The #14 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Marc Lieb, Romain Dumas and Neel Jani took the overall victory in the final FIA World Endurance Championship race of the season at Interlagos, Brazil. It’s Porsche’s first victory in a world sportscar championship since Bob Wollek and Frank Jellinski won at Dijon in the 962C in 1989. In LMP2, KCMG took its third victory of the season, while Aston Martin took a clean sweep in GTE Pro and Am.
The Interlagos circuit in Sao Paulo hosted a fascinating battle in LMP1, with the #20 Porsche 919 Hybrid making the early running from pole and quickly building up a lead. With the Toyotas and Audis in hot pursuit, the Porsches appeared to be continuing the form they showed in free practice and qualifying with their strongest performance of the season to-date. However, the #20 car began to fade as the race progressed, possibly due to a hybrid system issue. On a slightly different strategy, the #1 and #2 Audi R18 e-tron quattros slowly but surely came into the race, with the Kristensen/Di Grassi/Duval car moving up ahead of the #7 Toyota into a podium position on Kristensen’s final race in top-class sportscars.
It was by no means a clean race for the front runners, with a number of incidents involving lapped cars or simple mistakes. It began with the #2 Audi suffering a system failure on lap 1, falling to the back of the field in the process. However, a pit stop under the full-course yellow thrown on lap 41 put the #2 car back in the mix. It wasn’t plain sailing for the #8 Toyota, either, with Sébastian Buemi given a warning by Race Control after a collision with the GTE Am #75 Prospeed Competition Porsche 911 GT3 RSR.
As the race developed, it turned into a straight battle between the champions-elect #8 Toyota of Anthony Davidson and Sébastian Buemi and the #14 Porsche driven by Neel Jani, Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb, with rarely more than ten seconds separating the top two on track. The final pit stops saw Jani in the #14 car double-stint the tyres, giving him an advantage of some 15 seconds over the chasing #8 car. With Davidson lapping around one second a lap quicker than Jani, it looked like the #8 car would be able to catch the Porsche, barring any problems elsewhere.
However, there was one more twist in the LMP1 tale, with the #20 Porsche driven by Mark Webber suffering a monumental shunt along with the #90 8-Star Motorsports Ferrari 458 of Matteo Cressoni. On the long run up the hill out of the final turn, the Porsche appeared to collide with the Ferrari heavily and the inside wall, sending both of them into the barriers on driver’s right at some rate of knots. Fortunately, Webber emerged from the obliterated Porsche 919 Hybrid and was “OK” according to the Porsche team, despite leaving on a stretcher. Cressoni also climbed out of his Ferrari uninjured too.
Race Control called the safety car immediately to recover the two stricken cars, and, given the debris and damage to the barriers, it soon became clear that that’s how the race would end. The accident unfortunately robbed viewers of what may have been one of the most exciting race finishes to a FIA World Endurance Championship race this season, but the #14 Porsche 919 Hybrid gave Porsche a much-deserved maiden victory in their “Mission 2014” season.
It genuinely was a “dream podium” at Interlagos, with championship winners Anthony Davidson and Sébastian Buemi finishing second and Tom Kristensen rounding off the top three in his final race together with teammates Loic Duval and Lucas di Grassi. Toyota also sealed the deal on their World Endurance Manufacturers’ Championship, defending their 40-point advantage over the Audis coming in to the Interlagos race. It was an emotional end to the 2014 WEC season, especially with Kristensen bringing the curtain down on a career that spanned over 25 years.
In LMP2, the pole-sitting #47 KCMG Oreca Nissan made a break for it at the green light and soon built up a considerable lead over the remaining P2 entries. Despite a few scrapes with other cars and, at one point, with the Interlagos barriers, it was a relatively trouble-free run to the flag for Richard Bradley, Alex Imperatori and Matthew Howson, who secured their third victory of an impressive debut season for the Hong Kong-entered car.
Relatively early on, the season finale in the drivers’ and teams’ championships took an unfortunate twist for one of the key protagonists. After a poor start, the #26 G-Drive Racing Ligier JS P2 Nissan of Olivier Pla made ground back on direct title rivals, the #27 Oreca Nissan of SMP Racing. However, Pla suffered a catastrophic front-right brake failure on lap 41 on the run in to turn one, pitching the Ligier coupé head-on into the barriers. With the front suspension completely destroyed, it was an impossible task to recover the car to the pits and possible repair, despite Pla’s best efforts. With its only direct challenger out of the race, the #27 SMP Racing only had to finish to secure both the FIA Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Teams and the FIA Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Drivers for Russian driver Sergey Zlobin.
In GTE Pro, fans were treated to the customary bumper-to-bumper racing, with the Aston Martins and the Porsches proving to have the edge on pace over the Ferraris. At the halfway stage, the #92 Porsche 911 RSR led the #99 Aston Martin Vantage V8 by just half a second, with James Calado’s #71 Ferrari 458 back in third.
Things were looking good for the #99 car, which has been plagued by bad luck in the 2014 season, but two collisions put it out of contention. With around an hour remaining in the race, it was a genuine game of strategy, with the #97 Aston Martin car leading Patrick Pilet in the #92 Porsche by around 45 seconds but needing one more stop. The safety car phase just half an hour from the end sealed the deal for the Aston Martin, ensuring that they would not need to stop again and giving Mücke and Turner their second victory of the season.
In the championship battle, Ferrari did what they had to do in the World Endurance Cup for GT Manufacturers, finishing third and fourth behind the Aston Martin and the Porsche.
In the GTE Am battle, the normally dominant #95 Aston Martin Racing car experienced a rare off-day at Interlagos, including a collision with the sister GTE Pro car and a drive-through penalty after going off at turn one and gaining an advantage. The #98 car driven by Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Christian Nygaard picked up the mantle and drove home ahead of the #95 crew for their third win of the season. It was arguably a race to forget for the returning Emerson Fittipaldi in the #61 Ferrari after spending a lot of time in the pits to repair an as yet unknown problem. The Brazilian was also handed a penalty for a pit lane infringement and finished back in sixth in class.
Image source: Porsche press material