Toyota took the final victory of the current LMP1 golden era after some own goals from Porsche scuppered any chance of the Weissach outfit adding a final notch in its 2017 WEC World Championship belt.
Sebastien Buemi bided his time during the first half hour to eventually scythe down the inside of Neel Jani’s pole-sitting 919 Hybrid at turn 1. This of course gave Mike Conway in the sister number 7 Toyota similar ideas and would use lapped traffic at turn 13 to force a path through and give the Japanese squad 1-2 lead.
The number 7 Toyota would drop to fourth after the stops to put Jose Maria Lopez behind the wheel while the freshly crowed number 2 Porsche would have to find a new strategy after Timo Bernhard hit a bollard during a safety car period – the incident requiring a new nose.
In LMP2 Vitaly Petrov was the man on the move in the number 25 CEFC Manor TRS Racing ORECA 07 made steady progress to usurp Nicolas Lapierre’s lead for Signatech Alpine, while the number 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECA would move into second after Lapierre changed tyres at the first stops.
Lappiere would re-join in seventh and grab an easy place from David Heinemeier Hansson, who was busy dealing with a minor skirmish with the number 95 Aston Martin at Turn 11. Back in GTE Pro, the number 71 AF Corse Ferrari of Sam Bird opened up a handy four-second lead over the number 67 Ford of Harry Tincknell and the third placed Aston of Jonny Adam. By the second hour, Alessandro Pier Guidi retook Marco Sorensen’s in the 95 Aston Martin for fourth place.
In GTE Am, Keita Sawa in the Clearwater Ferrari would hold a two-second advantage over the Spirit of Race 488 of Francesco Castellacci, despite making a meal of the opening lap.The number 98 Aston Martin of Matthias Lauda would sit third after pressure from Christian Reid’s Dempsey Proton Porsche.
Kamui Kobayashi first laps in the number 7 TS050 would be one to forget when he found Michael Christensen’s 92 Porsche resembling a mobile chicane at Turn 2 – the unstoppable force of Kobayashi forcing both cars into a spin and bringing out the yellows and bring the Toyota in for repairs. This elevated the number 2 Porsche of Brendon Hartley back into third and seemingly back into contention.
Back in LMP2, it was a case of head down, bum up for Ho-Pin Tung in the number 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca 07 Gibson, giving his team the best possible chance of taking the championship with a 30-second gap over the number 31 Vaillante Rebellion Oreca. The squabble over team tactics in qualifying would have to take a back seat after the Rebellion entry received a five-second time penalty for contact with the number 24 Manor entry.
After Christensen’s incident with the number 7 Toyota, Stefan Mücke played the caution periods to perfection by staying on track whilst the opposition pitted, to put the number 66 Ford GT on top at the halfway mark ahead of Alessandro Pier Guidi in the number 51 Ferrari – which was still in a string position to seize the championship. Likewise, Mathias Lauda was looking very likely to take the GTE-Am championship, with the number 98 Aston Martin Vantage GTE over half a minute ahead of Weng Sun Mok in the number 61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari.
More drama would occur with two hours remaining, with the number 1 Porsche colliding with the number 86 Gulf Porsche of Nick Foster after an ambitious dive down the inside of the out-of-contention GTE car. Despite the initial time cost from the incident, the altercation would eventually cost Nick Tandy a stop-go penalty and any chance of giving Porsche a going away victory.
With just over an hour left on the clock, only Anthony Davidson would remain on the lead lap in the number 8 TS050 Hybrid, a position they would never lose ahead of the #2 Porsche of Bernhard/Bamber/Hartley and sister car of Lotterer, Jani and Tander.
An early stop for the number 38 DC Jackie Chan Racing Oreca would see the Anglo-Chinese team unable to retake the lead of LMP2 and strategically put them in the unenviable position of sitting in third behind the number 13 Rebellion Racing entry of Mathias Beche. Beche would effectively play a rear-gunner role to the sister entry of Bruno Senna to give the number 31 Rebellion entry the best possible chance of taking the championship.
The Rebellion team would extend their advantage by running ten minutes longer than their protagonist’s runs however a twist in the tail however would strike Bruno Senna when the number 31 car strike power steering issues – Senna describing the car as un-driveable and losing a second to Jarvis in the number 38 entry. Unable to reset the power steering, Rebellion would opt for a fresh set of muscles by redrafting Nicolas Prost back into the car.
A well-timed spot for Jota Sport put Jarvis back into second with Senna jumping in for a splash and dash. Senna opted to stay in the car and emerged with a lead worth the length of the main straight. The lead would stabilize at around 20 seconds, giving Vailante Rebellion the LMP2 championship after trailing Jota Sport by some 40 points after Le Mans.
A stop-go penalty would befall the number 7 Toyota for contact with the number 92 GTE Porsche, forcing Mike Conway into the pits and having to settle for fourth place as a consequence.
It was a 1-2 victory for AF Corse, with newly crowned GTE Pro champions Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado taking second after gifting Sam Bird and Davide Rigon victory in a staged photo finish.
Matthias Lauda, Paul Dalla Lana and Pedro Lamy would take a convincing GTE Am victory and with it the class championship. The Clearwater Racing Ferrari of Matt Griffin, Keita Sawa and Weng Sun Mok would take second ahead of the Spirit of Race Ferrari of Thomas Flohr, Franscesco Castellacci and Miguel Molina.
IMAGES: Adrenal Media/FIAWEC