After a qualifying session which saw them thwarted by Ferraris in the quest for pole position the Porsches of Team Felbermayr-Proton rallied to take the ultimate spoils away from the Le Mans Series opener in Southern France.
The German based team took a triumphant 1-2 finish with defending class champions Marc Lieb and Richard Lietz finishing the 8 Hours of Le Castellet two laps clear of their teammates – fellow Porsche works drivers Patrick Long and Martin Ragginger and team owner Christian Reid in the sister no.88 car.
The race became even more important due to its eight hour, timed, duration the overall winner completing more than 1,500km meaning that double points were awarded, Lieb and Lietz taking 30 points towards defending their crown
“We are over the moon and unbelievably relieved to have so clearly won this race with its many and varied challenges,” said Lieb. “One of the cornerstones of this success was again the impressive overall efficiency of our 911 GT3 RSR. We completed the race distance with one less pit stop than the Ferrari.”
While the apparent fuel economy was a major part in sending the duo to the top step of podium,it was not an untroubled win, brief problems with refuelling rig led to a slow stop and the car had lost all damping in the front suspension by the end of the race, the nose of the car “jumping like hell” according to the drivers.
Arguably even more jubilant at the result were the drivers of the second place car. “This is absolutely fabulous,” beamed Porsche junior driver Ragginger. “The whole team did a fantastic job, our 911 ran perfectly and our driver combination worked like a dream. None of us made a mistake. Now it's party time!”
The achievement was, perhaps, greatest for Ried who was in his own words “wasn't as good as [he]’d hoped, but better than [he] feared,” who was the highest placed 'gentleman driver' in an increasingly professional class of racing. As if you prove that the car he shared only took second place in class in the final half hour when the AF Corse Ferrari of Toni Vilander and F1 race winners Jean Alesi and Giancarlo Fisichella pitted with a punctured tyres.
They would finish third, ahead of two more of the Italian machines and the works BMW M3, the pole sitting Ferrari retired.
Less lucky were the other two Porsches in the field. The IMSA Performance car looked to have strong chance of victory as Works driver Patrick Pilet leapt from starting eighth in class to leading within 30 minutes of the green flag. However, at roughly half-distance the car suffered a suspension failure which lost the all-French team 14 laps.
Worse luck still was encountered by series debutants Prospeed Competition. Like IMSA Performance the car, driven by Richard Westbrook and Marco Holzer was making its way up the order after a poor qualifying before having to endure the indignity of running out of fuel just 300 metres before the pitlane as the German prepared for a scheduled pitstop.
“We were going great guns and could have reached the top five,” mourned the 21-year-old Holzer. “But we're looking ahead now and will go for it again in Spa – after the experience of this weekend we'll be better prepared.”