Every year, during the Le Mans 24 Hours weekend, some other motor racing series shares the paddock and the race track with the 60 teams taking part at the race world’s famous endurance event. For the 2017 edition, there were two series to accompany the race week: Road to Le Mans (second time, after 2016) and Porsche Carrera Cup (second time still, after 2014).
Located on the Maison Blanche circuit, next to the Porsche Experience Centre building, the Carrera Cup teams invited to the event came from France, Benelux, Great Britain, Australia, Asia, Japan, Scandinavia and Brazil. Among the 61 drivers (14 nationalities) participating at this exceptional event, a specific classification was to be extracted at the end of the race for the regular drivers of the French and GB Carrera Cup participating on their respective series. A total of 27 drivers started in the A category; and 34 in the B (gentleman drivers).
The track time at La Sarthe circuit (13.629 km) was 90 minutes of free practice on Thursday 15 June, followed by one hour of qualifying session the same day, with a 45-minute race to start on Saturday 17 June at 10h00, just a few hours before the start of the 24-hour race. In 2014 Kevin Estre from France – now official Porsche works driver – set the pole position and Ben Barker from GB has won that race. This year again, a big battle was anticipated between the top drivers of the Carrera Cup France and GB, with Florian Latorre (FR – Martinet by Alméras) setting the pole position in 4:08.576, followed by only 16-thousandths of a second by Dino Zamparelli (GB – JTR) 4:08.592, Dan Cammish (GB – Redline Racing) 4:08.902 and the Italian Alessio Rovera (FR Tsunami RT) 4:08.986. First driver of the B class was the Norwegian Edigio Perfetti (FR – Mentos Racing) 4:09.383 followed by Frenchman Christophe Lapierre (FR – Sébastien Loeb Racing) 4:10.167. Young French rising star Antoine Jung (Team Vendée Auto Sport) (7th overall) was the first of the Rookies.
But the big drama of the qualifying session happened for Julien Andlauer (FR – Team Martinet by Alméras), leader in the French Carrera Cap standings. He touched a race track floppy during his very first qualifying lap, causing damage to his front bumper and radiator and was therefore forced to start from the back of the grid on Saturday. For this very atypical race track, with five long straight lines, the cars would have spent too much time on the rev limiter, possibly causing engine damage. Their gear ratios were those used for normal race tracks, and the gearboxes are sealed for the entire season. Therefore, a specific air restrictor was installed on their 460bhp engines.
Saturday morning, not only was the temperature hot for the race, but also the track activity, and particularly at the first corner of the race. After the rolling start, favourites in the Carrera Cup France standings, Florian Latorre and Antoine Jung were eliminated in a multiple car pile-up at the Dunlop chicane that forced the safety car onto the track. That was another drama for Philippe Alméras (Team Martinet by Alméras), with Latorre out at the first turn, and that was after Andlauer’s qualifying problem. Therefore, Dino Zamparelli set himself up as an early leader of the race, followed by Alessio Rovera, Philipp Morin (SWE – Martinet by Alméras), Ayhancan Güven ( FR- Toksport WRT), Dan Cammish, Euan McKay (GB – Team Redline), Tom Oliphant ( GB – Team Redline) and Christophe Lapierre (FR – Sébastien Loeb Racing), first in the B class.
After the restart, Alessio Rovera managed to pass Zamparelli on the Mulsanne straight – Les Hunaudières (on the section between Tertre Rouge and the first chicane) and take the provisional lead of the race. But a big battle continued during that lap, with Zamparelli trying to get his leading position back. In the meantime, Philipp Morin, a driver in the Scandinavian Carrera Cup and third at the restart, lost his position after a mistake at the second chicane. Dan Cammish installed himself in third and managed to catch Zamparelli and Rovera right before the Porsche Curves. With 25 minutes remaining, Cammish passed Zamparelli, with a very late braking manoeuvre at the Mulsanne corner and installed himself in the second position after the then leader of the race Rovera.
Just to remember that national Carrera Cup series are using normal steel brake disks (carbon ceramic are not allowed), therefore braking on such a special race track as Le Mans is a big exercise: the car reaches its top speed at five sections on the track, so the brakes cool down and need to get back up to temperature again for corners where the brakes are in high demand. Definitely one of the ‘braking’ champions during the race was Dan Cammish, as he passed Rovera at the first chicane of the Mulsanne straight (Les Hunaudières) with 22 minutes remaining, to take the lead of the race.
Behind, Zamparelli lost his third place to Turkish driver Ayhacan Güven, after a very good exit from the first chicane and an overtaking in the Mulsanne straight in the section between the two chicanes. Furthermore, both Güven and Zamparelli, trying desperately to follow the leaders, braked too late and went outside the track at the second chicane, but managed to get back without losing position. The race pace was then interrupted by a few slow zones on the track due to drivers going off in the gravel bed. The way to victory wasn’t easy though for Cammish, as he had to defend his leading position until the very end.
The tension reached its maximum on the last lap, when Rovera attacked Cammish on the Mulsanne straight and pushed Cammish to brake too late at the second chicane, where he went wide and lost the lead to Rovera. The battle continued with Rovera, Cammish, Zamparelli and Güven entering the right hand 90° Mulsanne corner altogether. After a very spectacular run side by side down towards Indianapolis, Cammish stayed on the outside at the very fast right entering Indianapolis and passed Rovera, in a very brave and spectacular manoeuvre and installed himself in the lead once again.
Rovera got back on a charge but missed the breaking point at Arnage handing Zamparelli the advantage on the exit. Both were running side by side as they approached the Porsche Curves, which Zamparelli reached first, taking second place. Zamparelli tried hard to approach Cammish in the last corners, but with no success. Dan Cammish won the race with Zamparelli second and Rovera in third, finishing in the same second with the winner. In fourth place after a very strong race was the Turkish driver Güven. Tom Oliphant finished fifth ahead of Joffrey de Narda, Valentin Hasse-Clot (7th overall and first of the Rookies), Philipp Morin, Vincent Beltoise and Euan McKay. In the B class, Christophe Lapierre (11th overall) won in front of French Carrera Cup regular rivals Nicolas Misslin and Roar Lindland. The fastest lap in the race was set by Charlie Eastwood in 4:07.241.
A performance to note was by the young French female driver Lucile Cypriano (FR – Racing Technology), a regular participant in the French Carrera Cup finishing in a strong fifteenth place overall. Favourite in the Porsche Carrera Cup France, Julien Andlauer, managed to finish 24th overall after starting last. Cammish and Zamparelli finished first and second in the Porsche Carrera Cup GB standings. In the French Carrera Cup entrants, Alessio Rovera took the overall victory, followed by Ayhancan Güven and Joffrey de Narda
Written by: Lucian Sonea
Images by: Virtual Motorpix/Glen Smale & Porsche