WEC 2016 : The Season of Survival
In the pre-season it had transpired that Nissan would not be coming back following their turbulent baptism of fire at the 24hrs of Le Mans the previous year, leaving the trio of Audi, Porsche and Toyota, plus the privateers Rebellion and ByKolles.
The early rounds seemed to simply just be a case of surviving without issues after the early riveting on-track brawling for position, as at Silverstone we saw the Audi’s score a double DNF though a battery failure on the #8 and the #7 being DSQ’d for excessive plank wear. The #5 Toyota hitting trouble and, dramatically, the #1 Porsche crashed out while tripping over GTE traffic, almost rolling in the process. This left the #2 Porsche to inherit the victory, followed by the #6 Toyota, while privateers Rebellion Racing would score a sensation 3rd and 4th.
Rebellion would go on to repeat this achievement at Spa as again the race broke out into a war of survival after early scuffles as the #1 Porsche pulled away in the early stages, a total contrast to the #2 sister car who’d lose all hybrid power after 20 minutes, making for a tedious afternoon of driving slower than their rivals. Meanwhile the Toyota’s fought their way past the Audis and the #5 Toyota would soon gain the lead and then start increasing it’s lead over the #8 Audi, while both teams’ sister cars would collide with traffic, leaving number #7 Audi having to spend time in the pits to repair a damaged floor. The #1 Porsche would lose tons of time and needing to push to stay classified after needing a front-axel change.
Disaster would then strike, it what would later turn out to be unfortunate foreshadowing of things to come, the #6 Toyota retired with an electrical fault and the #5 Toyota returned to the pit with a blown engine. This left the #8 Audi in the lead and the #2 Porsche, without any hybrid power, in 2nd place simply via survival at the end of the race, and rather sensationally, the #5 Toyota would salvage points by reemerging from the pits to complete it’s final lap under hybrid power alone.
That underlying theme or survival would occur again at Le Mans, just like the year before, the second Porsche, #2, would start from pole with it’s sister car completing a front row lockout, followed by both Toyotas and both Audis. The race finally got underway after 40-minutes under safety car due to torrential downpours, the #6 Toyota would immediately take the fight to the two Porsches as the #7 Audi would be the first to lose time to technical issues and would later on lose further time along with the #8 car. The #1 Porsche would also retire later on, but it was the last of the high profile highlights which would grip the entire planet.
After seemingly coming out on top of a 23hr on-track battle with the #2 Porsche and it’s sister car the #6 Toyota, the #5 Toyota seemed on course for a historic first overall victory, but as it entered the Mulsanne Straight on it’s penultimate lap, the car began to slow dramatically to the disbelief of millions around the world. It would come to a halt the very moment the #2 Porsche was exiting the final chicane. The #2 Porsche would claim the victory as the #5 Toyota would cruelly be unclassified due to their last lap time, the #6 Toyota and #8 Audi would complete the podium.
Again, that underlying tone, survival. The tone would carry into the rest of the season, as having won the first round, finishing second at Spa and winning the all important double-points race at Le Mans, the #2 Porsche simply had to survive to win the title.
As the defending champions in the #1 Porsche would win the next three races (Nurburgring, Mexico City and Texas) in a row, fighting off a stronger challenge from the #8 Audi (who would have a a possible win taken away from them in Mexico through technical trouble) and the #6 Toyota, the #2 Porsche would continue to bring in those much needed points. The #6 Toyota would briefly interrupt the #1 Porsche’s purple-patch with a home win in Fuji but the #1 Porsche would bounce back and win in Shanghai.
As the series went to the final round, the #2 Porsche simply needed to survive again and hope the #6 Toyota didn’t finish strong, but a biggest story with a far-reaching impact would overshadow the title fight, sending shockwaves throughout motorsport as a whole. Confirmation of the one rumour that had been constantly swirling around the goings of of Dieselgate which no one wanted to believe; Audi leaving the top flight of endurance racing.
They would turn up in a special livery to commemorate their contributions to prototype racing and end things on a high: with the #8 and #7 cars finishing 1-2 in a perfect send-off. The #6 Toyota would fail to do what was required to pinch the title, and the #2 Porsche would do watch was required to win the title: survive. They were the only car to finish every race.