The fight for the FIA World Endurance Championship, which resumes with this weekend’s Six Hours of Nürburgring, has shifted in favor of Porsche, following its surprise last-lap victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Marc Lieb, Neel Jani and Romain Dumas, who gave Porsche its record 18th overall win in the French endurance classic, have stretched their lead in the Drivers’ World Championship to 39 points over Audi’s Loic Duval, Lucas Di Grassi and Oliver Jarvis heading into the fourth round of the season.
But with a maximum of 26 points available for each of the remaining six races, the Porsche trio are not completely invincible, especially after what’s been an attrition-filled start to the season for all three LMP1 manufacturers.
The No. 2 Porsche crew inherited the win in the season-opener at Silverstone after the No. 7 Audi R18 of Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler was excluded due to a front skid block infraction.
Lieb, Jani and Dumas, meanwhile, salvaged a runner-up result at Spa, despite completing the majority of the race without hybrid power.
“During the first two races and in Le Mans the competition was very close,” Dumas said. “For me it is important to stay calm. We’ve got a fast car and must focus on the job. Zero mistakes are key for a good result.”
Jani added: “Our situation in the championship looks good, but, with six six-hour races to come, everything is wide open. It is not even halftime in the season yet.”
While Audi’s Duval, Di Grassi and Jarvis, who claimed victory at Spa, sit second in the title race, they only hold a single-point advantage over the No. 6 Toyota Gazoo Racing crew of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Stephane Sarrazin, which has shown a return to form this year with its new TS050 Hybrid.
The Japanese manufacturer came four minutes from victory at Le Mans with its No. 5 car, which stopped on the pit straight with turbo-related issues while in the lead.
Toyota is still searching for its first win of the season but heads into the Nürburgring with some added confidence, and a new ultra-high downforce aero package for its LMP1 contender.
“In Le Mans we did an amazing job and we could show the big improvement of our car compared to last year,” Sarrazin said.
“And that’s the most important point for us right now; we are back in the fight. Now our target is to win races and fight for the World Championship.”
The big story in LMP1 entering the weekend is the absence of Treluyer, who has been forced out of the cockpit due to a back injury sustained in a mountain bike accident.
The Frenchman, who sits a distant fourth in the World Championship with only 35 points on the board, will miss his first WEC race and leave the No. 7 Audi with just Lotterer and Fassler at the wheel.
“We’d like to make up as much ground as possible,” Lotterer said of the title race. “That’s particularly difficult this year because all three manufacturers in the LMP1 category are on a similarly high level.
“Plus, at the Nürburgring Marcel Fässler and I will only be racing as a team of two because our teammate Benoît isn’t fit again yet after a mountain bike accident. But he’ll be in the car with us again starting in Mexico.”
The Manufacturers’ World Championship also has defending champions Porsche out front, but only 32 points ahead of Audi, and Toyota not out of the fight either, although a further 16 points behind.