|Photo Credit: Porsche|
For the 83rd time in history, sophisticated sports cars arrived in France for the ultimate daylong test of endurance and stamina. The 24 hours of Le Mans on the Circuit de la Sarthe delivered a fair share of surprises, disappointment and the eventual celebration for winners of the four classes of racing. As is often the case, the LMP1 class earned a great deal of attention as high-tech cars generating what is estimated to be around 1,000 horsepower. Faster than the other racing classes at Le Mans, the LMP1 category winner would also be almost guaranteed to be the overall race winner. Becoming a fight reserved for two German brands Audi and Porsche, the race saw new norms displaced by old norms.
Returning to the top class at Le Mans last year with the 919 Hybrid, Porsche’s effort in 2014 came with a best run of 11th place for the team. Having taken overall race victories in 16 24 Hours of Le Mans races in history (first in 1970 and the last in 1998), Team Porsche took 12 months to refine their gasoline/electric propelled package in time for this year race on the 13.629-kilometer French circuit. Just one year after the lukewarm comeback, Team Porsche fielded a winning performance in the 2015 race. With a one-lap advantage, the #19 Porsche 919 Hybrid completed 395 laps and a distance of more than 5,383 kilometers. A driving consisting of current Formula 1 pilot Nico Hulkenberg, 24-year-old New Zealander Earl Bamber and former Porsche Supercup driver Nick Tandy. “The pace was really high, and not what you would expect from endurance racing. Especially at night when the temperatures came down a bit, the car was fantastic to drive. Of course, I didn’t think I would come here and rock ’n’ roll this race, this would be silly because there are so many challenges in that race. However, we did it and we did it together.” said Hulkenberg. Andreas Seidi, Team Principal for the Porsche effort commented, “It is hard to find words because it is just so difficult to believe we have done that. It is a fantastic reward for the tough work the team did here on the race track and back home in Weissach over the last three and a half years. We knew we were a lot better prepared than last year, but no way could we expect this result."
Along with the race win, Team Porsche celebrated a 1-2 finish. The #17 Porsche 919 Hybrid wheeled by Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley was the second-place machine. 25-year-old Hartley explained, “On the final lap I had tears in my eyes. We have all been working so hard for this result. Stepping onto the podium was a dream come true. It is unbelievable. I’m very proud that two Porsches have won. I feel happy for every single person here.” Brake stability issues and two off-track trips for the #18 919 Hybrid prevented a full Porsche podium but still finished fifth.
|Photo Credit: Porsche|
Favoured for victory ahead of the 2015 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans was the Audi Sport Team Joest operation with their R18 e-tron quattro. Since 2000, Audi prototype machines has missed out on victory on just two occasions (one of those times was a victory by the Bentley Speed 8 built using input from Audi engineering under the umbrella of parent company Volkswagen Group). Even as qualifying demonstrated decisive for Porsche, the 2014 race saw Audi emerge with superior race pace and reliability.
During the race, Audi Sport Team Joest team possessed one notable advantage. The #8 Audi R18 e-tron quattro in the hands of Lucas di Grassi recorded a 345.6 kilometers per hour (214.745 miles per hour) maximum speed on lap 74 of the race. This time compares commandingly to the best top speed effort of 340.2 kilometer per hour from the #17 Porsche. The R18 e-tron quattro race cars claimed ownership of the top-three spots in the top speed category of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In the fastest points of the Circuit de la Sarthe, Audi race machines could be roughly 2 to 5 kilometers per hour quicker than the Porsche 919 Hybrids. The extra speed allowed the drivers of the Audi Sport Team Joest cars to deliver a meaningful challenge to the Porsches during the early half of the endurance race.
What ultimately cost Audi a chance at its 14th victory in 16 attempts at the 24 Hours of Le Mans was a series of mistakes. The #8 car was involved in an accident early but continued to circulate the track on-route to a fourth place result. Early Sunday morning cost the remaining two Audi R18 e-tron quattro LMP1 cars the chance at victory. Bodywork problems on the #7 Audi Sport Team Joest car required a nearly seven-minute unscheduled stop. As for the #9 car, a hybrid system issue began to spout and would eventually need a 17-minute repair to fix a front left drive shaft. In the end, the #7 team was still able to hold on to a third-place spot allowing Audi to extend their podium streak at Le Mans to 17 consecutive races.
|Photo Credit: Audi Motorsport|
In contrast to Audi, the Porsche Team effort in the race featured much fewer flaws. The Porsche 919 Hybrid’s efficiency emerged as the key ingredient to a winning formula at the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans. Each Porsche prototype race car required 30 pit stops over the 24 hours of competition.
While Audi and Porsche battled for the race win at the 24-hour race, Toyota Racing experienced a long, quiet event. Choosing to field only two TS040 Hybrid race cars, Toyota is represented in 6th and 8th place at the end of competition at Le Mans. A win in the 24 Hours of Le Mans continues to elude Toyota.
Campaigning an all-new car at the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans, Nissan admits that their GT-R LM NISMO was operating within the infancy stage of development. Fielding three of the radically styled and engineered front-wheel drive LMP1 entrants, the Nissan GT-R LM NISMO failed to classify in the final results in its debut. The #22 GT-R LM NISMO machine did make it to the chequered flag completing 242 laps. The Nissan GT-R LM NISMO will take part in the 2015 FIA WEC.
KCMG Scores Commanding LMP2 Class Win
The LMP2 class has often been a hotly contended battle of survival at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This year’s competition in the slower prototype car class was an exception. It was domination by the #47 KCMG Oreca-Nissan shared by Richard Bradley, Matthew Howson and Nicolas Lapierre on the leaderboard Starting at the front of the class, the KCMG held the top spot in LMP2 for almost the entire 24-hour distance. At the end, the winner of the category finished 48.182 seconds ahead of the JOTA Sport entry.
While Nissan’s efforts in the LMP1 category are defined with difficulty, the LMP2 class gave the Japanese brand a lot to cheer about. The top-six finishers used Nissan 4.5-liter V-8 powerplants derived from the production-based VK engine family.
Corvette Racing and SMP Racing Victors in LM-GTE Categories
Running production-based sports cars, the LM-GTE Pro and LM-GTE Am category at the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans provided a sensational show. At the end of 24 hours of racing, LM-GTE featured a Pro class winning team that overcame race weekend adversity and an Amateur class in the right place at the right time.
Corvette Racing suffered a setback in Thursday qualifying when the team lost the #63 C7.R in a massive qualifying accident. A mechanical problem led to driver Jan Magnussen crashing in the Porsche Curves. Magnussen was unhurt but the GTE-Pro entry was withdrawn due to extensive damage. The sole #64 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R started deep in the field on Saturday but quickly elevated itself into contention. Leading for the first time on lap 42, Corvette Racing’s effort was countered by Aston Martin Racing’s Vantage V8 and AF Corse’s Ferrari 458 Italias.
It was a fierce battle through the midpoint of the 24-hour race but the #64 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R shared by Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Jordan Taylor would pull away in the second-half of the race to a five-lap victory in the LM-GTE Pro class. The first win for the Corvette C7.R at Le Mans was Corvette Racing’s first since the 2011 race.
In LM-GTE Am, a class victory seemed locked-up for the #98 Aston Martin Vantage V8 heading into the final hour of the endurance race. Misfortunate for the lead LM-GTE Am car awaited in the last hour of the 24-hour race as an accident on track sent the #98 machine into retirement. The late development promoted the SMP Racing Ferrari 458 Italia to lead and victory in the class. Aleksey Basov, Andrea Bertolini and Viktor Shaitar were drivers of the winning #72 car.