6 hours of close race in Texas

FIA World Endurance Championship 2019/20 had come to the fifth round of the season, which would be run at Circuit Of The Americas near Austin, Texas.

The COTA track replaced the planned race at Interlagos in Brazil, that was decided back in December.

On the other hand, the series was back to this particular track in the US, which was the race in the states before it got moved to Sebring, Florida.

Rebellion Racing #1 with Gustavo Menezes, Norman Nato and Bruno Senna started the race from Pole Position, ahead of Toyota Gazoo Racing #7 with Jose Maria Lopez, Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi, while Toyota Gazoo Racing #8 with Brendon Hartley, Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastien Buemi would start the race from third.

In the LMP2 category, Cool Racing #42 with Nicolas Lapierre, Antonin Borga, and Alexandre Coigny was on Pole, in front of United Autosports #22 with Phil Hanson, Filipe Albuquerque and Paul Di Resta, and Signatech Alpine Elf #36 with Thomas Laurent, Pierre Ragues and Andre Negrao in P3.

High Class Racing #33 with Anders Fjordbach, Kenta Yamashita and Mark Patterson started the race from P6 in LMP2.

In the GTE Pro class, it was Aston Martin Racing #95 with Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørensen on Pole Position, followed by Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre in Porsche #92, while Aston Martin #97 with Maxime Martin and Alexander Lynn was in P3. Behind them was AF Corse Ferrari, while Corvette Racing #63 with Jan Magnussen and Mike Rockenfeller had a difficult time and only qualified in P7. #63 would be a guest car for this race as well as Sebring, prior to their expected two Le Mans tickets in June.

Team Project 1 Porsche #56 with Matteo Cairoli, Egidio Perfetti and Laurents Hörr had taken Pole in GTE Am, ahead of Aston Martin Racing #98 with Paul Dalla Lana, Ross Gunn and Darren Turner, while TF Sport Aston Martin #90 with Charlie Eastwood, Salih Yoluc and Jonny Adam was third.

Nicklas Nielsen, Emmanuel Collard and Francois Perrodo in AF Corse Ferrari #83 would start the race from fifth in GTE Am.

The weather forecast for the six hours was with a small chance for rain, but mainly it was expected to be a dry race.

Start – Lone Star Le Mans 2020
Photo: Joao Filipe / AdrenalMedia.com

Thirty cars took the start, at exactly twelve o’clock local time. United Autosports #22 stalled on the grid but managed to start before the last car had passed, so they had to drive back to the original start position, which was P2 in LMP2.

The start went pretty nicely, despite Toyota Gazoo Racing #7 being a bit late to start and was about to get overtaken by an LMP2 car already before Turn 1.

After the clumsy start, United Autosports #22 took the lead in LMP2.

Aston Martin Racing came up to 1-2 in GTE Pro, sending Porsche #92 down to third.

Jackie Chan DC Racing #37 didn’t have it easy on the first few laps, where Will Stevens ended up spinning around under a close duel with Giedo van der Garde in Racing Team Nederland #29. It sent Stevens down to next to last position in LMP2.

AF Corse Ferrari #83 attempted to brake past Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche #77, but Perrodo outbraked himself instead and had to let Christian Ried pass again.

Team Project 1 Porsche #57
Photo: Joao Filipe / AdrenalMedia.com

MR Racing Ferrari #70 got a Drive-through penalty for overtaking AF Corse Ferrari #54 before they crossed the start line.

Van der Garde did a cunning overtake on Di Resta in Turn 5 and took the lead in the LMP2 class.

Bruno Senna in Rebellion Racing #1 had plenty of speed in front, and he led the race with over ten seconds in the first half an hour.

After the fantastic start from United Autosport #22, they fell back to fourth as both Signatech Alpine Elf #36 and Racing Team Nederland got past them. In fact, Cool Racing #42 was back to the lead in the LMP2 field.

Spirit Of Race Ferrari #54 and Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche #88 had a duel for P9 in GTE Am, where Bret Curtis in #88 managed to defend his position when Thomas Flohr outbraked himself.

It was about to go wrong in LMP2 when Racing Team Nederland #29 came up to the side of Signatech Alpine Elf #36 in the middle of the corner combination around 4-5-6. The two cars brushed each other, which sent van der Garde off to the run-off area and came out in front of Negrao. The stewards ordered the two cars to swap positions so they did, and then the Dutch car did another overtaking – this time legally.

JOTA #38
Photo: Joao Filipe / AdrenalMedia.com

AF Corse Ferrari #71 took off over a curb when Davide Rigon almost collided with MR Racing Ferrari #70. #71 was at least half a metre up in the air before the car landed on all four wheels again.

The two GTE Am Aston Martin cars got a bit too close to each other. Paul Dalla Lana in AMR #98 was on the outside of Salih Yoluc in TF Sport #90, but the latter couldn’t keep the car on the track and lost control of it before spinning around. Luckily, it only cost Yoluc eight seconds, though it was still a time lost. But at least there was no real contact between the cars. The stewards looked into it but decided there would be no further action.

Cetilar Racing #47 had a half spin in the middle of the Turn 4-5-6 combination but managed to keep the car away from the Armco.

Yamashita in High Class Racing #33 snatched fourth place from Paul Di Resta, who really struggled with the car.

Racing Team Nederland #29 took the lead of the LMP2 category when they overtook Cool Racing #42 during the first pitstop.

Corvette Racing #63
Photo: Marius Hecker / AdrenalMedia.com

Team Project 1 Porsche #57, TF Sport Aston Martin #90 and AMR #97 came out from the pits almost side by side, where the three cars had to merge before the exit as there is only place for one car at a time. Luckily, they merged well so there was no contact – but it was close.

Corvette Racing #63 was the last one to pit in the GTE Pro, but after pitting they were back to the last place.

There was a GT train behind TF Sport Aston Martin #90, where Team Project 1 Porsche #57 and AF Corse Ferrari #83 were in a duel with Yoluc – mixed with both Porsche #91 and #92 as well as AF Corse Ferrari #71. Since they were all GTE cars there was no big speed difference between them, and it took a few laps before the Pro cars made it past the Am ones.

AF Corse Ferrari #83 fought themselves up to fourth place in GTE Am after Emmanuel Collard drove past Ben Keating. At the same time, Ben Barker in Gulf Racing Porsche #86 passed Red River Sport Ferrari #62 with Bonamy Grimes. The two fought for P7 and 8 in GTE Am.

A few minutes later Collard also overtook Yoluc in TF Sport Aston Martin #90 and was up to P3. Team Project 1 Porsche #56, however, had a half minute gap to AMR #98 in P2.

Signatech Alpine Elf #36 had to pit again shortly after their pitstop as their brake disc completely exploded under hard braking at the end of the back straight. Luckily, Pierre Ragues could brake the car and drive it back to the pits without causing more damage. But it was never nice to lose the brake while doing 300 kph. Naturally, the mechanics pushed the car back into the garage to work on it.

Toyota Gazoo Racing #8
Photo: Joao Filipe / AdrenalMedia.com

Fjordbach got in High Class Racing #33 and went up to second place in LMP2. Unfortunately, the Dane had a bit of a hard time when he was about to overtake his fellow countryman, Magnussen, in Corvette Racing #63, so he had to avoid it by driving over a high curb. It sent the car up in the air, but because of the shark fin behind the car, he didn’t fly and quickly landed on all four wheels, ending up with a half spin. It cost him two positions, but he didn’t lose too much time so he could overtake Cool Racing #42 again.

Signatech Alpine Elf #36’s mechanics were unbelievably quick to chance the brake on the car, so Ragues only lost two laps to the other LMP2 competitors.

There was contact between AMR #98 and Racing Team Nederland #29, where Dalla Lana in #98 hit the LMP2 car from behind. Luckily neither car had any damage.

Two hours into the race, United Autosports #22 took the lead of LMP2 when Phil Hanson overtook Frits van Eerd in Racing Team Nederland #29.

Charlie Eastwood in TF Sport Aston Martin #90 had to help the mechanics since one of them was ill. So besides driving the car later, he started the day by changing tires. What a flexible guy.

Gulf Racing Porsche #86 was on the way up the GTE Am field, where Ben Barker overtook AMR #98 with Paul Dalla Lana, right before the Canadian dived into the pits. The tires on the AMR car were totally done, so he had no other choice but get some new ones, and at the same time hand over the car to Ross Gunn.

TF Sport Aston Martin #90
Photo: Joao Filipe / AdrenalMedia.com

Two hours into the race, Fjordbach took the lead in LMP2 when High Class Racing #33 got past yellow Racing Team Nederland #29 car with Frits van Eerd.

The position after the first two hours was Rebellion Racing #1 as the leader in LMP1, High Class Racing #33 in LMP2, Aston Martin Racing #95 in GTE Pro, and Team Project 1 Porsche #56 in GTE Am.

There was contact between Racing Team Nederland #29 and JOTA #38, when Roberto Gonzalez tried to sneak up but instead sent the Dutchman to a spin. Naturally, the incident got investigated by the stewards, but there was no further action.

Fjordbach only led the class in two laps, before Jackie Chan DC Racing #37 with Ho-Pin Tung came out in front in LMP2.

Porsche #92 came up to second place in GTE Pro when Michael Christensen pushed James Calado in AF Corse Ferrari #51 to make a mistake under braking, and the Porsche drove past.

Nicki Thiim jumped out of AMR #95 after two hours in the car, handing it over to Marco Sørensen. Porsche #92 with Christensen pitted at the same time, and their pitstop was six seconds faster than AMR, so the two Danes came out of the pits really close to each other. Christensen, however, had the advantage that he was already used to the track, while Sørensen was about to start his first stint. After a bit of a nervous first lap, Sørensen finally got the car under control and pulled away from the fellow Dane.

United Autosports #22
Photo: Joao Filipe / AdrenalMedia.com

Magnussen handed over Corvette Racing #63 to Mike Rockenfeller after about two and a half hours. After that, it was Rocky’s job to get closer to the others’ laptimes.

Rebellion Racing #1 started to have some problems with the brake as Gustavo Menezes, not once but twice, outbraked himself at the end of the back straight.

AF Corse Ferrari #51 and Porsche #91 had an intense battle for fourth place in GTE Pro, where the difference between the two cars changed back and forth in every corner.

Porsche #92 and AMR #97 were battling for second place in GTE Pro, where the white Porsche was a bit ahead, although the lime green car did everything it could to get past. It only took a couple of laps before Christensen had to let Maxime Martin pass.

When Bruno Senna was in the car, Rebellion Racing #1 had an advantage of over half a minute to the car in the second place. With Menezes in the car, the gap went down to under thirty seconds, partly due to the brake problems, and Menezes had to drive after a specific fuel consumption, ordered by the engineers in the pits. All of that, combined with the traffic, made his advantage go back and forth.

Halfway into the race, Rebellion Racing #1 continued to lead the LMP1 field, Jackie Chan DC Racing #37 in LMP2, Aston Martin Racing #95 in GTE Pro and Team Project 1 Porsche #56 in GTE Am.

Jackie Chan DC Racing #37 was, however, under hard pressure by Racing Team Nederland #29. The two of them came up behind United Autosports #22 after their latest pitstops since the UA car was on the lighter pitstop strategy due to their tire problems earlier in the race. Nyck de Vries in #29 overtook Gabriel Aubry in #37 after a couple of attempts.

Team Project 1 Porsche #57
Photo: Joao Filipe / AdrenalMedia.com

Third, fourth, and fifth in GTE Pro got close again on the track, where Christensen in Porsche #92 quickly got caught by the two cars behind him and had to let both Alessandro Pier Guidi and Richard Lietz pass after a few corners. It didn’t take long, however, before Christensen would pit and hand over the car to Estre, who’d be running on fresh tires.

There was a drama for Team Project 1 Porsche #57 when they got pushed back into the garage after three and a half hours of a flawless run. The mechanics went to dismantle the rear of the car straight away, since the problem was the gear change. It cost them over twenty minutes in the pits, and they were dead last not only in GTE Am but also the entire field.

Meanwhile, the eternal duel between AMR #98 and TF Sport Aston Martin #90 continued, but now it was Darren Turner against Jonny Adam. The two were teammates in the GTE Pro car #97 for a couple of years ago, so it gave them a bit of extra motivation to come out in front.

Norman Nato in Rebellion Racing #1 kept the gap to Toyota Gazoo Racing #8 between 25 and 30 seconds, just as Menezes did. Only Senna was able to really pull away from the Toyotas, but as we heard earlier, they were now in fuel save mode.

For the first time in the race, Team Project 1 Porsche #56 went under pressure in GTE Am, where Egidio Perfetti had to hand over the lead to Jonny Adam in TF Sport Aston Martin #90.

Racing Team Nederland #29
Photo: Marius Hecker / AdrenalMedia.com

Racing Team Nederland #29 lost valuable seconds when they pitted just as Rebellion Racing #1 was done with their pitstop. Since the two cars were parked right next to each other in the pits, #29 had to wait until #1 drove away before Nyck de Vries could have his refuel.

After Porsche #92 fell a bit behind in GTE Pro earlier in the race, Estre was onward again. He managed to overtake Alessandro Pier Guidi in AF Corse #51. Shortly afterwards, Estre also got past his teammate Lietz in Porsche #91, and then could set his sight on the two Aston Martins in front, which were five and twenty-five seconds further ahead respectively.

DragonSpeed #21 had a difficult return to FIA WEC in the LMP2 category, where they otherwise did well in the 2018/19 season. Colin Braun, however, drove the car up to sixth after overtaking Mark Patterson in High Class Racing #33.

With two hours left on the clock, Rebellion Racing #1 was still in the lead in LMP1, United Autosports #22 in LMP2, and AMR #95 in GTE Pro, while AF Corse Ferrari #83 with Nicklas Nielsen led GTE Am – although with one pitstop less than TF Sport Aston Martin #90, who would be the real leader in GTE Am.

Porsche #92 came up to second place since now Estre had fresher tires than AMR #97, who pitted shortly after that, changing the driver from Maxime Martin to Alex Lynn, and new tires.

The teams started to think about the ending of the race. The GT cars could drive over an hour on a full fuel tank, so the teams wouldn’t need to refuel the car totally full in the last two stops.

Porsche #92
Photo: Joao Filipe / AdrenalMedia.com

After four and a half hours of racing, the top six in GTE Pro was only separated by twenty-six seconds. Only Corvette Racing #63 was behind, and both Rocky and Magnussen had complained about the lack of top speed compared to the other competitors.

About an hour before the finish there were problems for Porsche #91, which suddenly slowed down on the track before coming to a halt. Bruni tried to do plenty of things in the car, and at last, he managed to change gear and begin to drive again. He stayed in front of Corvette Racing #63 – at least this time, but would the problem reoccur?

High Class Racing #33 got penalised for speeding in the pitlane, so it meant that Anders Fjordbach had to do a Drive-through penalty for the offence. Not something that would improve their result.

The last hour of the race started with Rebellion Racing #1 in the first place in LMP1, United Autosports #22 in LMP2, AMR #95 in GTE Pro, and TF Sport Aston Martin #90 in GTE Am.

The race had slowly but slowly fallen into a rhythm, but there was still some doubt about potential additional pitstops.

Porsche #91 got pushed into the garage after getting their last refuel. The mechanics tried to solve the gearbox problem to make sure the car could drive until the end without further issue. But it had a price to pay, especially in the drivers’ championship since all the GTE drivers, both in Pro and Am categories, are up against each other in the championship. So when Bruni and Lietz began to fall down through the GTE Am field, it hurt them in the championship. Bruni came back to the track after a battery change, but he fell back to P9 in the GTE field, and last in GTE Pro. Their luck was that Corvette Racing #63 doesn’t participate in the championship, so that’s a couple of extra points.

The lead in GTE Am changed from TF Sport Aston Martin #90 to AMR #98, with 42 minutes left on the clock. Ross Gunn took the lead from Charlie Eastwood but he didn’t manage to pull away.

Rebellion Racing #1
Photo: Joao Filipe / AdrenalMedia.com

Dempsey-Proton Competition Porsche #88 got a Drive-through penalty when one mechanic wasn’t finished mounting the left front tire just as Thomas Preining started the car. All the mechanics have to release the car and stand back behind a line before the car is allowed to leave.

They were however already in P9 in GTE Am, so it wasn’t something that would change their result.

The excitement rose in GTE Pro when Michael Christensen in Porsche #92 had closed up the gap to Aston Martin Racing #95 with Nicki Thiim behind the wheel, so now there were only four seconds between them.

Kenta Yamashita in High Class Racing #33 had a spin after being a bit too hard on the speeder, combined with him navigating through the GTE Am traffic. Luckily, he didn’t hit anyone and could continue to drive.

The third place in GTE Pro was fought between AF Corse Ferrari #51 and Aston Martin Racing #97, where James Calado in #51 outsmarted Alex Lynn down the back straight. The two of them already had a little controversy earlier on the lap, where both came into Turn 1 with locked wheels, in an attempt of defending and attacking as late as possible.

TF Sport Aston Martin #90 took the lead of GTE Am, with 21 minutes left. Eastwood overtook Gunn with a fantastic manoeuvre.

AF Corse Ferrari #54 got a Drive-through penalty with ten minutes left for ignoring the blue flag for too many times.

DragonSpeed #21 had to pit with under ten minutes left when a rubber pickup had damaged the brakes.

Racing Team Nederland #29 almost had no more left on their tires, so Nyck de Vries had no choice but let Cool Racing #42 overtake fourth place. He tried to drive past Nicolas Lapierre again but outbraked himself and had to merge behind.

After six hours of racing, Rebellion Racing #1 with Bruno Senna, Norman Nato and Gustavo Menezes could call themselves the winner of Lone Star Grand Prix 2020, ahead of Toyota Gazoo Racing #8 with Brendon Hartley, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima, while Toyota Gazoo Racing #7 with Jose Maria Lopez, Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Conway was third.

United Autosports #22 with Filipe Albuquerque, Phil Hanson and Paul Di Resta won the LMP2 class, in front of Jackie Chan DC Racing #37 with Will Stevens, Ho-Pin Tung and Gabriel Aubry, with JOTA #38 with Anthony Davidson, Roberto Gonzalez and Antonio Felix da Costa in P3.

High Class Racing #33 with Anders Fjordbach, Kenta Yamashita and Mark Patterson finished seventh in LMP2.

Aston Martin Racing #95 with Marco Sørensen and Nicki Thiim their second win in a row in GTE Pro, followed by Porsche #92 with Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen, while AF Corse Ferrari #51 with James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi finished third.

Jan Magnussen and Mike Rockenfeller in Corvette Racing #63 came home in P6 in GTE Pro.

TF Sport Aston Martin #90 with Charlie Eastwood, Salih Yoluc and Jonny Adam won GTE Am, ahead of Aston Martin Racing #98 with Ross Gunn, Darren Turner and Paul Dalla Lana, while Team Project 1 Porsche #56 with Egidio Perfetti, Laurents Hörr and Matteo Cairoli was third.

AF Corse Ferrari #83 with Francois Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard and Nicklas Nielsen finished in yet another nice fourth place in GTE Am.

High Class Racing #33
Photo: JJ Media

Toyota Gazoo Racing #7 continues to lead the championship in LMP1, followed by Toyota Gazoo Racing #8 and Rebellion Racing #1.

United Autosports #22 overtakes the lead in LMP2, now ahead of Jackie Chan DC Racing #37 and JOTA #38, who has passed Racing Team Nederland #29 in the championship.

Aston Martin Racing #95 extends their lead in GTE Pro, in front of AF Corse Ferrari #51, who is only one point ahead of Porsche #92.

AF Corse Ferrari #83 is now alone in front of GTE Am, followed by TF Sport Aston Martin #90 and Aston Martin #98, while Team Project 1 Porsche #57 has fallen back from a shared first place to fourth.

It was the ending of a six-hour race without interruptions; neither by Safety Car or Full Course Yellow and only a few local yellow flag zones.

The next round in FIA World Endurance Championship will be run in about four weeks’ time, 20 March at Sebring track in Florida for the 1000 Miles or 8-hour race, depending on which comes first.

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