Another thrilling 24 Hours of Le Mans came to an end at 3 pm CET today. Victories were celebrated by Audi, Jota Zytek and Ferrari as their cars all headed their respective fields. The event was run for the 82nd time and Audi took the overall win in the LMP1 class for the fourteenth time, despite being run closer than ever before by Toyota and Porsche.
The race started with Ferrari Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso dropping the French Tricoloure at 3 pm on Saturday. 54 cars crossed the line, of which, 37 officially finished. We have a complete roundup of the events below, having watched it all unfold from the comfort of the Audi hospitality suite!
The Number 2 Audi Sport Joest R18 e-tron crossed the finishing line first, three laps ahead of the Number 1 car. The Number 2 car was piloted by Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benoît Tréluyer with Tréluyer crossing the chequered flag flanked by Tom Kristensen in the Number 2 car for a photo finish. Final place on the podium went to the unlucky Toyota TS040 Hybrid.
The starting positions for the race had been predetermined by qualifying the previous day. Audi had underperformed and found themselves sitting behind both pole sitting number 7 Toyota and third place number 8 car. Both Porsche entrants also qualified higher with the number 14 car second and the number 20 car fourth. Rebellion racing sat within their own unique position as the only LMP1 can not to use a hybrid drivetrain. They qualified almost 8 seconds slower than the fastest Toyota.
As the race got underway, it become clear that qualifying pace wasn’t necessarily representative of race pace. While Alexander Wurz behind the wheel of the number 7 Toyota established himself at the head of the pack, both Andre Lotterer and Marco Bonanomi had managed to work their way to second and third place. The number 20 Porsche suffered a fuel pump pressure issue forcing a 9-minute stint with the engineers.
The second hour of the race bought drama with torrential rain slowing the cars. A big incident on the Mulsanne Straight forced early retirement for the Audi number 3 car and a fair amount of damage to the number 8 Toyota. The Audi appeared to be running behind a set of slower cars when the Toyota came from behind, lost control and clipped the Audi. The Bird’s GTE Am AF Corse Ferrari then smashed into the back of the Audi, ending the race for both cars.
This inevitably forced a prolonged safety car period which worked well for the leading Toyota car which maintained its lead. The number 20 Porsche also managed to work its way back up to third despite its earlier issues. Once the debris had cleared the track appeared to be drying very quickly. Unfortunately, this did not last as a second torrential downpour slowed the race to a crawl once again.
With Stephane Sarrazin behind the wheel of the number 7 Toyota, the weather played into the hands of Timo Bernhard in the number 20 Porsche which looked superior as it took the lead for the first time. By this time, after 49 minutes of repairs, the number 8 Toyota had rejoined the race with Sebastien Buemi at the wheel.
As the hours went by, Toyota and Porsche began to dual for the lead position once again, Toyota emerging victorious going into the fifth hour. The Porsche eventually fell victim to the ever-present Audi cars. After seven hours, the number 7 Toyota had carved out a lead of an entire lap, thanks in part to some favourable safety car periods.
As darkness descended, the Toyota continued to take seconds out of the Audi. It looked dominant as Audi failed to get close until Andre Lotterer managed to find some pace (mainly due to some aerodynamic changes which helped with tyre efficiency), bringing the number 2 Audi within 2 minutes of the Toyota. Meanwhile, the number 1 Audi suffered from power loss caused by a broken fuel injector, coasting round for part of the lap before pitting for remedial work.
The number 14 Porsche also suffered a second fuel pressure failure which pushed it further down the rankings. Unfortunately, the problems didn’t stop there as the leading Toyota also pulled to the side of the circuit suffering crippling electrical problems, forcing its retirement. It left the number 2 Audi ahead of a Porsche and the number 1 Audi in third. The number 8 Toyota continued to push hard though and ended the fourth hour in fifth!
It wasn’t long before the number 1 Audi overtook the slower Porsche. The number 8 Toyota also managed to capitalise on a mistake by Lieb in the second Porsche, jumping past to take fourth position overall. Turbo problems then plagued the number 2 Audi, which lost its lead to the number 1 car and second place to the number 20 Porsche.
It wasn’t long before the number 20 Porsche slipped back though. Problems eventually forced its retirement alongside the number 14 car. Rumours suggest that similar problems plagued both cars. This meant that Audi took the 1-2 at Le Mans yet again with the number 2 car leading the number 1 car home!
LMP2 was one of the more interesting battles over the 24 hours. Having started the race in seventh, Alexander Imperatori pushed his number 48 Oreca up to top of the class. The Nissan ZEOD RC had been entered in the experimental class, however, it lost drive at the Porsche Curves on the first few laps, forcing its retirement. The SMP Racing cars both suffered left-rear suspension and engine problems in the first hour.
The race opened up a little though with the number 47 KCMG ORECA taking the lead ahead before an accident gifted the number 34 Race Performance ORECA the lead. By the third hour the number 34 Race Performance ORECA had pulled out a lead of over a minute and a half. The 36 Signatech Alpine ORECA was the nearest car with three LMP2 cars suffering damage during the first period of rain.
Fantastic driving by Alex Brundle saw his 35 Oak Ligier-Nissan JSP2 take a slender lead from the number 34 car. He quickly turned this into a convincing lead in the following hours and as darkness descended. Hour 8 of the race saw the official retirement of the number 47 KCMG ORECA which had been competitive at the start.
Things tend to go quiet for longer periods under darkness. This was true of the LMP2 class with the number 35 car proving its dominance over the field. The Signatech Alpine ORECA of Pierre-Loup Chatin held second ahead of the number 34 Race Performance ORECA. This didn’t change for the entire night with LMP2 proving to be the most consistent of all the racing categories.
Drama saw the number 35 car suffer rear braking problems initially. It quickly recovered to retake the lead from the number 46 TDS Ligier after it suffered a crippling puncture. The eventual winner of the LMP2 class emerged as the number 38 Jota Zytek though after the 35 and 46 cars were both unable to recover from their own respective incidents. The 35 car eventually limping home in fourth after developing a misfire in the engine. It just wasn’t to be the No. 35 OAK Racing Ligier JS P2 Nissan’s year.
The race started with the number 81 AF Corse Ferrari of Gianmaria Bruni, which had taken pole in qualifying, taking an early lead. After clearing traffic, the Corvette of Jan Magnussen managed to pass, only to have the Ferrari sail past again during the first round of pitstops. Once the rain began to fall, a bold decision to stay on slick tyres saw Oliver Gavin in Corvette number 74 take the lead, and the safety car advantage. The Manthey Porsche’s moved into second and third position.
Pit stops soon meant that the Manthey cars of Marco Holzer and Jorg Bergmeister took the lead. The number 74 Corvette didn’t take long to regain the lead, although the fight was fierce with Porsche, Ferrari and Aston Martin all within a minute of each other. Tommy Milner soon carved out a commanding lead for the Corvette C7.R though, leaving the two Manthey Porsches behind. They were soon passed by Tony Vilander in his AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia. Bruno Senna’s Aston Martin Vantage also managed to pass the two Porsches.
The Corvette managed to hold the lead for quite a while with Senna doing a fantastic job in the Vantage. By the time Senna handed over to Darren Turner, the number 97 Aston Martin was able to take the lead from the Corvette. The Aston Martin was untroubled until Giancarlo Fisichella overtook in his AF Corse Ferrari, only for Turner to retake the lead once again as Fisichella struggled with handling. Meanwhile, the Corvettes began to make up lost ground.
Things really started to hot up as the track got completely dark. Aston Martin, Corvette and Ferrari ended up within meters of each other with Bruno Senna remaining composed under extreme pressure. It wasn’t until hour 13 that the AF Corse Ferrari with Giancarlo Fisichella behind the wheel managed to relieve the Aston Martin of its lead. It didn’t take long for the Aston Martin, complete with new tyres, to prove it was the faster car though.
A brake change for the Aston Martin gifted the lead back to the Ferrari and it became clear that the struggle would be between Aston Martin and Ferrari for the overall win as they exchanged places. The AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia eventually won the struggle, the Aston Martin suffering a setback which relegated it down the grid.