Tag Archives: 24 heures du mans

Lucky Number 17 for Porsche

17 years on from the German marque’s last win, Porsche recorded their 17th overall Le Mans 24 hour race victory as Nico Hülkenberg, Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber drove a faultless race to take the flag 1 lap clear of their more fancied team-mates.

Winners Whilst no one was surprised by the qualifying pace of Porsche,  Audi’s performances at both Silverstone and Spa cast doubt over whether they could defeat their sister brand in the race.  After-all, qualifying 1, 2 and 3 means very little over a race distance of 24 hours. PoleWinners And so it was no great shock that Neel Jani’s stunning 3:16.887 early on in qualifying 1 was enough to grab pole; teams deciding to forgo grid position in preference for race set-up over the remaining time available.  With no real contest for pole, off-track discussion centred around how fast Porsche could actually lap circuit de la sarthe with some even suggesting that a gentleman’s agreement was the only thing standing in the way of the 3:15 barrier!  Regardless, a 249kph average lap time is incredibly quick and nearly 6 seconds quicker than the fastest lap achieved in 2014!

Thankfully Saturday was warm and dry which seamed to suit the #17 Porsche as it climbed to the top of the time-sheets in the hands of Timo Bernhard; the long time factory driver managing to hold the Porsche mantle as the sister cars fell behind the fast charging Audis.  Brendon Hartley would later carry on the good work only to be charged with a 1 minute stop go penalty for speeding in a slow zone; a penalty later served by Mark Webber, hampering the Australian ex F1 star’s continued search for a maiden Le Mans victory.

As darkness engulfed the circuit des 24 heures, Romain Dumas found himself in the Mulsanne Corner tyre wall; a feat later replicated by Neel Jani as the #18 pole sitting Porsche drifted out of contention.  But just as the #17 and #18 cars were faltering, the #19 crew were finding their rhythm.  After struggling early on, Nico Hülkenberg , partially aided by a safety car, was able to bring the white Porsche right back into contention and was leading the event by the time he had handed over to Nick Tandy on lap 146.

The Englishman then, quite possibly, put together the stint of the race to pull away from the the chasing Audi’s.  Not only did the Porsche have the pace, but like Hülkenberg previously, Tandy was able to quadruple stint the tyres in the now cooler conditions.  And when New Zealand’s Earl Bamber jumped into the car some three hours later at just after 3am, the lead was hovering at around the 1 minute mark.

With Audi expected to have the upper hand as daylight broke through, we appeared to be in for a grandstand finish.  Having suffered from fading battery power previously, could Porsche maintain their reliability and manage to keep the likes of a chasing Andre Lotterer at bay? …

Ironically it was the usually bullet proof Audis which ran into trouble on Sunday with the #9 suffering Hybrid issues and the #7 losing an element of it’s rear body work.  A messy race for the Andre Lotterer, Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer Audi, which had seen the pre event championship leaders drop back courtesy of an early puncture, worsened as Fassler was penalised for a safety car infringement.  With the #17 now back up to second position, Porsche just needed to keep going to claim a famous 1-2.

And that they duly did.  The #19 car had run like clock work for the entire race.  Whilst their rivals had all hit trouble, the conditions came to the rookie crew; all three drivers able to string together consistently quick lap times and claim one of the most famous and unexpected victories in recent times.  It may not have been the close finish we were anticipating, but this will be remembered as one of the great Porsche victories; especially given it was the less favoured ‘3rd’ car that took the spoils.

LMP2

P2Winners A winning margin of 48 seconds for the KCMG Oreca of Richard Bradley, Nic Lapierre and Matt Howson tells a misleading story of the race.  As it was, the fantastically liveried KCMG machine was utterly dominant throughout qualifying and the 24 hours, with Richard Bradley setting the scene for Nic Lapierre to make a classy return to the cockpit.  In fact, such was the pace of the Hong Kong based team that they remained in the class lead despite two separate ‘straight on’ incidents at Arnage and a drive through penalty in the first half of the race for a yellow flag infringement.

Things may not have been so easy for them had last year’s winners, Jota Sport, not encountered early problems which caused them to lose more than a lap to their rivals.  Oliver Turvey, Mitch Evans and Simon Dolan subsequently went on to put in a phenomenal drive; Turvey passing the #26 Ligier of Sam Bird to claim second in the final hour and miss out on the win by less than 1 minute.

GTE

Comparable to Silverstone, Aston Martin showed bucket loads of promise in qualifying but faded as the race progressed; their hopes disappearing entirely as the leading #99 Aston Martin collided with the Thiriet by TDS Racing Oreca in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Instead, as daylight appeared, the GTE-PRO battle was being fiercely fought out between the sole remaining #64 Corvette and the #51 AF Corse Ferrari.  Down to a single entry following Jan Magnussen’s heavy crash in qualifying, it was with some surprise that the Pratt and Miller ‘Works’ Chevy was dicing with the vastly experienced Ferrari crew.

At around 17 hours in, the Corvette crew gambled on changing the brakes during a safety car period, a risk which appeared to have failed when they missed their intended safety car slot by 10 seconds, losing a minute to their rivals as a result.  However, only a fool would suggest the race was over with 7 hours still to go and unexpectedly the usually reliable Ferrari hit trouble in the final stages, leaving the way clear for Oliver Gavin, Jordan Taylor and Tommy Milner to take a famous class victory for the American team; their first since 2011. GTEPRO_Winners The #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Mathias Lauda and Pedro Lamy was hot favourite in the GTE-AM class, and while it took a while for them to rise to the top, they held a clear advantage entering the final hour.  But then, disaster struck with Dalla Lana appearing to make a mistake at the Ford Chicane and suffering a big impact with the drivers left tyre wall in front of the packed grandstands.  There was no way back to the pits for the badly damaged Aston, leaving the desperately unlucky Canadian with nowhere to hide.

The SMP Racing Ferrari of Victor Shaytar, Andrea Bertolini and Aleksey Basov had kept the British team within touching distance throughout the race and whilst somewhat fortunate to inherit the win they were fast enough to cross the line in 20th position overall, the second GT car home, and just 5 laps down on the GTE-PRO winning Corvette.  Pretty impressive stuff by the Russian based squad. GTE-AMWinners

TALKING POINT – NICO HULKENBERG

In the 50’s and 60’s it was common place for F1 drivers to take part in the world’s greatest endurance race, but since then very few drivers have combined both; partly due to an increased number of Grand Prix but mainly due to restrictions imposed by the F1 teams.  It was therefore a breath of fresh air to not only hear that Nico Hülkenberg had approached Porsche about taking part, but more importantly Force India had allowed him to take up the opportunity.

With such strong factory driver line ups, Hülkenberg, Tandy and Bamber, having not much experience of racing together, would not have featured in many peoples winning predictions.  But whilst everyone loves an underdog, not all are seeing a current F1 driver standing on the top step of the podium in a positive light.

Social Media jokes along the lines of “Weekend off, won Le Mans” taken out of context could suggest that the great race is too easy as well as undermining the contribution of Tandy and Bamber.  However, the way I see it, a driver of Hülkenberg’s calibre winning Le Mans can only help promote the event and the WEC in general.  Casual F1 fans with previous vague understandings of Le Mans may delve further into the concept and the traditionally none motorsport press are more likely to report it.  The more interest, the more likely current manufacturers will stay around and the greater potential for others to be attracted.

After-all, this wasn’t just any F1 driver who claimed 24 hour glory but in the eyes of many (myself included) one of the most under-rated drivers in the F1 paddock.  Of the current crop, the tall 27 year old is the only man to boast a better junior formula record than Lewis Hamilton.  And combined with his F1 performances, his height is perhaps the only thing stopping the likeable German from obtaining the top level seat he deserves.

Tandy and Bamber may well not achieve the same column inches as their illustrious team mate, but then they haven’t had the same level of prolonged success.  What really matters is that those in the know, especially those in the Sportscar press appreciate the fact that Sportscar Racing is most definitely a team sport, more so than any other motorsport formula.  Rightly so, Tandy was many people’s star of the race for his demon Saturday night and Sunday morning stints, whilst it was Bamber who set the car’s fastest lap and none of it would have been possible without the slick work of their pit crew.

Overall I was most impressed by how well the trio gelled together in such a short space of time; creating a setup which clearly worked for all 3 drivers during the race and going on to achieve one of the greatest feats in recent endurance racing history.  The winning driver line up formed from 3 Le Mans LMP rookies with just 4 starts between them.  I just hope they get the chance to defend their crown!

GALLERY

All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)

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The Le Mans experience 2014

With three major teams in with a shot at taking victory and an unbelievable weather forecast the 2014 trip to Le Mans was eagerly anticipated.  Annual leave restrictions and work load, although meaning a shorter visit this year, were not going to stop us heading to the circuit de la sarthe for the fourth time in as many years.

THURSDAY

StickeredUP

A 1.30am alarm clock was different to say the least!  However this was nothing compared to Dad’s 11.30pm Wednesday night buzzer in order to pick me up.  A quick driver change (not quite up to Audi’s efficiency) saw me take the wheel for the second stint and in little over 3 hours life seemed normal again after annihilating a McDonald’s breakfast at Maidstone Services.  There were 2 reasons for the ridiculously early start: 1> To make sure our diversion around the famously destroyed Rouen bridge would actually work and 2> I just had to make the thursday night pole position shoot out.

Travelling on the Thursday does have its benefits.  This happens to be the most popular day for Brits to make the journey down, and arriving slightly early at Folkestone for the Channel Tunnel allows time to have a good look around some of the stunning sportscars parked up ready to board the big train to Calais.  The ferry may be cheaper but with the crossing taking roughly 30 minutes I wouldn’t consider any other method of traversing the Channel.

Dad had pulled off a master stroke with his Rouen diversion and after a reasonable amount of Euros spent on the tolls, the consumption of two family sized bags of sweets and a couple of stops to prevent the old man falling asleep at the wheel we had reached our destination.

Having read the horror stories, on-track camping has never really appealed to us.  Instead, for the fourth successive year, we pitched up at the beautiful Chateau de Chanteloup (a mere 15 miles from the track).

Chanteloup

I cannot recommend this site highly enough.  It may not be the cheapest option but it attracts a friendly crowd of mostly Brits with the odd Dutchman and German thrown in.  The owners have massively bought into the 24 hour week.  The football is shown on a huge widescreen TV, there is a live band and they even put on a car show.  For people not wanting to drive to the circuit there is a meeting point to set up for taxi groupings, whilst on-site Brit Assist is available for any car related problems.  And most importantly there are a damn site more clean toilets and showers per head!

With what seemed like plenty of time to spare we headed off to qualifying.  MISTAKE – Having followed the blue car parks signs to our pre paid car park we got caught up in the queues for circuit camping.  Some 2 hours later we were parked up having missed the first 30 minutes of the first session.  However this was no real problem as the expected pole setting final session would not start until 10pm.

On track, early suspicion about Porsche going for pole was confirmed with both cars looking strong.  Early on in the final session however it was the super fast Kazuki Nakajima in the much favoured #7 Toyota who would head to the top of the times.

PoleSitters

After a mid session lull the final 30 minutes were eagerly awaited. Many crews not aiming for position but merely wanting to ensure that all drivers have done the necessary laps tend to call it a day by 11.30pm.  This leaves more space on track for the main players to battle it out for the top spots in the cooler, faster conditions.  It was therefore massively disappointing that ex Formula 1 driver Karun Chandhok would go off and cause a new for 2014 ‘slow zone’ for the remainder of the session.  This represented a huge anti-climax to a very long and tiring day.  It was however worth the effort to see Dad’s infamous falling asleep whilst stood up act, which was met with great amusement by several passers by.  He had been up for more than 24 hours however and did a great job of getting us back to base by 1am.

FRIDAY

After a very tiring day a relaxing Friday was definitely what the doctor ordered.  With no track activity we decided to head to the very popular ‘Great British Welcome’ car show at Saint Saturnin.

SaintSaturnin_Panorama

This was made extra special with it being a Porsche celebration year as fine examples of the German Marque were everywhere.  The race going 935 and the classic 356 were my particular favourites.  Not forgetting a fine set of TVR’s and a stunning classic Corvette Stingray.

356

With mad queues around Arnage we decided to head back to the site to sink a couple of Saint Omer beers whilst splitting our attention between the World Cup, the traditional on-site car show and the very good JC & The Two-Steps band who were playing live on the terrace.  The best Le Mans weather in ten years was only adding to the pre-race excitement.

CarShow

RACE DAY (S)

With an estimated 260,000 spectators attending the race, a grandstand seat is a must and the Ford Chicane gives a great view of the start and end to this marathon of an event.  Thus also allowing for a relaxing morning watching the support events and milling around the mechandise stands.  The total cost of entry including a guaranteed seat with an excellent view still amounting to less than general admission for the British GP!  Which just goes to show that F1 is one almighty rip off!

Having fond childhood memories of the Wheatcroft Gold Cup races at Donington it is always a pleasure to see the fabulous Group C machines on track;  I would have loved to have seen these in period at Le Mans.  It was a mighty shame however that Derek Bell didn’t get chance to get behind the wheel; car problems preventing the 956 from making the start.  We did however see a couple of Sauber Mercedes C11’s, a plethora of Porsche 956 and 962’s, the Nissan R90CK and of course a couple of Jags.

Merc_GroupC BigCat

There is nothing quite like the start of the 24 hour race at Le Mans.  The long formation lap and awesome atmosphere created by a huge crowd gets the butterflies fluttering in the stomach; everyone on their feet as the rolling grid appears at Ford Chicane, followed by the almighty roar as 50 odd drivers step on the loud pedal at the sudden appearance of the green light.

The ultimate pace of the Toyota’s was evident from the start, however Audi looked to be stronger in race trim and were not dropping back as quickly as expected.  Porsche however were struggling and were swallowed up by their sister marques.

Although rain showers were forecast no-one could have anticipated the velocity at which it came down.  With some cars trying to stay out on slicks or intemediates and others on wets the difference in speed on the Mulsanne Straight was massive.  It is questionable whether the #8 Toyota in the hands of Nic Lapierre and Sam Bird in the #81 AF Corse Ferrari were taking too much of a risk in the conditions as they went off; Bird’s Ferrari colliding with the slow #3 Audi of Marco Bonanomi.  The #3 and #81 would be out on the spot but the #8 Toyota somehow made it back to the pits.  It was effectively out the running for the victory though having lost several laps whilst repairs took place.

The remaining #7 Toyota managed to hold a healthy lead of roughly 2 minutes as the cars headed into the night with the two Porsche’s and two remaining Audi’s in pursuit.  When I left the circuit at roughly 3.30am for a couple of hours sleep It looked like the Japanese manufacturer was well on the way to victory.  But as we all know anything can happen in this long slog of an event and I awoke at 5.30am to the devastating news that the sole remaining TS040 had retired with electronic failure.

This however did throw the race wide open and there was little to chose between the two Audi’s and the #20 Porsche of Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and Mark Webber.  And it would be the latter crew who would find themselves in the lead after both the #1 Audi and then the #2 both suffered turbo failure.  The #2 managing to maintain an advantage over their team-mates thanks to the learning curve of the mechanics; shaving minutes off the time to replace the turbo at the second time of asking.

The Porsche unfortunately just didn’t seem to have the pace as the race entered the closing stages and it looked like the Audi’s would catch it by the time the chequered flag was dropped.   The spectators were in fact robbed of any battle taking place on track as Webber would soon have to retire the ailing #20 car.  This left Audi to take yet another 1-2 finish and their 13th victory in the last 15 years.  In my opinion this ranks right up there with their unlikely victories over the super fast Peugeot’s in the late 2000’s.

Winners_TRIM

It is refreshing that the new technology in the top LMP class has added back the reliability factor, with the race winning Audi still spending nearly 1 hour of the event in the pit lane!  The race this year bears a little resemblance to the story of the Tortoise and the Hare; Toyota may have the faster car, in fact I am sure they will claim this year’s WEC crown but that is little consolation for retiring from the one event on the calendar that really matters!  This may be a little cruel on Toyota but Audi know better than anyone that to finish first, first you have to finish.  I hope I am wrong but I am not sure the Japanese manufacturer will get a better chance of taking the crown.

The battle in GT was even better than the fight for overall victory.  For much of the race there was absolutely nothing between the #97 works Aston Martin, the #51 AF Corse Ferrari and the #74 Corvette.  By dawn the American muscle car had dropped back but Bruno Senna was flying in the Aston and took the lead just after sunrise.  It was short lived however as power steering issues would cost AMR the chance of victory.  This left the very strong #51 AF Corse crew of Gianmaria Bruni, Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander to take the top spot in GT PRO.  The #73 Corvette and #92 Porsche would round out the podium.

#51

In P2, the #35 Oak Racing Ligier, #46 TDS Racing Ligier and #36 Signatech Alpine all looked fast and capable of taking class honours.  By morning however, the #36 had lost time, the Oak Racing car piloted by Alex Brundle, Red bull man Jann Mardenborough and GT Academy graduate Mark Shulzhitskiy was suffering with a misfire and suspension failure hampered the #46 Ligier.

The #38 Jota Sport Zytek meanwhile was going like a tank.  With all of silver driver, Simon Dolan’s, alloted driving time out of the way, it was left to the strong duo of Oliver Turvey and Harry Tincknell to bring the car home.  And that they did with a fantastic 5th overall!

JOTA

It was great to see just how much it meant to Tincknell and Turvey as they leapt onto the podium at the end of the race; Turvey being a last minute addition to the squad to replace Audi bound Marc Gene; who in turn was a late replacement for the injured Loic Duval.

In GT AM I was absolutely delighted to see the #95 (Dane Train) Aston Martin of Kristian Poulsen, David Heinemeier Hansson and Nicki Thim take a very emotional victory.  This was ultra fitting after the tragic loss of the super fast Allan Simonsen in the early laps of the 2013 event.

AMVictors

Early on Sam Bird had set the pace in the #81 AF Corse Ferrari only to be caught out by the rain.  The #98 Aston Martin was also in the mix but it was the #88 Porsche of Christian Ried, Klaus Bachler and Khaled Al Qubaisi who would come home second followed by the #61 AF Corse Ferrari of Luis Perez Companc, Marco Cioci and Mirko Venturi.

Another first for this year was getting on to the pit straight at the end of the race to see the podium celebrations.  This was particularly special given the reception the #95 Aston crew received from the many Danes in attendance.  I didn’t understand the winner’s speech but I imagine it contained some very nice words about their late, very rapid 2013 Le Mans team-mate.

Having got to the track early on Saturday morning Dad had managed to park the car on the second row, meaning we were back at the camp site in no time.  Just time to watch the France vs Honduras world cup game before a relatively early night in preparation for the long journey home.  By 8pm, after a couple of stops and again avoiding Rouen bridge, I was back in Birmingham.  This had been another great couple of days in Central France.

RESULTS

1 (LMP1-H) Marcel FÄSSLER, André LOTTERER, Benoit TRÉLUYER / Audi R18 e-tron quattro – 379 Laps
2 (LMP1-H) Lucas DI GRASSI, Marc GENÉ, Tom KRISTENSEN / Audi R18 e-tron quattro – 376 Laps
3 (LMP1-H) Anthony DAVIDSON, Nicolas LAPIERRE, Sébastien BUEMI / Toyota TS 040 – Hybrid – 374 Laps
4 (LMP1-L) Nicolas PROST, Nick HEIDFELD, Mathias BECHE / Rebellion R-One – Toyota – 360 Laps
5 (LMP2) Simon DOLAN, Harry TINCKNELL, Oliver TURVEY / Zytek Z11SN – Nissan – 356 Laps
6 (LMP2) Pierre THIRIET, Ludovic BADEY, Tristan GOMMENDY / Ligier JS P2 – Nissan – 355 Laps
7 (LMP2) Paul-Loup CHATIN, Nelson PANCIATICI, Oliver WEBB / Alpine A450b – Nissan – 355 Laps
8 (LMP2) René RAST, Jan CHAROUZ, Vincent CAPILLAIRE / Oreca 03R – Nissan – 354 Laps
9 (LMP2) Alex BRUNDLE, Jann MARDENBOROUGH, Mark SHULZHITSKIY / Ligier – Nissan – 354 Laps
10 (LMP2) Christian KLIEN, Gary HIRSCH, Romain BRANDELA / Morgan – Judd – 352 Laps

15 (LMGTE PRO) Gianmaria BRUNI, Toni VILANDER, Giancarlo FISICHELLA / Ferrari 458 Italia – 339 Laps
16 (LMGTE PRO) Jan MAGNUSSEN, Antonio GARCIA, Jordan TAYLOR / Chevrolet Corvette – C7 – 338 Laps
17 (LMGTE PRO) Marco HOLZER, Frédéric MAKOWIECKI, Richard LIETZ / Porsche 911 RSR – 337 Laps
19 (LMGTE AM) Kristian POULSEN, David HEINEMEIER-HANSSON, Nicki THIIM / Aston Martin Vantage V8 – 334 Laps
21 (LMGTE AM) Christian RIED, Klaus BACHLER, Khaled AL QUBAISI / Porsche 911 RSR – 332 Laps
22 (LMGTE AM) Luis PEREZ-COMPANC, Marco CIOCI, Mirko VENTURI / Ferrari 458 Italia – 331 Laps

All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)

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