6 Hours of Circuit of the Americas - FIA World Endurance Championship, Round 5
By Mel Fabrikant Thursday, September 26, 2013, 03:20 PM EDT
Result: 6 Hours of Circuit of the Americas
1. Kristensen/McNish/Duval (Audi)
2. Sarrazin /Davidson/Buemi (Toyota)
3. Treluyer/Fassler/Lotterer (Audi)
FIA WEC Drivers' Points:
1. Kristensen/ McNish/Duval (Audi) 138
2. Treluyer/Fassler/Lotterer (Audi) 105
3. Sarrazin/Davidson/Buemi (Toyota) 81
Next Race: Fuji Speedway
Japan, October 20
Length: 2.83 miles / 4.56 kms
Benoit's 2012 result: 2nd
Every good Western needs plenty of shoot-outs, score settling and plot twists. In Austin, Benoît and his blood brothers Marcel Fässler and André Lotterer bit the dust, but they’re already back on their feet – and the fight continues.
The trio arrived in Texas ready to do battle in their #1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro and further reduce the championship deficit with another victory. But this Western did not end with the heroes riding into the sunset at Circuit of the Americas. After encountering a GT-class Porsche, the #1 driven at the time by Fässler launched off a kerb before being struck from behind. The trio’s shot at victory was immediately dashed.
“It all started well,” notes Benoît. “COTA is a superb circuit with amazing infrastructure and facilities. We fell in love with it as soon as we arrived, despite heavy rain disrupting our acclimatisation to the track. As we had agreed that André and Marcel would do qualifying I did not drive much early on, but was not too concerned as I had prepared well in the simulator. The few laps I drove went smoothly and so I was quite confident.”
During qualifying Fässler lost time making adjustments to the brake balance and, when he was able to attack, his tyres had passed their peak operating window. Despite Lotterer’s best efforts during his run the average time fell short of that produced by the #2 R18 e-tron quattro of championship leaders Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Loïc Duval.
“Come the race Marcel made a good start, placing himself behind Loïc,” continues the Frenchman. “Unfortunately, an LMP2 had a problem and the safety car was deployed. Marcel was again strong at the restart and tried to overtake Loïc at turn one. Unfortunately this compromised his exit, allowing the Toyota of Sebastien Buemi to sneak through. An intense fight soon followed...”
After overhauling his fellow countryman in the Toyota, Fässler suffered the incident with the Porsche 911 RSR, which would subsequently make contact with the #1 car. Returning to the pits, the R18 e-tron quattro was wheeled back into its garage to change the rear extractor, losing a lap in the process.
“André replaced Marcel but he was forced to stop again,” says Benoît. “A fuse became disconnected, which as a consequence blocked the gearbox. André had to do two laps stuck in fifth before we could find the problem, which cost us even more time.”
After this Benoît took over for his first stint. Though the sun was shining the temperature remained reasonable, so the Frenchman offered to run a second.
“I said that I could continue, thinking that we’d keep the same tyres in order to do some testing that may help the leading car, but the decision was made to change them. At the end of my second stint I again said that it was possible to continue with the same set so I kept going, this time with the same tyres.”
Having caught the Toyota, Benoît attempted an overtaking manoeuvre which the stewards did not look kindly upon.
“During the sequence of three corners behind the control tower, I attacked the Toyota on the outside of the first turn. When we arrived in the third, we found ourselves with an LMP2 in the middle – and nobody would give way! I kept it flat and went across the outside perimeter of the track. Sure enough, a penalty was soon issued. We had nothing to lose at this stage, and I managed to set the fastest race lap, so clearly we had the car to win.”
Though naturally disappointed to have lost ground to the sister car in the drivers’ standings, Benoît is not yet ready to give up his quest of retaining the world title.
“It has become even more difficult, but the motivation is still there. Marcel was unlucky to be caught out by circumstances; he drove very well during testing and practice, but bad luck hit him hard. This isn’t important though. What matters is that he produced good stints at the end of the race and got his confidence back ahead of Japan.
“And of course, we are delighted that our team-mates in the #2 car were able to win as America is a vital market for Audi. For our part, we tested double-stinting our tyres to be sure that the #2 would be able to do the same if required. This great teamwork is what makes Audi so strong. Sure, we now need extremely favourable circumstances during the final rounds in order to hold on to our title, but while there is still a mathematical chance we will keep going for it. We will continue to approach races as they come and do the maths at the season’s end.”
Benoît’s next costume change will see him switch to a Samurai outfit as he prepares for round six of the championship at Fuji Speedway. The Frenchman views Japan as his second home having spent over a decade racing in the country, and can always count on a warm welcome from old friends and fans alike. With that support behind them the #1 trio will look to defeat Toyota in their own backyard, continue Audi’s all-conquering WEC season and, if the cards fall their way, reignite their bid for back-to-back world championships