With his first season of LMP1 racing in the books, Mark Webber is looking forward to further gains in his sports car racing career, as both he and Porsche enter year two in the FIA World Endurance Championship beginning with this weekend’s season-opener in Silverstone.
Arguably one of the biggest storylines of the 2014 season, Webber’s arrival into the series saw the Formula One star quickly adapt to the rigors of endurance racing, while also in the first year of the Porsche 919 Hybrid.
While the Australian and co-drivers Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley scored three podium finishes and its sister car claiming a historic first win at the season finale in Sao Paulo, Webber feels there’s more to come this year, both from car and driver.
“The first year I learned a lot, to be honest,” Webber told Sportscar365. “I was definitely improving as the season went on, especially at Le Mans, where I was quite low in experience.
“The other races I got better as the season went on. Obviously the crash in Brazil was not an ideal finish but that can happen.
“Dealing with endurance racing from an individual perspective, coming from Formula One, I got better as the year went on and I’m expecting to be a better driver this year.”
The biggest off-season development, however, has come from the car, which is all-new for 2015 and features a move from the 6 to 8 MJ hybrid subclass.
Compared to rivals Audi and defending World Champions Toyota, it appears Porsche has made the biggest gains, something Webber says he could feel as a driver.
“It’s definitely improved, which is our goal,” he said. “In terms of driving, you feel that there has been a pretty good step. But always drivers want more, that’s the thing.
“They’ve done a good job. It’s an optimistic approach, obviously with 8 MJ, the technology is extremely advanced. We’re learning a little bit in the early season with this capability.”
The German manufacturer is coming off an extensive pre-season development program, with the 2015-spec 919 Hybrid completing nearly 15,000 miles between tests in Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Motorland Aragon and last month’s FIA WEC Prologue at Paul Ricard.
“We’ve ironed out as many of the problems as we didn’t like on the ’14 car as we can,” Webber said. “There’s still a few there; it’s natural, you cannot get everything perfect in the first attempt. But we will look to phase these out as close to Le Mans as we can.
“It’s still relatively early. We don’t have the car completely perfect yet because of the focus on endurance, which is going quite well, I must say. Then we can start giving the car some more love for the short races, on pace and intensity.”
While 2015 marks Webber’s sophomore season of endurance racing, it’s also only the second year for the Porsche LMP1 organization, which unlike Audi and Toyota, was built up internally in Weissach from the ground up.
With some changes in personnel, as well as additional crew brought in for its third 919 Hybrid that will contest the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Six Hours of Spa, Webber believes that will also be an influential factor this year.
“That’s a big step for us, I must say,” he said. “In the second year, we’ve got a lot more people in the areas where they are naturally fitting now.
“Because the first 12 to 18 months, you’re really learning who likes to be where and who likes to work with who. That’s gone in a good way for ’15. That will work out on the track as well.
“I think we’ll see that relevant to lap time as well. Because when you are more organized, whether that be with pit stops or just all sorts of things, it makes the team more comfortable in all areas.”
Could Porsche be considered championship favorites? Judging by the results at the Prologue, the answer would be yes.
But for Webber, the answer isn’t clear-cut yet, as the ex-F1 ace has kept a modest approach towards the strides, both from the program and himself as a driver.
“So far, there’s a lot of positives for us,” he said. “The stopwatch will be the answer at Silverstone. That will be when we see what’s going on.”