A little more than twenty four hours ago, sixty cars lined up against the pit lane wall, and without exception, every driver on the grid had his/her mind set on winning the race or at the very least, their class. Now, just twenty six hours later, we know which of those drivers was successful, in this most gruelling twice around the clock endurance race. As this feature is being written, there is much celebrating going on behind closed doors in the paddock in recognition of those results, and deservedly so.
Was the 86th edition of the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans a success? You could say that the race witnessed a low rate of retirement (just sixteen in total with one additional car being unclassified). That means there were 43 finishers from which four cars emerged victorious as overall and class winners. After 388 laps, it was the #8 Toyota TS050 of Buemi/Nakajima/Alonso that crossed the finish line in first place, much to the joy of the enthusiastic crowd. Toyota had finally done it, and they didn’t just claim the first prize, they did it in style with a 1-2 finish.
While all eyes were on the LMP1 and GTE classes, LMP2 got a little lost along the way. But not to forget them, it was the #26 G-Drive Oreca 07-Gibson driven by Rusinov/Pizzitola/Vergne that went home with the class honours.
There was a general feeling amongst many punters and members of the media, who felt that the real battle in this weekend’s race was going to be amongst the ranks of the GTE Pro and Am cars. And to be honest, it really was, and even though the eventual winners were those cars that had run at the front of the pack for most of the race, the laurels could have gone to a number of contenders.
Even though Toyota went home with the big trophy, it could be argued that Porsche was a significant winner. GTE Pro class pole went to the #91 Rothmans 911 RSR with its sister car, the #92 Pink Pig liveried 911 RSR in second place. From the very get go, these two cars took a commanding lead and they never looked stretched. Photographing from both the track side and in the pit lane, the #91 and #92 Porsches looked and sounded as healthy at the end of 24 hours as they did at the beginning.
The outcome of the #93 and #94 Porsches was however not as glowing. Around 23h00, while photographing in the pit lane, some severe surgery was being carried out on the right rear suspension of the #94 car. Upon further enquiry, it transpired that the rear suspension had broken or cracked, not as a result of contact with another car, but possibly the result of aggressive kerb hopping. Just minutes later, the #93 Porsche pitted and was wheeled into the pit garage, suffering from a failed generator. The replacement of the generator took around 25 minutes, but this set the car back in the field, a situation from which it never recovered.
Speaking to the Porsche staff after the race, they confirmed that the #91 and #92 Porsches never missed a beat for the full duration of the race. Drivers and tyres were changed on schedule, and fuel was added, but no repairs or additional attention was given to these two cars during the 24 hours. When the flag came down at just after 15h00 on Sunday, it was the #92 Pink Pig RSR that took the class honours from its #91 sibling, one lap down. The #93 Porsche finished down in eleventh place in class.
As already mentioned, the final outcome of the GTE Pro class could have gone to a number of other contenders. In this respect, Fred Mako defended his second place with great skill and bravery from a hard charging Sebastien Bourdais in the #68 Ford GT, but the challenge fizzled out and the two Porsches went on their merry way.
In the GTE Am class, the Dempsey-Proton Racing team held sway for much of the race, but again, it wouldn’t have taken much to unsettle the order. For much of the race it was the #88 Porsche RSR that led the class, followed by the #77 car. Here it should also be mentioned that Porsche’s Young Professional, Julien Andlauer, put in a sterling effort through the hours of darkness, driving around four hours and keeping the team in close touch with the lead car. Unfortunately, Matteo Cairoli spun out early on Sunday morning while leading in the #88 car, which promoted the #77 car into the lead.
In the 22nd hour, the #56 Team Project 1 Porsche RSR was up in fourth position with a realistic chance of a podium finish, when Patrick Lindsey experienced brake failure at the first chicane. He was able to nurse the car home and the team replaced both rear brakes, but this mishap had ruined any chance of a top spot, and the team finished in seventh place.
Crossing the finish line in fourth spot was the bright green #99 Porsche RSR of Long/Pappas/Pumpelly. The team had survived some struggles during practice and didn’t look that strong up until race day, when it really counted. So a fourth place finish was an excellent result for the team. The #80 Ebimotors RSR, the Italian Porsche team, was another first-timer at Le Mans, along with Team Project 1. Ebimotors is a vastly experienced race team, although not at Le Mans, but they did not come to the race with inexperienced drivers. Fabio Babini was driving in his eighth Le Mans race, Christina Nielsen in her third race, and for Erik Maris, it was his fifth time at Le Mans although his time has been spent mostly behind the wheel of an LMP2 car. But, while the team faced challenges relating to unfamiliarity with endurance racing, they showed that they were quick learners and were rewarded with a sixth place finish.
The Ebimotors Porsche ran well throughout the 24 hours, with only minor issues such a brakes and an unexpected puncture. The three drivers of course, being professional, would have preferred a higher place at the finish, and the team did well to bring their car home mid-class without any major issues, on their first attempt in the great race. The most disappointed Porsche team was the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche RSR of Mike Wainwright/Ben Barker/Alex Davison. Starting from pole position in class, the familiar Gulf 911 RSR encountered problems during the race and finished tenth and last in class.
Of the ten Porsche 911s that started the race, eight were classified finishers with a class winner in both the Pro and Am classes, and a significant 1-2 in the GTE Pro class. Because of their strong qualifying result, the ACO saw it fit to slap an extra 10kg weight onto all the Porsches, but this did not curtail their determination to extract a good result from this race in the company’s 70th anniversary year. Porsche can go back to Stuttgart with its head held high.
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Virtual Motorpix/Glen Smale & John Mountney