its third race.
“Le Mans was quite a tough race for us, and also very emotional because we were looking very well in the race,” Bernhard told Sportscar365. “We had the first overall leading laps in 16 years [for Porsche], so that was a very good achievement.
“Two hours from the end, we were still in a leading position. If we would have achieved it, you never know, with the strategy, as the No. 2 Audi was closing in. Still, it could have been a podium but the DNF was quite tough to take, quite late in the race.
“Who would have thought we would have been fighting for the win, at the end of the race at Le Mans? For me, for the first year [of the program], it’s quite remarkable, if you see how high-tech these LMP1 cars are and how difficult Le Mans is anyways.
“But I’m pretty happy how the team managed it. I think it brought us closer together. The three tests we had [since] were quite good. We’re concentrating now more on the shorter races and I think it will be quite a close battle.”
Porsche, along with rivals Audi and Toyota, have stayed busy over the three-month gap between races, with the 919 Hybrid completing tests at Paul Ricard, Lausitzring and Magny-Cours prior to COTA, which kicks off a busy stretch of five races over the next 11 weeks.
The German manufacturer has rolled out with its high-downforce aero package for the first time, which according to Bernhard, provides a noticeable step forward in handling.
“For the first three races, we were stable on Le Mans downforce and setup, even if it was not the perfect choice in the first two races,” he said. “It was the stability we needed at that point.
“Now we’re concentrating on the last five races, the shorter ones. For sure you need a better performance on the shorter runs. We should be able to fight with the others. The team has improved for sure with more experience.
“I’m very proud of the Porsche team We’ve made some very good steps.”
Bernhard, a three-time ALMS champion who has spent nearly a decade of his career racing in America, believes they can take the fight to Toyota and Audi in the five remaining races.
“We want a podium [this weekend], but for sure, we want to fight for victory,” he said. “That’s the goal we have for the last five races. We need to get the maximum out of it. With the six factory cars, I imagine it will be quite a good fight here.
“Before the season, everyone wasn’t sure if there would still be racing with all of the fuel saving. But we saw that the hybrid technology didn’t change anything with the racing.
“In fact, I think the racing got better because all three manufacturers need to work very hard to perform. It shows that it’s been the right choice.”