WEC: Webber bags first-ever championship in Bahrain thriller
MARK Webber and his fellow racers in the #17 Porsche 919 Hybrid – Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernard – have taken the 2015 World Endurance Championship after an enthralling, rollercoaster final race of the season, the Six Hours of Bahrain.
Webber, 39, had never previously won a championship of any description.
Struck down with engine issues whilst leading early, Webber and his teammates fought back with some spirited driving only to be hit again with problems in the final hour.
Ultimately, their championship triumph was determined by the efforts of Neel Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas in the #18 sister Porsche to grab their first race win of the 2015 season from the rival title contenders, Marcel Fassler, Benoit Treluyer and Andre Lotterer in the #7 Audi R18 e-tron quattro.
It was so desperate, so tight.
The weekend started with a flourish for the #17, Hartley and Bernhard combining to take the crew’s fifth consecutive pole.
Bernhardt duly jumped out to a strong lead, but thoughts of an easy run to the title ended abruptly after half an hour when #17 limped to the pits with throttle actuator problems. It re-joined after almost nine minutes with a makeshift repair – plastic cable ties saved the day – but more than four laps down.
After that, and as day turned to night, the trio went flat-out in a glory-or-bust effort from way back.
Webber took over from Hartley with 2.5 hours remaining, but there was yet another cruel twist. In the last hour, #17 was forced to make another unscheduled pit stop with an actuator problem, but it clung on to fifth at the finish.
Up front, after a titanic battle, the #18 Porsche consolidated its lead over the #7 Audi, crucially taking vital championship-influencing points away from Fassler, Treluyer and Lotterer.
After eight rounds of a brilliant WEC, the winning margin in the drivers’ standings was a mere five points.
“Today clearly shows the qualities of the team,” said a delighted, yet relieved Webber, a champion (officially) at last. “We have had some very smooth days this year, but we executed the victories with clinical precision.
“Today was about fighting as hard as possible. You saw the spirit of the mechanics; you saw the spirit of the drivers. I cannot thank the mechanics enough.
“The pit stops we had in the garage were extremely stressful. It’s amazing that we were able to win the world championship under pressure like this. I am so proud to be world champion with Timo and Brendon, and with Porsche.”
Although inevitably competitive wherever he raced, the WEC marks Webber’s first championship victory.
Okay, he did win the 1996 Formula Ford Festival in the UK, but that and not a true title series.
He attracted notice with a fourth in the 1995 Australian Formula Ford Championship, and was second the following year in the British Formula Ford Championship, finishing that first season abroad with a win in the Formula Ford Festival.
Webber became an official Mercedes works junior driver for the 1998 FIA GT Championship, alongside reigning champion Bernd Schneider. The pair won five of the 10 rounds on their way to second in the overall standings, beaten to the title by teammates Klaus Ludwig and Ricardo Zonta by just eight seconds in the final race at Laguna Seca. Eight bloody seconds!
In 2000, he was runner-up in the International Formula 3000 Championship.
In Formula One he was a contender but third-place finishes in three grand prix seasons were his rewards in the top category.
Ultimately, Webber became disenchanted with modern F1 due to politics, the need to manage tyres designed to wear out after a dozen laps, and the reliance on team-mandated strategy rather than balls-out competition. He exited and headed for the challenge of the World Endurance Championship.
Impressively, the Webber, Hartley and Bernhard triumvirate edged stellar opposition led by Audi, the manufacturer that until Porsche’s return absolutely dominated prototype sports car racing from the turn of the century.
Bahrain also marked the end to the professional track career of the respected Alex Wurz, after a successful 23 years in the sport.
A two-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner (and still the youngest after his 1996 success), a podium visitor in F1 (with Benetton and Williams) and a mainstay of both Peugeot, and more recently Toyota’s LMP1 WEC campaigns, Wurz has a rich motorsport CV.
And it was pleasing, too, to see another nice guy bow out with a podium.
V8 SUPERCARS: Lowndes powers closer at the Island
THE scenario that series frontrunner Mark Winterbottom and the Prodrive Ford team have feared most has materialised – the V8 Supercars championship will go to the wire, to be decided at the finale held on the often-fraught street circuit at Homebush, where the unpredictable is usually the norm.
Winterbottom remains in the box seat to take his first V8 Supercars title – he holds a chunky advantage over only rival, Red Bull Holden’s Craig Lowndes – but his stress levels on Sunday week will be higher than he would prefer.
At the penultimate round at the weekend at Phillip Island, Lowndes scored wins on Saturday and Sunday to cut 61 points out of his the margin to Frosty. He’s chip-chipping away…
A total of 300 points are available across the three races of the Sydney 500.
But Lowndes says it really is a championship for Frosty to lose.
“With a 179 point lead, as long as he drives smart and clean and keeps out of trouble they should have enough of a points gap to walk away with that number one,” Lowndes said.
“But we won’t stop fighting until the chequered flag on Sunday.”
Heading to his home town for the decider, Winterbottom, will be feeling the pressure of knowing he is something of a Lone Ranger for Ford since teammate Chaz Mostert banged himself up at Bathurst.
At Phillip Island, after Saturday’s race, Winterbottom insisted the Holden teams were involved in some gang warfare. Agreed, said the men in red with brutal candour.
By Sunday, though, Frosty had hardened up. Even after Lowndes’ teammate Jamie Whincup mugged him dropping down into the right-hander after Lukey Heights and stole a podium spot on the final lap, Winterbottom was more diplomatic.
He called Whincup’s barging thrust underneath him a good move, even though it cost him nine points, the difference between third and fourth.
"I drove as hard as I could today,” Winterbottom said afterwards. “I walk away proud and I still feel confident.
“I'm super happy with the team. We had a lot of issues this weekend and to repair it and get the engine in and put it on pole today it's not that bad so finishing fourth is not as good as we expect from the team after this year but when you're not quick enough you have to do what you can do."
But Winterbottom will be uneasy that the Red Bull Holden duo dominated and has hit a peak at such a crucial time.
Volvo GRM’s Scott McLaughlin had a solid couple of days taking a pole on Saturday and podiums in all three races.
The Nissans also looked stronger, Todd and Rick Kelly finishing fifth and sixth yesterday.
Still, the major talking point, and a source of serious aggro between the parties involved was Shane van Gisbergen’s Holden tapping a tune on the rear of Prodrive driver David Reynolds’ Falcon before hooking him into a frightening high-speed spin at the Hayshed in the first race on Saturday.
Reynolds finished last as a result, effectively ruining his title hopes after coming into the weekend in second place.
“He was drilling me a few corners before, drilled me at Siberia and must’ve got the tiniest little overlap – I don’t know I was just turned around at high speed,” Reynolds said on the telecast.
“I don’t know – it’s a really, really silly thing. Stupid, man, really stupid.”
The Kiwi was defiant, even after being docked 25 championship points, a penalty that many felt way too soft.
IMSA: Briscoe with factory backed Ganassi Ford GT squad
AUSTRALIA’S vastly experienced and versatile Ryan Briscoe will be a part of the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team that will field two Ford GTs in the IMSA Sports Car Championship in 2016
Joining Briscoe in the quartet selected for full-time rides in the full IMSA series next year are Richard Westbrook, Dirk Müller and Joey Hand.
Hand and Müller will share the #66 Ford GT, while Briscoe and Westbrook take the reins of the #67 Ford GT.
The IMSA line-up for the opening stoush, the 24 Hours of Daytona, represents a true global effort, with drivers from the United States (Hand), United Kingdom (Westbrook), Australia (Briscoe) and Germany (Müller).
“What I look for in a driver first of all is heart,” said Chip Ganassi, owner of Ford Chip Ganassi Racing. “At this level, all drivers are fast. We want drivers that can work well with others. Drivers that have endurance car experience. Drivers that have been to Le Mans.
“All these things add up. It’s a team of drivers that act like they’ve been together for quite a while already.”
Ganassi’s team has already banked seven IMSA championship titles, 46 wins and has six overall victories at the 24 Hours of Daytona.
Briscoe and Ganassi are old partners. The Sydneysider launched his IndyCar racing career in 2005 driving for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, and was also a driver of the team’s 2005 Rolex 24 At Daytona entry. He has won 12 IMSA races to date. This year he shared GTLM class victory at Daytona and Sebring.
RALLY AND RACE: Citroën announces its future
CITROEN has laid out its plans for its future participation in global motorsport with its emphasis very much on world rallying, and a parting of the ways with legendary driver Sébastien Loeb after 15 years together.
A strategic withdrawal from the World Rally Championship next year is part of the process.
However, Citroën will be back in the WRC from 2017 with a car based on a model complying with the FIA’s new technical regulations. So it doesn’t weaken its development of the new car, the Citroën Racing team has chosen to put its WRC activities on hold next season.
Elsewhere, in 2016, the Citroën Total team will defend its FIA World Touring Car Championship with two works Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs, driven by José María López and Yvan Muller.
Gone from the team is nine-time world rally champ Sebastien Loeb, who is looking to concentrating on Dakar-type events with Peugeot.
Many rally fans have been outraged over the apparent elbowing of the greatest rally driver of all time. Settle, folks, settle: Loeb has simply moved on to a sibling brand within the group. He has a new challenge.
Collectively across a number of programs, Citroën has won an incredible 15 world titles over the last 22 years: five in the Cross Country Rally World Cup, eight in the WRC and two in the WTCC.
Choosing to put a renewed effort into world rallying was an easy call, with the WRC set for major expansion into China, the world’s biggest car market, and a broader television coverage.
Linda Jackson, chief executive of the Citroen brand, said: “Rallying is a fascinating sport, which tests the performance, reliability and solidity of the cars and drivers in some magnificent settings.
“In 2017, the appearance of a new generation of cars, which are purported to be very attractive, will coincide with our renewed involvement.”
The 2017-generation machines are wider, more powerful and meaner looking, with imposing aerodynamic features.
Ironically, the last time Citroen pulled out of the WEC for a year, Sebastian Loeb took the title … in a Citroen.