Porsche rescue Le Mans win from WEC minnows
Brendon Hartley, Timo Bernhard and Earl Bamber rescued a Le Mans 24 Hours win for Porsche that almost looked set to be stolen – for the first time in history – by an LMP2 team and the giant-killing Jackie Chan DC Racing crew and Vaillante Rebellion Racing team took the final podium positions.
At race start Mike Conway pulled out a two second lead over Neel Jani in the number 1 Porsche 919 Hybrid with Sebastien Buemi losing his rear gunner role through the first few turns. Buemi soon made his move on Jani and was able to close up on Conway after the Brit ran wide at the first chicane.
The two Toyotas went side-by-side through the Dunlop Curves, with Buemi eventually getting a slipsteam and managing to make a pass for the lead on the run to Indianapolis. The number 9 Toyota was relegated to fifth and losing close to two seconds a lap after Nicolas Lapierre made contact with the 4 ByKolles Enso CLM P1/01 – Nismo. Oliver Webb entered the pits for a bodywork change but would eventually retire with engine trouble.
A slow stop for the number 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca gave the Vaillante Rebellion Racing team the opportunity they needed to push Bruno Senna into the lead while Roman Rusinov made a clumsy error attempting to pass Al Qubaisi’s Proton Competition Porsche, ultimatelyforcing the Porsche and his own G-Drive Racing Oreca 07-Gibson into the barriers and into retirement.
Meanwhile LMP2 has been at the helm of the action, with cars crashing and spinning up and down the circuit. Currently, Rebellion racing run Oreca 07 leads the class, with David Heinemeier Hansson current sitting in prime position. Among the train of cars in GTE Pro, AF Corse run Ferrari 488’s led the way, ahead of a chasing pack of Ford GT’s and Aston Martin’s.
At the close of the fourth hour, the number 1 Porsche was garaged with a front axle issue, eventually requiring a complete front hybrid change and is due to be back on track within the next thirty minutes. Little would unfold throughout the next few hours despite t the Toyota crew working frantically to install a new front MGU going into the #8 Toyota TS050 via the cockpit. Matters would get far worse however at the half-way point of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, as the lead #7 Toyota would come to mechanical issue involving the clutch. As confirmed by Toyota, the lead car would succumb to problems with the clutch of the ICE to the transmission, of which has seen the car creep around the circuit until Kamui Kobayashi had to retire the car.
For #8, the car would also see mechanic issue involving the front mounted MGU unit, which had a failed housing for the drive shaft. The job took two hours, which saw the unit being replaced through the cockpit.
Moments later, the #9 TS050 saw a puncture, which ripped apart the rear end, and thus caused a small fire as the carbon rubbed away on the tyre. The car made it within 250 yards of pit-lane entry before being told to switch off power. Porsche now led the race with Nick Tandy at the wheel with Earl Bamber another 8 laps in arrears.
In LMP2, the drama that has fallen upon LMP1, has seen #31 Rebellion Racing move their way to third overall and first in class with Nico prost leading a Rebellion 1-2. GTE Pro had seen a clear run by the brand-new Porsche 911 RSRs, which has seen them lead the class at the halfway mark. James Calado was just +0.5 seconds behind with Scott Dixon of the Ford GT some 5 seconds down. GTE has been the calmest of the classes so far, Dries Vanthoor leads for JMW Motorsport in the #84 Ferrari 488 GTE closely followed by Rob Bell of the #35 Aston Martin Vantage. The GT field hogged most of the headlines as the second half of the race ticked over, with slow zones and reshuffling of the order seeing Heinemeier Hansson scythe his way up to the top of the LMP2 field but with Ollie Jarvis closing in on his lead in the number 38 Jackie Chan Oreca.
Hansson put up a strong defence, but the experience of Jarvis eventually saw the ex-Audi works drive seize the class lead out of Tertre Rouge and second outright behind Lotterer in the number 1 Porsche 919 Hybrid. The jubilation for Jota Sport and DC racing simmered though, with the news that the team were “under investigation” for their last pit-stop, with the result still yet to be decided.
The number 2 Porsche had made its way back up to 14th outright and was fairing much better than the remaining number 8 Toyota TS050, which was stilled mired in 30th position. Kazuki Nakajima was now circulating in the 3 min 19 second bracket, however will need to rely on attrition – still a high possbility with today’s expected hot weather – to have any hope of a decent result.
The number 92 Porsche of Michael Christnsen was confirmed as a retirement just after 4am after colliding with the barriers, effectively giving Aston Martin enough breathing space to consolidate the top two positions in GTE Pro. Fernando Rees gave Corvette a scare after his excursion at Mulsanne, but was able to resume in 52nd position as Ferrari dominated the LMGTE Am class in the hands of Robert Smith and Ross Gunn.
With seven hours remaining the number 1 Porsche 919 Hybrid enjoyed a 12 lap advantage over the second-placed LMP2 entry – the number 13 Rebellion.The number thirteen car endured a scare during their last stop when the exiting Piquet experienced a power failure during the driver change. However, a quick change from the Rebellion crew got the car back out on track without losing position to the number 31 sister entry.
The big movers through the pack were the number 2 Porsche and number 8 Toyota which were trying to get back on terms with the bottom end of the LMP2 field – Buemi in particular setting times just shy of this year’s lap record. Timo Bernhard meanwhile had slotted into the top ten and was climbing along with the ambient temperature. Alex Brundle hit a purple patch in the number 37 Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECA to elevate both ORECA 07 Gibsons into the top five.
The number 91 Porsche of Patrick Pilet headed Richie Stanaway in GTE Pro, until Stanaway bounced the number 95 Aston Martin off the barriers at Mulsanne and destrying his splitter in the process. This elevated Jordan Taylor to the top spot in the number 63 Corvette ahead of Fred Makowiecki and Harry Tincknell.
Rob Smith was still commanding LM GTE Am in the JMW Ferrari, a lap ahead of the number 55 Spirit of Race and number 62 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari.
As the race ticked over the 21 Hour mark, the number 1 Porsche ground lost all pressure crossing the start finish line. Lotterer faced the prospect of bringing the car back via solely electric power. As it was, Andre admirably got as far of the Mulsanne before grinding to a halt.
Suddenly, Jackie Chan DC Racing were handed the baton for overall victory, but with the pressure of Hartley’s Porsche now breathing down their necks. Hartley made short work of Oliver Jarvis on the Mulsanne straight and was doing everything he could to bridge the lead LMP2 car’s gap – just three laps. Thomas Laurent, having replaced Jarvis in number 38 car and the team took the opportunity to make adjustments to the brake duct and rear end – just in case an over studious steward decided to pull out the red pen. Mathias Beche was second but a lap behind for Vaillante Rebellion, with Pierre Ragues two and a half minutes further for Signatech Alpine, third.
Brendon Hartley now required a flat-out race with no slow zones and more importantly – none of the issues that befell the rest of the LMP1 field minus the number 8 Toyota. Circulating close to 12 seconds a lap quicker than the Oreca, Hartley was able to close and dispatch of Tung down the Mulsanne and pull out a lead with just an hour remaining. All DC Racing could do now was play their own game – ultimately finishing two laps ahead of the next place LMP2 car, the Rebellion of Nelson Piquet and the Signatech Alpine of Andre Negrao.
The Chevrolet of Jordan Taylor and Aston of Jonathan Adam were literally inseparable for the last three hours of the race and was the closest fight of the race, with Turner eventually prevailing after Taylor ran out of tyre life and lost any chance of a podium spot and handing Aston Martin a 1-2 finish. Meanwhile it was a Ferrari clean sweep with Robert Smith, Will Stevens and Dries Vanthoor taking the win for JMW Racing ahead of the 55 Spirit of Race and number 62 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari.
Images: Porsche Motorsport, DPPI Media and Richard Washbrooke Photography
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