Kevin Estre said that his and Neel Jani’s No. 92 Porsche 911 RSR-19 needed to overcome a “quite stressful” fuel-saving task after an off-sequence pit stop in order to claim GTE-Pro class honors in the Total 6 Hours of Spa FIA World Endurance Championship round.
A right-rear puncture around 10 minutes before the end of hour two shook the pole-sitting Porsche off the regular pit stop pattern of roughly one visit at the top of each hour.
This earlier-than-expected second service put the No. 92 on course for a potentially costly fuel splash shortly before the end of the race, and therefore required economic driving from both Estre and Jani for the remaining time.
When the puncture stuck, Estre had about 14 seconds in hand over Alessandro Pier Guidi in the No. 51 Ferrari 488 GTE Evo after breaking clear from his front-row starting spot.
“It was close with the Ferrari at the start, but I could maintain the position,” said Estre.
“We had a good fight with the LMP2 back-marker which was tough because we had different top speeds and braking points. But in the end I could manage to keep him behind me, which I think was a big help. That’s why the others lost more time at the beginning.
“We had a great car so I could be very consistent, just finishing my stint building up the gap which was I think due to pace and maybe also traffic management with this LMP2.
“On the second stint we had a small issue with a rear tire and had to come in early, so we lost a bit of time.
“But mostly we were out of strategy, which was our worry at that time because we didn’t know if we would have to do a splash at the end. After that, it was quite stressful.”
Jani, who took over from Estre during the off-sequence pit stop, explained that the fuel margin was looking tight but conservative driving and three Full Course Yellow slow-down periods in the second half of the race helped the No. 92 to re-enter the pit window.
The Porsche pitted during the first two FCY periods on either side of the two hours to go mark, ensuring that its final stop took place with around 47 minutes left on the clock.
Estre went on to take the checkered flag 34.6 seconds clear of the No. 51 Ferrari driven by Pier Guidi and James Calado, who said afterward that the factory AF Corse squad “couldn’t have done more” in its pursuit of the winning Porsche.
“Coming in early with the puncture obviously put us on the back foot so I was trying to save fuel a bit,” explained former LMP1 driver Jani, who took his maiden GTE race win.
“So I was back in energy-saving mode for the final two stints, just so we could stretch and hopefully get back into the window.
“But luckily the Full Course Yellow came at the right time for us, so from then on we were out of the stress and back in the pit window.”
The No. 92 Porsche’s right-rear puncture came just a handful of minutes after an identical issue for the sister No. 91 car of Richard Lietz and Gianmaria Bruni.
Lietz was later tapped from behind in the Bus Stop braking zone by Jose Maria Lopez in the No. 7 Toyota GR010 Hybrid, resulting in another right-rear tire replacement job.
“Mediocre – that’s how I would describe [the] race,” reflected Lietz. “Our tires were damaged, we were shunted and ultimately we ran out of fresh rubber.
“We really didn’t need anything more to happen. That says it all. First, we had no luck and then we were hit by bad luck.”