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Nürburgring: Debrief

The Nürburgring race has such a big importance, as it is the track all three manufacturers bring their last and final aero upgrades to, and can really signify the competitive order for the rest of the season.

After a difficult Le Mans and having arrived confidently at the Nürburgring last year only to find ourselves outpaced by the Porsches, this year I arrived in Germany with some nervous anticipation.

There has been no doubt we have had a quick car in the opening races to this year’s FIA World Endurance Championship but we’d failed to extract the speed at times.

Free Practice immediately started well with a good balance in the car, and competitive lap times.

Even in mixed conditions the car felt good and we were confident heading into qualifying. The session started in difficult conditions as the track was still damp in areas but was quickly drying which was evident from the GT qualifying moments before.

I started and we decided to start the session on slicks which immediately proved to be the right call. I set a ‘banker’ time on my second lap before pushing on my third knowing that the track was improving all the time.

Unfortunately, exiting Turn 4, I ran wide and outside track limits which meant that the lap wouldn’t count so despite being significantly faster we took the decision to abort that lap and box.

Lucas then jumped in the car and immediately set a very quick lap which meant we had just enough time for me to get back in to the car and try to improve my time.

On my first lap, I caught traffic which meant I had just one more to try to improve and claim pole position.

Things were going well and I was comfortably faster despite catching traffic. However as I approached the last chicane it had started to rain heavily and I was caught out under braking as the rears immediately locked causing me to spin.

This meant we had to settle for second on the grid just missing out on pole to our team-mates in the No. 7 Audi.

I took the race start, with Marcel starting alongside me in pole position. I got a great initial start before Marcel was able to boost past me and regain the lead on the approach into Turn 1.

I tried to tuck in behind but the No. 1 Porsche was able to get a better drive out of the corner and take second going into Turn 2. My entire first stint was a really close battle, at times the front four cars were covered by less than four seconds.

After my initial pit-stop I regained third position and this time behind the No. 7 Audi, as the Porsche had taken the lead. I was able to quickly pass André and set my sights on closing the six second gap to the Porsche.

With the car feeling good I was soon able to close the gap and pass the Porsche taking the lead before handing the car over to Lucas. With the Porsche out of sequence due to a slow puncture we regained the race in third just behind our sister car.

It looked like it would be a straight fight between the No. 1 Porsche and the two Audis with less than five seconds separating them before a FCY had a huge influence on the race. Porsche No. 2 was able to pit under FCY and gain 50seconds, therefore jumping from 4th to 1st.

With 3 hours to go this meant we had to set about closing the 25-second gap to the leading Porsche. With constant pressure, the No. 2 Porsche eventually made a mistake in traffic and later received a drive through penalty for contact with a GT car.

After taking the penalty the No. 2 Porsche returned to the track just behind us with Loïc now at the wheel. With our car now struggling a little compared to earlier in the race, the focus was now on keeping the No. 2 at bay, and maintaining 2nd place rather than closing the gap to the #1 Porsche.

Loïc was doing an amazing job at defending from the quicker Porsche fully aware that every point could prove crucial in the championship.

Eventually the fight between us and the No. 2 Porsche allowed André to close up and attack the Porsche giving us some breathing space at the same time.

During this fight the No. 2 Porsche got hit from behind causing damage to the left rear legality panel meaning they had to make an unscheduled stop for repairs. Now with a comfortable gap back to the No. 2 Porsche both Audi’s set about bringing the cars home in 2nd and 3rd position.

It was a fantastic result overall, and to go there and be competitive and capable of fighting for the win was a great reward for the hard work back at Audi Sport.

Nevertheless we can’t help feeling slightly disappointed not to get the win after starting with both cars on the front row.

Having proved we’ve made progress from Le Mans, I can’t wait for the next race in Mexico and to once again try and close the gap in the championship!

Le Mans 2016: Debrief

After a few days of recovery, and trying to get my head around the events of last weekend, I still don’t think it has sunk in.

It was the strangest feeling being stood up on the podium at Le Mans over looking thousands of people, many of whom didn’t grasp why the Toyota crew of No. 5 were not up there instead of ourselves.

I can honestly say that I would have preferred to see Anthony, Sébastien and Kazuki up on the top step receiving the winner’s trophy that they – and the whole of Toyota – deserved.

Even taking away the fact that eventually on track they were beaten by the No. 2 Porsche, it’s hard to explain or even to understand how a car that completed 12 laps more than ourselves, AND crossed the finish line was not classified.

For Audi it was an extremely tough race, both in terms of performance and reliability.

After the pre-test we headed to Le Mans confident that we had a car quick enough of winning, but after the first two races of the season (Silverstone & Spa), I don’t think any manufacturer was 100 percent confident of reliability.

Throughout the build-up I kept saying that reliability could play a key role, I just never believed that this would be the case after 23 hours and 57 minutes.

With the mixed conditions, and the fact that we lost some dry running on the Wednesday due to a front drive train failure, we were confident that our 6th place wasn’t representative of our true pace and were hopeful that we could improve on this in Thursdays qualifying sessions.

Unfortunately, due to the heavy rain overnight the track had very low grip in the first session and the second was once again hit with heavy rain so we had to settle for 6th.

This wasn’t something that concerned us, as although its great to get pole in Le Mans we were fully aware that qualifying holds little importance in the end result. Incredibly, due to the issue on

Wednesday and the difficult conditions bringing about numerous red flags Loic and myself were heading into the race with only a handful of dry laps, all of which had been affected by slow zones etc.

The race started under the safety car due to the heavens opening just before the race start. This was definitely the right decision, but I can appreciate and understand the frustration from the spectators that it was left out so long.

Loic was starting for us and things looked really positive early on with us at one point taking the lead of the race.

However, as the track fully dried it quickly became apparent that neither us, nor our sister car (No. 7) had the pace of our rivals. By the time I got in as the second driver we were already over 40 seconds down on the lead car.

Throughout the night I feel our pace improved, but unfortunately we had lost too much time through small reliability issues, meaning we were now a lap behind and in fourth place.

We kept pushing in the hope to close the gap with a potential podium as a reward, but we knew by the time morning had arrived that it was out of our control and it would come down to the reliability of our competitors.

I got in the car for the third time at around 10am Sunday morning, and by this time you could feel that the track had “gripped up” which had helped the balance of our car, but unfortunately it was simply too late.

It wasn’t long before I started having braking issues and eventually we had to pit due to an issue with the right front disc. This meant a lengthy repair in the garage and at one point I thought we were going to lose our fourth place to the sister Audi.

Fortunately, our mechanics did as always a fantastic job and we managed to get back out just in front of No. 7.

By now, there was less than 3 hours left and it was simply a case of bringing the car home, and to keep things interesting by trying to set quick laps when ever the opportunity arose, before handing the car over to Lucas.

I remember standing in the garage and watching the Toyota doing its final laps. I actually felt nervous and really pleased for them because it was a victory they fully deserved.

As it stopped by the finish line with 1 lap to go the whole Audi garage was in absolute disbelief, with many bursting into tears.

Nobody wants to see a competitor lose a race like that, especially such a fantastic competitor like Toyota. It was the cruelest thing in motorsport I have ever seen.

As a team, we now have four weeks to analyze and understand what went wrong in Le Mans and to put it right for the rest of the season.

We have a big points deficit to the No. 2 Porsche but we are still in the championship fight, currently in second place.

Oliver-Jarvis-LeMans-WEC-2016-1

 

Photo credit: Audi

Main Photo credit: Autosport

WEC Spa Debrief

What a crazy race!

It’s taken longer than it should have, but we finally got that first win as a trio. It was both Lucas’ and my first win in the WEC, and it felt fantastic to be up on that top step of the podium with my two teammates.

The win came against the odds, and if you had asked me before the race the possibility of us finally getting that monkey off our back, I would have replied, “slim.”

The weekend didn’t start well when we suffered a front-axle drivetrain failure in FP1 and were then forced to watch FP2 in the pits.

Fortunately we managed to make it out for FP3 and – despite losing some time due to contact with a GT car – we all managed to get a few laps in the car ahead of Qualifying and the race.

We brought to Spa a configuration of our Le Mans aero and the sister car and us had a handling imbalance especially in Sector 2.

In Qualifying I managed to do a lap 2.5 seconds quicker than we had been up to that point. Loic then took over and kept the same set of tires doing a great job to put us P4, having been pipped by just 4 hundredths of a second by the No. 6 Toyota.

Despite just losing out on P3, we were really pleased with our performance considering the lack of running prior to Qualifying.

Lucas took the start as previously planned, having done just four flying laps in testing and he managed to do a fantastic job early on, to run P2 after the No. 2 Porsche had a hybrid failure before eventually losing out to the No. 5 Toyota.

Lucas was just coming under intense pressure from the No. 6 Toyota, when Mike Conway tried to follow Lucas as he passed an LMP2 into the last chicane, locking up in to the LMP2 and damaging the No. 6 car in the process.

The necessary repairs and subsequent drive-through penalty meant that they returned a lap behind us. It wasn’t long before the leading Porsche also suffered a puncture, promoting us to P2

Loic was second in the car and by the time I got in the car, the No. 6 had retired leaving us in a comfortable P2.

The car had been difficult to drive throughout the race and nothing had changed by the time I got in. I couldn’t believe it when I got the radio call that the No. 5 Toyota had engine trouble and that I would be passing him on track.

As I approached I could see the smoke coming from the rear and knew that it would be the end of their race.

Even now, I have a lot of sympathy for Toyota as they did everything right, but motorsport can be cruel sometimes and we’ve definitely been on the wrong side of luck more often than not.

Crossing the finish line was emotional; as we finally got that important first win as a team.

I loved driving down the pit lane to see my teammates going crazy; not only is the win hugely important for us as a crew, but it gives us a huge boost heading in to Le Mans.

It’s unbelievable that after our issues in Silverstone, we sit P3 in the championship.

Bring on Le Mans!

WEC Silverstone 2016

It’s fair to say that it hasn’t been the easiest of winters for Audi.

This year we have built a completely new car, and in the process changed from a 4MJ flywheel hybrid system to a 6MJ battery system.

This has meant a very steep learning curve, and the majority of early seasons tests were very much focused on reliability.

With this in mind, we weren’t really sure what to expect in terms of pure performance compared to our competitors Porsche and Toyota.

If the Prologue was anything to go by, both Toyota and we had closed the gap over the winter to the current World Champions, but Porsche still seemed to have a clear advantage.

Despite the uncertainty around our true performance, I arrived at Silverstone for my second season as a full time WEC driver, much more relaxed, having that additional year of experience and the benefit of a strong finish to 2015 with my teammates (Loic Duval and Lucas Di Grassi) proved invaluable.

Free Practice 1 started of on a damp track, and despite the forecast of more rain it dried towards the end of the session, so we took the decision to get all three drivers in the car and acclimatize to the track, in case that was the only dry running we got before the race!

Surprisingly, the rain held off in the afternoon and in FP2 I was able to do a long run to try and gather some data on tire wear and performance.

These long runs are so important as they provide so much information ahead of the race, allowing the engineers to make race-defining decisions, like the tire strategy and car set up.

We had already decided as a team that Loic and Lucas would qualify, as I wanted to start my home race, and therefore I wasn’t planned to drive in the shortened FP3.

I have to confess to thinking I had made the perfect decision as I sat in the garage Saturday morning watching the snow fall! I was more than happy not to drive, and not surprised at all that the practice was eventually red flagged.

Qualifying started in very similar conditions to FP1, with a wet track, and it was a complete surprise for us (Audi) to end up P1 & P2, especially as Porsche had shown such strong pace in FP1 in similar conditions.

I was amazed to hear that it was Audi’s first pole since 2013. It was a great moment for the whole team that worked so hard over winter to give us a competitive car.

For us in No. 8, Loic and Lucas did a fantastic job, and we were only denied the chance to fight for pole when we had an issue with the car on Lucas’ last flying lap when he was two-tenths quicker than his previous lap (enough to secure pole position).

We were happy to start on the front row, but couldn’t help feel that we had missed out on a potential pole position.

Race day weather was in complete contrast to the previous two days, with clear blue skies and the sun shining. Hard to believe it was the same track where we had to abandon FP3 for snow!

Heading into the race I had a really good feeling; We had a good car over the long runs and I was confident we could take the fight to Porsche.

The start went exactly to plan, and Andre and I were able to maintain our positions and pull a small gap to the chasing Porsche’s.

It wasn’t long before we caught traffic, and I was held up exiting the last corner giving Mark Webber the chance to overtake into Turn 1.

Over the next few laps I tried to attack but couldn’t . It took me a few laps to get into the rhythm in traffic, but I set about closing the gap to the sister car (No. 7 Audi).

I was able to close the gap approaching the first pit stop, and a great stop from my crew meant I came out in front.

The second stint was going really well and we were able to maintain the gap to the lead car, until 3 laps from the end of my stint when we had a hybrid failure.

I was able to get the car back to the pits for our scheduled second pit stop where Lucas took over. Unfortunately, unable to reset the hybrid we continued, but significantly slower than we had been, until eventually we had to stop the car on track and retire.

We were absolutely devastated to have been in such a strong position and be forced to retire the car.

Last year we felt we had our fair share of bad luck and, we were all hoping that we had put it behind us.

On the plus side, it was a great reward for the Audi team to see the No. 7 on the top step of the podium. Now we look forward to getting back in the car, and really kick starting our year in Spa.

Silverstone…

We didn’t get the result we wanted in Silverstone but we kept pushing till the end. Cant wait to get back in the car next weekend for the 2nd round of the championship at one of the best tracks in the world…….Spa-francorchamps! Who is coming to watch?