2017 24 Hours of Le Mans: LMP1 Analysis


Porsche LMP Team, Porsche 919 Hybrid, LMP1, #2, Timo Bernhard, Earl Bamber, Brendon Hartley, 24 Hours of Le Mans Le Mans Circuit de la Sarthe France © Craig Robertson

A chaotic 24 Hours of Le Mans saw only two of the five LMP1-Hybrid cars take the chequered flag. The ByKolles Racing #4 only made it around half an hour into the race, giving one of the smallest LMP1 finishing rates in the history of Le Mans. Although two made it to the end of the race, none of the cars got to the end without issues. The winning #2 Porsche had spent an hour in the garage with a hydraulic issue in the first six hours of the race. This lead to an LMP2 car nearly taking the overall victory.

It seemed that the extremely hot temperatures of the Le Mans weekend could have contributed to the difficulties that the hybrid teams suffered. With a 25-car strong grid, the LMP2 grid was the one expected to have the most retirees, but only a few of those cars failed to make it to the end. In a race where the LMP1 cars are usually so dominant it was greatly shocking that two LMP2 cars were on the overall podium, leading to a need for a separate LMP1 podium, something that may not have ever happened before.

As mentioned above, the track and air temperatures were abnormally high for the Le Mans weekend, much higher than they had been at the test a fortnight before. It is assumed that the hybrid systems overheated in the continuous running, something that had been seen in the running leading to the 24-hour endurance event. Brendon Hartley got stranded in one of the night qualifying sessions because his engine had over heated and it was not safe to keep running it. If the night temperatures could have this effect on the hybrid machines, it is a wonder that any of the LMLP1-Hybrids made it through the whole 24 hour race.

The first problem fell onto the winners of the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans. A front-end hydraulic failure saw Earl Bamber become the first victim of the temperature at Le Mans. The team were able to fix the issue but it lost them an hour of track time, dropping them right down the field. It was only due to the other LMP1 cars also hitting issues, the ten seconds a lap advantage the LMP1s have on the LMP2s and Hartley’s incredible final stints that put the #2 Porsche in the position to win the race.

Porsche LMP Team #2 © Craig Robertson

The #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing car was the start of the midnight woes for the Japanese team. It was hit with a similar issue to the one the #2 suffered and was pushed into the garage for hydraulic repairs. The repair time was what lost the chance of fighting back for the podium for the team. Where Porsche lost around an hour in the garage, the Toyota was stopped for nearly two. With less of the race left to recover the lost time it was the best they could do to classify sixth overall.

The failure of the #7 was probably the most heart-breaking retirement of the entire race. From such a competitive lead that they had held from the start of the race, Kamui Kobayashi pulled the #7 to a halt coming down the Mulsanne Straight due to a clutch failure. A safety car period had just ended, in which Kobayashi had pitted for fuel and tyres. It has been suggested that three false starts waiting for the next safety car pack to come passed cause the clutch to wear out, ultimately leading it to fail completely once Kobayashi had gotten back to speed. Kobayashi did not make it back to the pits and became the first LMP1 to retire.

Toyota had the worse hour in their racing career as minutes later their third Toyota was seen coming slowly down the Mulsanne Straight with a rear right puncture. The puncture had come about due to contact with the #25 CEFC Manor TDS Racing car that had instantly retired from the incident. Nicolas Lapierre was also stuck in fifth gear, meaning that he could not drive the car back to the pits slowly. This resulted in heavy rear damage to the car that eventually caught on fire. He also could not get back to the pits and retired on track, leaving Toyota with only one car remaining, two hours down on the rest of the field.

Le Mans was not finished with the drama. With three hours left on the clock, Andre Lotterer pulled the leading Porsche to the side of the track. An oil pressure issue saw the Porsche, with a twelve lap advantage, stationary as the rest of the track lapped around. It was an unbelievable display of hybrid technology failures, calling many fans to claim that the race was a joke and a disgrace to the LMP1-Hybrid teams.

With so many of the class not finishing and only one car standing on the overall podium, the World Endurance Championship driver’s world title has swung severely into the hands of the #2 Porsche team. Hartley, Bamber and Timo Bernhard now lead the Driver’s Championship with 83 points, whilst the #8 Toyota crew are second with 66 points after being classified overall in sixth. However, with their second place overall, scoring 36 points at the double-points scoring round, the LMP2 #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing  car is a comfortable third place, only 16 points behind the Toyota team. With them scoring full points in class for the remaining rounds of the season, they could pose a threat to those fighting for the Driver’s Championship. The other three LMP1-Hybrid cars are now completely out of contention for the Driver’s title, as losing so many points by not classifying means they are at least 45 points off the Championship leaders.