2014 LMP1 Review

posted in: Le Mans, LMP1, Review, WEC | 0

The 2014 season is undoubtedly one of the most exciting in the short history of the WEC. Over the past eight races we saw countless breathtaking, dramatic, funny and exciting moments. Here we are going to relive these moments in the following articles and publish a season review of each class.
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From the very beginning of the new FIA World Endurance Championship only Audi and Toyota were being represented in the LMP1 category. Since the Ingolstadt-based manufacture had enjoyed a remarkable run at Le Mans from the year 2000, it was not surprising that they would win the World Championship in the first year. For Toyota, the first season was one of gaining experience and developing their new car. The Japanese did their homework and by the following year, they were already putting the World Champions under pressure. But it was not enough to take the title.

Buoyed by the last two seasons of victory, Audi went into this season with high expectations. Last year, Audi won all of the race’s that had any green flag running in them and couldn’t be touched by Toyota. In the testing ahead of the 2014 season Audi already looked to be struggling to get to grips with the new car. Where Audi tried to build on their success of previous years, Toyota started again. The Japanese took advantage of this and managed to produce a car that could achieve 1000-horsepower.
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In April, after all of the pre season testing came the long awaited start of the season at Silverstone. After the initial setbacks, it was thought that Audi had overcome their problems and went into the race optimistic. However the great British weather served up several dark clouds which in turn provided the sharp rain shower early in the race. Both Audi’s were on slicks and missed the opportunity to change to wet tyres. Within a few minutes, both the #1 and #2 Audis fell off the road and into the barriers. For Audi, the first race was the worst start to a season in the team’s history. At Toyota, they kept a cool head and went on to achieve a 1-2 finish with the #20 Porsche 919 Hybrid getting on the podium in its first race.

The second race of the season at Spa-Francorchamps is traditionally regarded as a dress rehearsal for Le Mans. After a strong victory for Toyota at Silverstone, all eyes were on the Japanese. In a thrilling qualifying session, Porsche managed to claim their first ever LMP1 pole position, closely followed by Toyota. Audi entered the race with 3 three cars with two variations of aerodynamic package for Le Mans. However, These changes did not produce the improvements they were expected too. After a slow start, Audi slowly picked up pace. Going into the second half of the race it was a 3 way fight between Audi, Porsche and Toyota. In the end the Japanese managed to win again. Audi however showed that due to its new aerodynamics package, they weren’t going to give up the championship without a fight.
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After a month’s break came the highlight of the season. The 24 Hours of Le Mans was the third race of the season and Audi went in once again as defending champions. It was hoped that a historically strong hunting ground for the four rings would help Audi overcome the outright pace of the Toyotas. The first few days testing however were anything but planned. After a horror crash for the #1 car at the Porsche curves with Loic Duval behind the wheel destroyed the car, the next blow came in qualifying when Toyota and Kazuki Nakajima took the pole and equalled Audi’s record. Buoyed by the qualifying performance, the team from Japan dominated the early part of the race. Everything pointed towards victory for the Japanese team, but in the early hours of Sunday morning a wiring loom fire forced the #7 Toyota out of the race. Porsche was then left to defend from Audi and they did so valiantly, until shortly before the end of the race, the two 919 Hybrid’s also ensued technical problems. In the end it was once again Audi that triumphed at Le Mans.

The unusually long summer break gave the teams time to recover from Le Mans and develop the cars ahead of the final part of the season. After the events of Le Mans everyone was looking at Audi and Toyota. After their victory at the toughest race of the year the question was raised that have Audi got their old strength back or whether Toyota have the measure of the situation? The race at the Circuit of the Americas was as intense as the earlier rounds. Audi, Toyota and Porsche were all on a level playing field up until the rain came. Audi learned from their mistakes at Silverstone and changed quickly onto wet tyres, Toyota were caught out by the sudden condition changes and the red flag. In the end it was the same #2 Audi that won at Le Mans that won at CoTA and it therefore took the championship lead.
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The big turning point this season was the 6 Hours of Fuji. It was Toyota’s home race and there first one in the WEC where they had a chance to become champions. The Japanese team improved on their earlier performances and saw it as their duty to reward their home fans with a win. The plan succeeded thanks to some updates to the car. A dominant showing which saw the Toyota’s finish first and second set them up for a great opportunity to win the World Championship.

The next race in Shanghai followed a few weeks later. With time running out at the end of the season teams stopped developing the cars and tried to get the most out of what they already had.  The 2014 Audi R18 e-tron quattro was designed for high speed tracks such as Spa, Le Mans and Shanghai. After they struggled in Fuji the German team was again, optimistic ahead of the sixth race of the season. Unfortunately luck was not on their side and the first two positions again went to Toyota after a nail biting race.
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At the penultimate race in Bahrain, the team from Japan was unstoppable. While Toyota kept on getting stronger and kept on improving their results, the Audi team stuttered. After their most recent success at Austin in Texas, Audi found it increasingly difficult to beat the Toyota’s and scored no more victories. Despite issues for the championship leading #8 Toyota in the race, drivers Anthony Davidson and Sebastian Buemi still claimed the Drivers’ Championship because the Audi was too far behind. It gave them an unassailable lead with only the Brazilian round to go. With the Audi’s off the pace and the #8 Toyota hitting trouble the lead fell to the #7 Toyota instead. The Porsches tried hard but reliability issues compromised their pace at towards the end of the race.

After the provisional championship win Bahrain, Toyota finally managed to officially win the Drivers’ Championship and the Teams Championship at the final round in Brazil. In a dramatic final race of the year, Toyota fought over six hours against both of the Porsches for the last victory of the year. In the final stages Porsche pulled out a lead with their #14 car and held on to the end to take the teams first ever win. The World Champions were in second place in their Toyota and it was Tom Kristensen who managed to get the #1 Audi onto the podium in third place in his last ever professional race.
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Toyota has finally shown that their hard work of research and development over the past two years has paid off.  For the coming season there are some changes to the regulations which may give Audi an opportunity to get back to its former position at the top of the standings. Porsche are also in the process of developing a brand new 919 Hybrid for next season and Toyota are not going to give up their World Champion status without a fight. With Nissan coming in to join the party too, I wouldn’t put money on who is going to win the championship in 2015 just yet.

Image Source: Walter Schruff