While all the hype surrounding the 2017 Le Mans 24 Hour race in France was occupying everybody’s mind, an endurance event of another kind was taking place elsewhere in Europe. Ahead of the toughest motor race in the world, an ambitious Trans-European expedition has taken the company’s track-to-road technology transfer philosophy, and literally applied the lessons of the race track to the street.
At Le Mans in 2016, the Porsche 919 Hybrid of Marc Lieb, Romain Dumas and Neel Jani raced flat out for 384 laps, covering a total distance of 5233 km to win the renowned race for a record 18th time. On the weekend 17/18 June 2017, the pair of 919 Hybrids driven by Neel Jani/André Lotterer/Nick Tandy and Brendon Hartley/Timo Bernhard/Earl Bamber would complete their journey, but finish exactly where they began.
Just finishing Le Mans is a phenomenal feat of endurance as the scale of the distance the cars cover is extraordinary. If you unravelled the laps covered by the Porsche 919 Hybrid at Le Mans last year, it travelled a distance equivalent to that from Bodø, Norway – five hours north of the Arctic Circle – to Tarifa in Spain – the most southern point of Europe – non-stop. Fittingly, seven Porsche road cars, each with a link to the Porsche Motorsport programme and the race-winning technology of the 919 Hybrid, undertook an endurance challenge of a similar but also quite different nature.
As temperatures fell below freezing, a Porsche 718 Cayman, 718 Boxster, 911 Turbo S, Macan GTS, Cayenne S E-Hybrid, Panamera 4S Executive and a 918 Spyder departed the coastal town of Bodø. Driving the cars were independent journalists from China, Japan, Spain, Italy, France, Belgium, Germany and Great Britain – with support teams of drivers stationed around Europe to take the wheel during the night while the journalists slept on special coaches that followed the convoy.
In keeping with Le Mans (which is as much a human test of endurance behind the wheel as it is a mechanical feat for the cars) aside from driver changes and refilling the fuel tanks, the cars drove continuously for 64 hours.
The Trans-European expedition visited eight countries, travelling from snow and temperatures below freezing to the 30-degree heat and sand dunes of Tarifa. The convoy witnessed ice, sleet, snow, hail, rain and scorching sunshine. Despite being the furthest distance ever recorded by the cars in so little time, the sole technical challenges they sustained totalled two punctures and a chipped windscreen.
In parallel with the endurance run of these road cars, a 36-hour non-stop test was carried out by the Porsche LMP1 team at Motorland Aragon in Northern Spain. The full speed rehearsal saw a single 919 Hybrid driven by all six Le Mans drivers – and reserve driver Marc Lieb – gathering vital data and experience at the final test before the 24 Hours in France itself, just a week later. A scheduled driver change for the road cars at the track allowed the journalists to witness the LMP1 team in action as the build-up to Le Mans gathered pace.
British Porsche factory race driver and 2015 Le Mans winner Nick Tandy met the journalists along with 2016 Le Mans winner Marc Lieb at the Aragon track minutes before Tandy took over for his driving stint: “The speeds are lower and they’re on roads, but what the journalists have set out to do is really hard and has a lot in common with what we go through,” commented Nick. “Covering big distances is tough – you’re tired and you need to look after yourself and the rest of the team. You can’t be a big personality and claim it’s all down to you, because in endurance racing that won’t work – and I reckon the same is true of what the journalists are doing. The whole effort is about the team and working together. That, plus endurance, hard work, concentration and cars that are engineered to be tough yet very, very fast. If I’m honest, I’m amazed by how fresh everyone looks– but then Porsche sports cars are phenomenal at this kind of thing.”
Just over 66 hours, 3359 miles (5406 km), eight countries and with an ambient temperature 35 degrees warmer than where the journey began, all seven cars arrived in the town of Tarifa – reaching the most southern point in Europe, and with the backdrop of the North African coast. As with the Porsche LMP1 Team test, the cars finished a little dirtier than when they set out, and yet they didn’t miss a beat. The journalists reported feeling tired, but elated and ache free. Le Mans had been unravelled, in spectacular style.
André Lotterer, Porsche LMP1 driver, added: “These parallel tests were worlds apart, but it gave the journalists a taste of what Le Mans is all about. The cars stood up perfectly and the ambition behind our decision to conduct a 36-hour test and for the journalists to take on eight countries non-stop, really epitomises what Porsche is all about, whether on the road or on the track. Seeing everyone smiling at the end – happy and proud of what they’ve achieved, it’s all about teamwork. Well done! Next up, the real thing.”
It is challenges such as this that makes motorsport all the more relevant. When the Porsche LMP1 drivers appeared at the scrutineering procession on 11/12 June having just completed their 36-hour test at the Aragon circuit, they did not appear any worse for wear. Which just goes to show that the Porsche 919 Hybrid is as comfortable to drive around Le Mans as a Macan, or a Cayenne, or a Panamera…or maybe I will ask Nick Tandy next time I meet up with him if that is true.
Edited by: Glen Smale
Images by: Porsche