FIA WEC

FIAWEC: Audi Sport Team Joest and G-Drive Racing Among Friday’s Big Winners

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Obviously, we may not know the whole story on where the tide will turn on the 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship and the European Le Mans Series for that matter after this weekend’s action at Silverstone Circuit in England, but with the 24 Hours of Le Mans now just under two months away, the first early bellwethers are starting to be revealed. Up until Friday’s two practice sessions for both series, the only tells on potential Le Mans performance had been shown by the four teams on the 56-car entry list who participated in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January and the Sebring 12 Hours last month. Clearly Corvette Racing looked stout in claiming GT wins at both events, with a decent set of challengers opposing them. Aston Martin Racing struggled mightily in the same events, but it is worth noting the driving team at those races will face less stern competition running in the lesser GTE-Amateur class in Europe.

In terms of prototype contenders, Krohn Racing looked good over a single lap in qualifying at Sebring, but suffered from durability concerns in race trim as did Extreme Speed Motorsports. The latter two will be present in England this weekend, with more information to be learned from them and the other Le Mans contenders who will finally begin to show their colors. Although a timing sheet may not be the most effective way to judge potential, here’s who claimed the biggest praise from yours truly on Friday at least.

WINNERS

Audi Sport Team Joest: After showing a lack of outright pace last season across the board, Dr. Wolfgang Ulrich’s number one target of improving performance seems to have been met, at least so far this weekend. The Reinhold Joest-run Audi R18 E-Tron Quattros were 1-2 in both sessions Friday, maxing out at a one minute, 41.526 second for their best effort. Although it is not a clear advantage on say Porsche Team’s 919 Hybrid, it is a significant cushion on Toyota Motorsports’ TS040 Hybrid, which was arguably the fastest hybrid car last season. With two manufacturers present this weekend, and a fourth in Nissan joining the party at Le Mans, it is clear Audi has given its driving trios something it can work with and perhaps consistently win with starting on Sunday.

G-Drive Racing: The Russian-based Ligier JS P2 coupe runners have for now maintained their place as the pacesetters in LMP2. There is a reason they were my preseason number one in my rankings list in February. The car, equipped with Nissan V-8 power is solid from top to bottom, while the driving teams led by Gustavo Yacaman and Sam Bird respectively, have been strong and honestly I think they do not get all the credit they deserve. Like the situation with Audi, it is not a lock that they will dominate the proceedings. KCMG is close behind with the all-new ORECA 05 coupe, while the new Strakka Racing-Dome coupe combination is also a contender for the podium in the smaller prototype division.

Porsche Team Manthey: Despite losing the services of Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber to the LMP1 prototype team for 2015, Porsche is never short of talent and proved it by placing their cars 1-2 in GTE-Pro on Friday. Besides that however, the overall focus in GTE overall (both Pro and Amateur) is the next team on the ledger.

Aston Martin Racing: The Vantage V8s were nipping at the heels of the factory Porsche 911 RSRs on Friday in GTE-Pro, whilst also dominating the proceedings as expected in GTE-Amateur. The Darren Turner-Stefan Mucke driven entry led the charge, but it is worth noting that the lesser-factory backed all-Danish Young Driver team squad was on the verge of topping them on the charts throughout Friday afternoon. The Amateur squad, led by Pedro Lamy and Paul Dalla Lana, clearly benefited from its two trial runs at Daytona and Sebring and controlled the proceedings in the lower division and should be the odds-on favorite at Silverstone on Sunday and in the battle for the season championship.

Gibson Runners: The ELMS prototype action was controlled upfront by the Jota Sport and Greaves Motorsport teams, contesting the circuit with the upgraded and newly badged Gibson 015s-Nissans. The ex-Zytek cars, despite sticking to the older open-top spyder layout, are still capable of beating the ever-increasing presence of coupe-designed prototypes that will challenge them in both the European circuit and at Le Mans in June. Keep this thought in mind however, particularly with Jota. Two-thirds of the driving lineup for the No. 38 Gibson-Nissan will not be representing the team at Le Mans. Filipe Albuquerque will be with Audi, while Harry Tincknell who was responsible for posting Friday’s fastest ELMS lap will join Nissan. A positive looking to Le Mans though is that Simon Dolan, who was part of the team that drove Jota to a top five overall effort last year at Circuit de la Sarthe was close to the pace his temporary co-drivers set. For now Murphy Prototypes ORECA 03R-Nissan, which paced the efforts during Spring Training at Paul Ricard two weeks ago is their biggest threat looking to race day on Saturday.

Stay to Rubbings Racing Saturday for a recap of FIA WEC qualifying, plus ELMS qualifying and race recaps from Silverstone.

 

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About Matt Embury

Matt Embury is the Senior SportsCar Writer at Rubbings Racing and can be followed on Twitter (@MattEmbury) for the latest sports car news and opinions. A native of Mishawaka, Indiana, he has been following sports car racing for nearly 20 years.

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