WEC turning points: Tréluyer crosses Lady Luck at 6H COTA
Returning to our look back at last year's races, and the key turning points for each...
2016 was a topsy-turvy season for Audi, with several impressive showings interspersed by bitter disappointments. At COTA, they managed to combine both in one race, as contact ruined Benoît Tréluyer’s comeback from injury and allowed the No. 1 Porsche to win a third race in succession.
In a disappointing final season in the World Endurance Championship by Audi’s high standards, the No. 8 crew of Lucas di Grassi, Loïc Duval and Oliver Jarvis managed to win twice at Spa-Francorchamps and Bahrain, while André Lotterer, Marcel Fässler and Benoît Tréluyer in the No. 7 ended the year without a win for the first time in championship history. However, that statistic could have been avoided had it not been for a dramatic reversal of fortunes at round 6 in Austin, Texas.
The race was there for the taking. Audi locked out the front-row and led a combined 114 laps but, as Toyota showed at Le Mans, the final lap is the only one that counts. Despite the R18’s overwhelming pace advantage – the five fastest laps of the race were all set by Audi drivers – they were left with nothing to show for it at the chequered flag.
Until the sun went down, Audi had been peerless. Fässler in Audi No. 7 led Duval from the start as the Porsches struggled to cope in the stifling heat, which meant double-stinting the tyres was the only way to go. After taking over from Jarvis, Di Grassi emerged from the second round of stops ahead of the sister car, but it all started to go wrong shortly after half distance.
First, a brief loss of power for Duval cost the No. 8 around 40 seconds and dropped it back behind the No. 7 again, before both cars lost out to the lead Porsche when a Full Course Yellow arrived shortly after they had pitted under green.
However, Tréluyer was not about to go down without a fight and began to rein in new racer leader, Timo Bernhard. Having missed the Nürburgring and Mexico with a back injury sustained in a mountain bike accident, this was Tréluyer’s moment to shine and he was determined to make the most of it.
But with 1hr 40 minutes left on the clock, Olivier Pla’s Ford broke sideways just as Tréluyer was passing him around the outside of the high-speed turn 18. The Ford clipped the rear of the Audi, sending the blameless Tréluyer spinning into the barriers. He managed to drag the car back to the pits, but after repairs were carried out, six laps and all hopes of victory were lost.
Although the No. 8 Audi still recovered to second, the mood in the Audi camp was glum – COTA would unmistakably go down as an opportunity missed.