Qatar 1812km: Porsche dominates opening round

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7 Mins

WEC
Winners at Qatar

Porsche dominated the opening round of the World Endurance Championship (WEC) in Qatar, sweeping the podium and taking a commanding overall victory with the Porsche Penske Motorsport #6 car.

Kevin Estre, André Lotterer and Laurens Vanthoor were in control for much of the 10-hour Qatar 1812km at Lusail International Circuit, taking Porsche’s first win in the Hypercar class. Hertz Team JOTA’s #12 car, driven by Will Stevens, Callum Ilott and Norman Nato, finished second for the team’s first Hypercar podium, with the #5 Porsche, driven by Matt Campbell, Michael Christensen and Frederic Makowiecki, completing the podium. Having lined up fifth, the #6 entry cut through the cars ahead before emerging ahead after a fierce battle with the #93 Peugeot. From there, it held the lead until the end, continuing Porsche’s fantastic start to the 2024 season after winning the IMSA 24 Hours of Daytona and the Bathurst 12 Hour. Porsche also took the first LMGT3 win with the Manthey PureRxcing #92 entry, driven by Alexander Malykhin, Joel Sturm and Klaus Bachler.

Story of the race

The #5 car lined up first on the grid after taking Porsche’s first WEC pole since 2017 in Friday’s Hyperpole qualifying session, with Campbell setting a 1m39.374s. The sister #6 car lined up fifth. The whole field started on the hard compound, red-walled tyres. Christensen took the wheel for the first stint of Saturday’s race, running second into Turn 1 having been passed by the #50 Ferrari, while the #6 car, driven by Vanthoor, fell back to eighth in the opening melee. The #6 quickly began its progress through the field, passing the #7 Toyota around the outside of Turn 1 on lap five, making up another spot four laps later. Up ahead the #5 was embroiled in a fierce battle for the lead with the #93 Peugeot, before falling back to third.

By lap 22, the two Porsche Penske Motorsport cars were running fourth and fifth, with the #5 car in front. It pitted soon after as the first stops began shortly after lap 30, while the #6 inherited the lead before it too stopped two laps later. The pair emerged into second and third, with both having taken fuel but no fresh tyres at that point of the race. On lap 45, the #6 car was once again embroiled in a tussle for the lead with the #93 car, remaining close for almost ten laps before taking control from the Peugeot, while the #5 car was in third.

Christensen handed over to Campbell on lap 56 as the #5 car stopped early due to tyre-related vibrations at the rear, before a full course yellow prompted by the #51 Ferrari losing a huge piece of rear bodywork neutralised the action for two laps, reducing speeds to 80km/h. The #6 was back in the lead by lap 71, with Vanthoor handing over to Estre for its second stint. Makowiecki took the reins in the #5 entry when that car stopped on lap 122, exiting in ninth. Lotterer was next to pilot the #6 car, taking over on lap 131, and maintained the lead with a 38 second margin ahead of the second-placed #93. Another full course yellow came around the four-and-a-half hour mark, with a piece of debris on track, lasting two minutes, before the #6 car stopped around the halfway mark, at 163 of 335 laps, retaining its commanding lead.

The #5 faced stiff competition to its third-place running, with the Hertz Team JOTA #12 entry close behind, and emerged from its pitstop with Christensen back at the wheel behind the customer car to run fourth. Meanwhile, #6 held its lead, with Vanthoor in for another stint while holding a 19 second lead to the #93 Peugeot. Though that dropped to ten seconds by lap 203, it returned to 17 seconds 15 laps later before extending to 23 seconds by lap 222. With 100 laps remaining, #5, piloted by Christensen, was closing on the third-place running JOTA #12, just 1.8s behind the rival Porsche 963. A pitstop followed soon after, with Campbell taking over heading into the closing stages.

A fierce battle ensued between #5 and the #38 JOTA, piloted by Jenson Button. The pair tussled for several laps before Campbell eventually made it past after Button ran wide on lap 254, moving up into third place. The leader stopped soon after, with Estre stepping back into the cockpit to take over from Vanthoor. The #5 car came close to disaster after a rear end snap on lap 274 saw him run through the Turn 9 gravel, but didn’t lose any positions as he held fourth place. As cars ahead stopped, Campbell moved up to second, before dropping back to fourth after another stop while #6 held the lead.

The leader contracted damage to the front left after contact with the #87 Lexus at Turn 3, losing a number plate, but was able to continue without issue. As the #93 Peugeot stopped with 15 laps remaining, the #5 moved up into second, before dropping back to fourth after its own stop on lap 324. The race culminated in a hugely dramatic final three laps after the #93 suffered an issue on the penultimate lap and slowed, with both the #12 JOTA entry and the #5 Porsche passing it for the podium places.

Customer success

Success also came in the opening round for Porsche customer team Hertz Team JOTA. The #12 car lined up third, with a 1m39.622s set in the Hyperpole session, while the sister #38, piloted by Jenson Button, Phil Hanson and Oliver Rasmussen, started ninth. The #12 lost one position off the line, while the #38 made up three places, to run fourth and fifth respectively before the #7 Toyota split the two. The JOTA cars traded places with the factory entries several times, with Button in the #38 and Campbell embroiled in a battle before the latter took third place as Button’s stint ended. Disaster struck for the #38 car with less than 30 laps remaining after an isolation issue with the hybrid lights during a pitstop meant it was forced into the garage. Proton Competition’s sole entry, the #99 driven by Harry Tincknell, Neel Jani and Julien Andlauer, started 13th. Making up three places by Turn 1, the F.A.T.-sponsored entry was embroiled in the battle for eighth by lap 14 before dropping back to tenth. Running just outside the top ten for much of the race, with 30 laps remaining, it was involved in a fight with the #51 Ferrari, with Andlauer putting in a brilliant move at Turn 1 to take 14th.

A new dawn: LMGT3 makes its debut

The Qatar 1812km marked the LMGT3’s class debut in the WEC as it replaced the GTE-Am class, with the #92 entry taking a milestone win for Porsche. The Manthey PureRxcing car started second in its class, with the Manthey EMA #91 car further back in 13th, piloted by Yasser Shahin, Morris Schuring and Richard Lietz. The #92 was up to second at the start, quickly taking the lead, as the #91 made progress to ninth by lap 12. It continued its charge through the field over the next stages, with the Manthey pair running first and second in the class by lap 67. Disaster struck for the EMA car on lap 161, when it was forced into the garage by a technical issue and an electric throttle actuator had to be changed. It returned to the race in 17th in its class, but had to stop again as a plug was not reconnected properly. Up ahead, the #92 continued its strong performance, and despite having been passed for the lead by the #27 Heart of Racing Aston Martin, continued its fight in second, six seconds off the pace with just over 100 laps remaining. It retook the lead soon after, taking advantage of a spin by the leader to once again lead the race by nine seconds. It went on to cross the line almost five seconds clear of the #27 car. The World Endurance Championship returns for the 6 Hours of Imola on 21 April.

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