Rebellion Racing scored a dominant victory in Lone Star Le Mans, the FIA World Endurance Championship’s six-hour race at Circuit of The Americas. Its No. 1 R-13 Gibson was unchallenged throughout, finishing ahead of the the two Toyotas, strangled this time out by the Success Handicap system in the depleted three-car top class.
While the Rebellion team, which will stop racing after Le Mans this year, will celebrate long into the night after its second victory of the season, this was one of, if not the most uneventful LMP1 races in the history of the category. Bruno Senna, Norman Nato and Gustavo Menezes had a clear pace advantage all weekend and were untouchable.
For American Menezes, this race continued his perfect streak in FIA WEC races at COTA. He has three poles, three fastest laps and three wins racing in Texas in three starts. “It’s a fairytale to do this at home,” he told RACER.
The only question mark in this one was whether or not the Toyotas could save a fuel stop at the end, vaulting the No. 8 TS050 HYBRID back into the lead just before the finish…but they didn’t. Rebellion — which had to change the car’s engine ahead of qualifying — managed the race perfectly, and while it had to push, the win never looked in doubt. Especially as this race, remarkably, featured zero safety car or full-course yellow periods.
“For me at the start it was really important to pull away from the Toyotas so that we could be able to build a gap,” said Senna. “It needed to be big; we needed a cushion to ensure we’d be safe if we needed to pit for a splash at the end of the race. It was a good race for us, we made no mistakes, pushed hard and here we are.”
Toyota’s No. 7 TS050 finished third. The car was pegged back by the handicap more than the sister car, and therefore was a non-factor here. In this instance, with only three cars, all racing to different handicaps, it created a clear gap in pace between the runners. That made it a race to remember for Rebellion, but a race to forget for everyone else.
In LMP2 United Autosports recovered from a tire pressure/setup issue in the opening stint of the race to take a comfortable second victory of the season. Paul Di Resta was in the No. 22 ORECA for the start and finish, and was forced to make an early stop because he was losing so much time in the early laps, putting the team out of sequence for almost the entire race. The team was convinced it would have to make a late splash and therefore be fighting for a podium rather than a win, but by the end of the race it emerged that the other contenders needed a splash of their own, too.
Di Resta, Filipe Albuquerque and Phil Hanson were rapid and didn’t put a foot wrong in this one, and as a result crossed the line more than 20 seconds ahead of the chasing pack.
“We had to improvise at the start because we didn’t expect to change strategy in the way we did. But the team did well to come up with the change and it actually helped us,” Albuquerque explained. “I stepped in the car after a tough two first hours at a crucial point in the race where we didn’t think we’d be able to win because we’d lost too much time and needed a splash. So I had to take risks, lots of them to put us in position. It worked out in the end.”
With this victory, United’s second in a row, its drivers become the first LMP2 driver crew to win two consecutive races since Rebellion back in 2017.
Behind the two JOTA-run ORECAs scored Goodyear a double podium. Its No. 37 Jackie Chan DC Racing example looked the stronger of the two throughout, Will Stevens, Gabriel Aubry and Ho Pin Tung taking second as a result. The No. 38 JOTA 07 completed the podium, beating the Racing Team Nederland ORECA to third after the Dutch team was forced to make an additional pit stop to ensure gentleman driver Frits van Eerd completed his minimum drive time late in the race.
It was a disappointing result for Racing Team Nederland, which eventually fell to fifth after a late move from Nicolas Lapierre in the pole-sitting Cool Racing ORECA. The RTN ORECA had race-winning pace, but was involved in multiple collisions throughout — some of its own making — and had to make an extra stop. As a result it missed the podium altogether.
The Signatech Alpine was also in contention for a podium, but became one of a handful of cars to suffer issues. Its right-front brake disc exploded, forcing Pierre Ragues into the garage after he’d been battling for the lead.
The GTE classes were won by Aston Martin Vantages. After a week of bad news from the British marque, which postponed its Le Mans Hypercar program indefinitely before the meeting began, this will come as welcome story for all involved.
Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen took the victory in Pro, extending their points lead in the class. The No. 95 was the car to beat in qualifying and all race long. Thiim crossed the line 4.2 seconds ahead of the No. 92 Porsche but none of the other cars in the class truly challenged for the win.
“The Dane Train is on its own right now, we have to keep going like this,” Sorensen exclaimed. “It was great, the car was almost perfect. We had small braking issues throughout but the speed of the car today made up for it. We have to stay focused now, we have a championship to win.”
Michael Christensen and an unwell Kevin Estre in the No. 92 Porsche persevered to take second. Early in the race it appeared that the No. 97 Aston had the pace to make it a 1-2 finish, but Alex Lynn and Maxime Martin faded towards the end.
The Porsche took second, with the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari of James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi coming home third after Calado forced his way past Lynn at Turn 12 in the final minutes. The No. 71 AF Corse Ferrari, meanwhile, had a remarkably quiet outing, coming home fifth.
Corvette Racing was also present this weekend, giving the C8.R its FIA WEC debut. The car was significantly off the pace all weekend, which will have come as a source of frustration for the Pratt & Miller-run team. But this appearance was more about accumulating mileage and data on the new car. Jan Magnussen and Mike Rockenfeller finished sixth, ahead of only the No. 91 Porsche that suffered an electronic issue which caused a shifter problem that required a full battery change.
GTE Am came down to the final hour. Early in the race the No. 56 Project 1 Porsche controlled proceedings but Egidio Perfetti lost a lot of time in the fourth hour and fell to third, making it a straight fight between the two Aston Martin teams in the class for the victory.
The No. 98 Aston Martin Racing Vantage looked to have the advantage in the final stint with Ross Gunn at the wheel, but a hard-charging Charlie Eastwood in TF Sport’s car wouldn’t give in and after a lengthy scrap forced his way through at T13 with 21 minutes remaining, scoring the British team its third win of the season.
“It was so close between us and the No. 98 all day,” said Eastwood. “The battle at the end was intense for more than 20 minutes. I needed to make the move quickly to calm the team in the garage down. The final run to the flag felt like it took forever.”
“It’s great to bounce back here after a bad DNF in Bahrain last time out,” said co-driver Adam. “This puts us back in the title race.”
The No. 56 Project 1 Porsche came home third ahead of the No. 83 AF Corse Ferrari which was tied for the lead in the points coming into the weekend with Project 1’s No. 57 Porsche. Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Felipe Fraga had a disastrous outing, the polar opposite to the big win for the crew back in Bahrain last year, a gearbox issue costing the team 10 laps in the garage.
AF Corse’s No. 83 crew of Francois Perrodo, Manu Collard and Nicklas Nielsen now hold a small lead in the Am class title race, after another consistent finish despite having to overcome a significant success ballast penalty in the race.