Porsche LMP1 team principal Andreas Seidl has downplayed their chances in tomorrow’s FIA World Endurance Championship season-opening Six Hours of Silverstone, admitting they would be happy with a third and place fourth finishes amid the large gap to Toyota seen so far this weekend.
The pair of Porsche 919 Hybrids qualified 1.3 and 1.7 seconds off the pace from the pole-sitting No. 7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid of Anthony Davidson and Kamui Kobayashi, largely due to the German manufacturer starting the season with its low-downforce Le Mans aero configuration and Toyota running in high-downforce trim.
“This is a pure high downforce track. We knew what we were doing here and what we could expect. We managed to successfully to be in P3 and P4,” Seidl told Sportscar365. “We cannot expect to be close.”
Seidl feels the sacrifice they’ve made this weekend by opting for the low-downforce kit will pay dividends both at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the remainder of the season, in having additional time to develop its high-downforce kit.
Porsche took a similar approach last year, in carrying over its 2015-spec high downforce kit to Silverstone, as its third allocated aero package, but new-for-2017 rules permit only two kits over the entire nine-round championship.
“It’s part of the decision and strategy we’ve taken with the aero kits,” Seidl said.
“Simply with the resources we have available, it’s not possible to [develop] two kits in parallel on our side.
“Another point, which I see as an advantage for the highlight [of the season] at Le Mans, is that it was good to focus throughout the winter testing on the Le Mans kit and to find out all the weak points.
“If it was the right decision, we’ll see at the end of the season.”
For this weekend, Seidl admitted they won’t be able to pull off the victory in terms of pace, with an even larger 2.2-second margin seen on Friday’s Free Practice sessions.
“We need to be realistic,” he said. “How do you approach a race? First you try to win it in terms of performance.
“If that’s not possible, which will not be possible here, we will try it on reliability and operational strength. If that’s not possible, we will try it with race luck.
“Toyota is a strong competitor; they’re also reliable.
“Our target is to walk away here tomorrow in P3 and P4. But at the same time, we’re going to try and keep the pressure up to maybe make another place up for whatever reason.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing team director Rob Leupen, however, feels Porsche will be significantly closer in tomorrow’s race, with the 919 Hybrids having focused on long runs and not going for a qualifying time.
The Japanese manufacturer scored its first front row sweep since Bahrain 2013.
“It will be very, very tight tomorrow,” Leupen told Sportscar365. “I don’t think we will have a head start and then you don’t see us anymore.”
Another factor to consider, according to 2015 World Champion Timo Bernhard, could be tires, with new rules limiting LMP1 teams to only four sets, plus two ‘joker’ tires over the six-hour race.
The Porsche driver said they had “quite promising” results with double-stint simulations on Friday and that the result is not yet “set in stone.”
“In the past, endurance racing changed to sprint racing, where each stint was like a reset,” Bernhard said. “You got a new set, so whatever happened before, you have a fresh start.
“Now when you start a stint, you always have to think also 1 hour and 30 minutes later.
“If you have flat spotted [a tire] in lap 3, for example, you have to carry it for 60 more laps. This is something that you have to consider in your driving.
“It’s a bit different. I think it’s more difficult and it’s more challenging. I think we will see a lot of race decisions based on the second stint.”