The perfect run since Le Mans for the reigning champions in the #1 Porsche continued in Texas, with Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley snatching the win off Audi who lost out during a second half Full-Couse Yellow period. The #8 Audi of Lucas di Grassi, Oliver Jarvis and Loic Duval came home 22 seconds behind the winner in second, with the #6 Toyota taking a surprise podium ahead of the championship-leading #2 Porsche in fourth.
“It was a really hard earned victory, I’m so happy, we need to keep going, Audi were quicker but we came back. We were lucky with a Full-Course Yellow but we made no mistakes,” said the victorious Bernhard after the race.
It was a bizarre race from start to finish. Audi looked to be the team to beat in all the pre-race sessions, and dominated the first half of the race, running in formation at the front with almost a minute lead. The #7 R18 of Andre Lotterer, Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer led from pole early, but lost out after a slower stop just before the halfway mark, letting the #8 take the reigns at the front. The German marque still seemed to have everything under control though.
Behind, the Toyotas and Porsches squabbled over the remaining spots in the top six. Toyota will be pleased to have left with a far more competitive showing, able to lap quicker than the Porsches throughout. Stephane Sarrazin and Sebastien Buemi in particular were rapid, Buemi taking third place at one point in the #5, representing the best of the rest before the #1 retook the place late in the third hour.
However, once the sun set, Audi’s comfortable lead and hopes of a cruise to the line began to crumble. With two hours and fifty minutes remaining the #8 lost all power on the exit of Turn one with Loic Duval driving, resulting in the #7 retaking the lead. Duval managed to get the car firing after a total reset, but it cost the team dearly; in the end would cost the #8 crew the race.
The Audi falling back inspired Hartley in the #1 to push on, the gap between them down from 40 seconds to just five. Unable to catch up on track, the Porsche team would receive another break in a caution period though, which was called for after the Manor Oreca with Richard Bradley driving collided with the #66 Ford GT out on track leaving Stefan Mucke stranded in a gravel trap.
The Audis had pitted early just before the incident because of Duval’s drinks bottle failing. The Porsche hadn’t, resulting in the #2 emerging from the pits under FCY conditions in the lead with the #6 Toyota second.
Things then turned from bad to worse when the #66 tapped the #7 Audi into a spin that ended with the car in the wall at Turn 18. Crucially, the #7 had gambled on strategy and leapfrogged the second placed Toyota, allowing Benoit Treluyer to press on for the lead. Treluyer was hunting down Bernhard, but it all came to nothing and after repairs the car limped home sixth after 11 minutes in the garage.
It left the #1 with a comfortable lead heading into the final hour, with the #8 recovering to second after a quicker stop in which the team opted not to change tyres, ahead of the #6 which put on fresher rubber at the end. The gamble to make up the time to the leader wasn’t enough though, and di Grassi who was in the car at the end had to worry more about Sarrazin catching him and making a pass.
Behind the #2 Porsche in fourth and ahead of the sixth place #7 Audi was the #5 Toyota which was had a quiet race due to engine issues preventing it from competing on pace with the top four.
LMP1 L saw Rebellion take an easy victory with its #13 R-One, coming home four laps ahead of the ByKolles CLM, that failed to end the night classified ahead of the top three LMP2 runners.
In LMP2, the #36 Signatech Alpine of Gustavo Menezes, Stephane Richelmi and Nicolas Lapierre once again proving to be the class of the field, winning by a whole lap. The trio had to fight for the lead with the Manor Oreca (which ended up retiring after multiple incidents) at the start, but once the race settled down the trio resumed control and dominated, putting the title ever more out of reach for the other runners.
Coming home second was the #43 RGR Sport by Morand Ligier fresh from its Mexico win. Bruno Senna, Ricardo Gonzalez and Filipe Albuquerque did well to fight against the Oreca chassis’ on pace throughout, and took another well earned podium finish.
Rounding out the top three was the #26 G-Drive Oreca which had the pace – especially at the start, when Alex Brundle drove from the very back of the field into the top five – but once again the team failed to score that all-elusive win. It was nevertheless a solid performance from Brundle, Rene Rast and Romain Rusinov.
The #31 ESM Ligier finished up fourth, promoted after Manor’s late retirement, ahead of the first of the two SMP BR01s – the #27 – in fifth.
GTE Pro was a similar story to LMP2, with the #95 Aston Martin Vantage of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen taking a lights-to-flag victory. The Danish duo came home with a comfortable lead over the two AF Corse 488s in second and third, it was Sorensen’s first WEC class win and Thief’s first since 2014. The #51 of Gianmaria Bruni and James Calado that finished second just didn’t have the pace to mount a serious challenge, but came home just 12 seconds behind the winning crew.
Behind the #71 AF Corse squad in third and just off the podium was the #67 Ford GT, which was on course late to make a run for a trophy with Andy Priaulx at the wheel. But the Brit came up short, unable to repeat the crew’s Spa performance.
The #97 Aston Martin with Darren Turner and the returning Fernando Rees at the wheel came home a disappointing and distant fifth, not the performance they were hoping for after winning in Mexico.
AMR did however have two sets of silverware to return back to the UK with, taking the GTE Am victory too, which makes it the winningest marque in the WEC with 28 class wins. The #98 of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda took the win in commanding fashion, a minute ahead of the second place KCMG Porsche, and third place #50 Larbre Corvette which had a very consistent run.
Further down the order though, it was a disastrous outing for championship leaders Francois Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard and Rui Aguas in the #83 AF Corse Ferrari, who came home last after mechanical trouble set them back.
The Gulf Racing and Abu Dhabi Porsches that finished fifth and sixth also had disjointed races with multiple issues, off track excursions and penalties between them.
The next round of the FIA WEC is at 6 Hours of Fuji on the 16th of October.