The reigning Le Mans winners were quickest to the draw in Austin.
A storm, thrilling twists and plenty of ensuing drama meant that the FIA World Endurance Championship’s resumption at Circuit of The Americas last weekend (September 18-20) matched the best Spaghetti Westerns. Benoît Tréluyer and Audi Sport team-mates Marcel Fässler and André Lotterer would no doubt agree, as the reigning Le Mans winners were quickest to the draw in Austin.
Following a three-month hiatus, the WEC blockbuster continued in the Texan capital, although the victorious trio’s weekend wasn’t without fault, especially during qualifying.
“We had a slight issue with the lap trigger signal,” explained Benoît. “Therefore, Marcel and André had to qualify a car that wasn’t fully optimised, making fuel consumption management – where you need to be extremely accurate – very difficult.”
Lotterer took the reigns for the start of Saturday’s race, yet – despite a solid opening stint – Toyota’s #8 car pulled away, while Audi’s #2 R18 e-tron quattro tried to clear the Porsches ahead.
“Nonetheless, we were able to double stint the same set of tyres,” Tréluyer continued. “André’s second spell was particularly strong, and courtesy of Buemi’s spin, we were able to dramatically shrink the leaders’ advantage.”
However, that’s when the heavens suddenly opened. Nicolas Lapierre’s Toyota – among many others – was caught out in the deluge, although Lotterer managed to safely return to the pits.
“We fitted wet weather tyres after receiving word of the impending rain,” Benoît added. “It really helped André too, as he could have easily been caught off-guard. This perfectly demonstrates how important the smallest details can be in making a huge difference.”
Once on track, Benoît quickly realised that it wasn’t suitable to continue in the appalling conditions, which was further emphasised after observing the amount of standing water after following an LMGTE Porsche through turn one.
“I had no choice but to follow the red lights ahead of me, as I couldn’t see anything else anyway,” admitted the Frenchman. “It was a huge relief to glance at the dashboard and see the red flag! After a lengthy interruption, the race resumed behind the Safety Car, although that’s when memories from Silverstone started to flash through my mind, which I tried to brush them aside.
“I started to get into the groove and everything felt good on wet weather rubber, meaning our pace was still strong, even though the #8 Toyota had un-lapped itself. After around four laps we’d opened up a promising advantage, so I realised the best thing was to manage the gap. Myself and Leena [Gade, the #2 Audi’s race engineer] were discussing tyres over the radio and after exchanging feedback, we decided to opt for intermediates next time around.”
The gamble paid off, allowing the 2012 champion to further extend his lead at the front.
“I was extremely careful on my out lap, because I’d never raced on those tyres before,” explained Benoît. “As we racked up the laps, they became increasingly hard to manage, so I began to look for ways in which to preserve the rubber, as I initially thought we had to make the tyres last over two stints. Regardless, I was able to find a way in which to limit degradation and maintain our advantage.”
From then on Tréluyer pushed hard to open up a sizeable lead, registering a succession of fastest laps before Leena’s voice crackled through his earplugs once more.
“She continued to ask about the tyres, and questioned whether the time was right for slicks,” Benoît recalled. “The racing line was virtually dry, so we agreed to give it a go.”
The #2 Audi was equipped with dry rubber after Benoît pitted and handed over to Fässler, which proved a perfectly-timed masterstroke once the Swiss driver resumed.
“Marcel did an amazing job of further extending the gap as soon as he took over,” added Tréluyer. “Once again, our great team spirit and hard work enabled us to make the difference. Communication with the engineers and mechanics – not forgetting the Michelin staff – was fantastic. Their information was accurate and helped us to make important decisions, which assisted us tremendously.”
To say the win pleased Benoît would be something of an understatement. He’d kept a relatively low profile following his Le Mans win, but dreamt of delivering a charging Wild West performance when it mattered.
“In all honesty, I didn’t think my stints at Le Mans made a significant contribution towards victory,” admitted Benoît. “Here, I felt that I did a good job, made the correct decisions and drove well overall. It’s a real boost, because after three months away, there’s always a degree of uncertainty about how you’re going to perform. I’m absolutely delighted!”
A second consecutive win for the trio puts them firmly back into championship contention, as they embark on a rollercoaster ride of four races in just over two months.
“This is an important, morale-boosting victory for everyone within the team,” beamed Tréluyer. “It’s crucial to find the right balance between driving quickly and ensuring you don’t make any mistakes. That was our approach during Le Mans and it’s paid dividends again here in Austin. We’ll now look ahead to the remaining rounds with great confidence, but we’re acutely aware that some of the circuits coming up do not necessarily suit us.”
Now just 11 points away from the Drivers’ Championship lead, Benoît, André and Marcel are back in the saddle with a single target in their sights: claiming a second world title.
Round five of the FIA World Endurance Championship – the 6 Hours of Fuji – takes place on October 10-12.