2017 24 Hours of Le Mans: Porsche Score a Hattrick with Action-Packed Le Mans


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

In one of the most thrilling 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Porsche #2 crew came back from having lost an hour in the garage to take the top step of the overall podium. A manic twist of events saw the #2 of Brendon HartleyTimo Bernhard and Earl Bamber as the only LMP1 entry to finish on the lead lap. The LMP2 #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECA nearly took the overall victory as the LMP1s appeared to not be able to stand the heat.

The GTE class finished with a wheel-to-wheel battle for the class victory, with Jonny Adam pushing Ricky Taylor into a defensive mistake to claim victory for Aston Martin Racing in LM GTE Pro. But all the Astons fell off of the title challenge in LM GTE Am and left the podium for a Ferrari domination, with JMW Motorsport taking home the victory after leading from about the twelfth hour.

24 Hours of Le Mans Overall Podium © Craig Robertson

None of the LMP1 cars made it to the finish line without issue. Both the #2 Porsche and the #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing cars lost time parked in the garage due to hybrid issues. But they were the only two LMP1 cars to be classified or even see the chequered flag. The #4 ByKolles Racing lasted around half an hour before it retired into the pits with engine issues. Porsche came out on top of the hybrid garage battle, putting them in the position to fight back for the win, as they were able to repair the issue in just over an hour whilst it took Toyota just over two. The extra hour lost in the garage meant that Anthony DavidsonSebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima could only climb back to 9th overall.

Misfortune struck for Toyota in the middle of the night. The #7 had been leading the field competitively when a clutch failure hit the car just after the Safety Car returned to the pits for debris on the track. Kamui Kobayashi tried to limp the TS050-Hybrid bake to the pits with no clutch but he had to pull the car to a stop at the Porsche Curves, retiring the leading car from the race.

With one car out and one car stuck in the pits, all attention fell to the #9 Toyota for their hopes of chasing down the then-leading #1 Porsche for the overall victory. Not mere minutes after the #7 had retired, Nicolas Lapierre was seen with a puncture going down the Mulsanne Straight. But a gearbox failure meant the Frenchman was stuck in fifth gear and unable to slow the car down. Horrific rear body work damage befell on the car from the shredded tyre, eventually catching the rear of the #9 on fire. Lapierre got the #9 to the Ford Chicane before it could not be restarted and he had to leave the car, dropping two Toyotas from the race in the space of twenty minutes.

It looked like the #1 was going to be the only LMP1 car to not suffer any issues during the 24-hour endurance race, but with just three hours remaining on the clock to bad luck hit their car too. Andre Lotterer had been leading by a comfortable 12 laps from second place overall when the Porsche dropped a lot of speed going through Tetre Rouge. As much as he fought with the stationary car, parked on Mulsanne Straight, the oil pressure failure was not something he could fix. Unable to get the car back to the pits on electric power alone, Lotterer was forced to retire the leading Porsche from the race.

Hartley put in some of the most impressive stints in the race to close down on the leading LMP2 car and take the lead of the race with an hour left on the clock. Both Porsche and Jackie Chan DC Racing’s calculations had worked out that the Porsche would be on top of the #38 as the race drew to a close, but Hartley’s stellar lap times closed the gap rapidly enough for Bernhard to be in position to take the lead when Hartley handed the car over for the last hour.

Jackie Chan DC Racing #38, 24 Hours of Le Mans © Craig Robertson

Oliver Jarvis had been in a great position, looking to win Le Mans overall with an LMP2 car the year after his LMP1 programme had been dropped. However, until the last stages of the race it had been Vaillante Rebellion‘s race to lose. Late issues for both Rebellion cars saw the #38 pull away from the LMP2 field and be in a comfortable position to take the overall win had Hartley not flown through the grid.

The #31 Rebellion suffered worse than the sister car as a long stint in the garage with around two hours to go, dropping them completely down the LMP2 order and off the class podium. Behind the leader, the pack was close, and when the #13 was hit with starter issues the #35 Signatech Alpine ORECA sense the chance of the bottom step of the overall podium.

Unfortunately for the Signatech team, their pace was not great enough to keep up with the front runners of the class. the second Jackie Chan car made the pass on them look easy as it chased down the overall podium. Despite the issues, having to remove the engine cover to manually start the car at every pit stop, and the penalties they suffered for pit stop infringements, the #13 Rebellion held on to second in class, meaning they stood on the bottom step of the overall podium.

However, a post-race investigation saw the #13 Vaillante Rebellion had illegal modifications to the car’s body work, and so the team was disqualified, promoting Jackie Chan DC Racing to a two-three on the overall podium and a one-two on the LMP2 class podium. The Rebellion team had cut a hole in the engine cover so they could reach the starter motor to manually start it without taking the cover off. This is why they were disqualified.

24 Hours of Le Mans © Craig Robertson

Aston Martin and Corvette Racing had been battling for the lead of the class throughout the final stages of the race. The pit stop cycle had given the #63 Corvette the advantage, ending each hour in front. But Aston had an impressive pace and kept the pressure high as they chased down the class victory.

As the chequered flag loomed closer to flying, half a second separated Adam and Taylor. Just a few laps remained when Adam tried a move going into Arnage, but he went too deep exiting the corner, allowing Taylor to easily recover the position he had just lost. The pair’s wheel-to-wheel race had the spectators captivated and on the edge of their seats, displaying some excellent racing from both of the competitors.

A suspected brake failure hit the #63 Corvette in the last two laps of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Taylor tried to nurse the car back, but failed to make the Michelin Chicane on the Mulsanne Straight. This pulled the Corvette into an unfair advantage and, wanting to not risk a post-race penalty with Adam so close behind, Taylor dropped off a little to allow Adam closer. Adam had lost about a second in the Arnage move that Taylor’s mistake had handed him back.

Adam was patient as he closed in on Taylor. heading through the final sector of the lap, Adam remained on Taylor’s bumper, but made no attempt to overtake the Corvette. Over defending, Taylor went wide coming out of the Ford Chicane, opening the door for Adam to get up alongside him. With a better pace, and a little wheel-to-wheel nudge, Adam got the #97 Aston Martin Racing car in front and went on to take the Pro-class victory.

 

 

There was a failure of sorts on Taylor’s car as it significantly slowed as it embarked on the final lap of the race. Either a brake failure or a puncture caused Taylor to drive as carefully as he could for the last eight miles of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Third-placed Harry Thinknell had been about forty seconds behind the lead battle in the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK, but Taylor’s slowed pace allowed him to pass the Corvette, taking second in class. Taylor managed to hold onto third.

24 Hours of Le Mans © Craig Robertson

 

 

Of all the classes, the Am class had the least action. The Aston Martin entries had been in a close fight with the Ferrari entries for most of the race, but each of them (bar the #99 Beechdean AMR team) suffered a mechanical issue that put them in the garage and out of contention.

The World Endurance Championship regular, #98 Aston Martin Racing, was leading when it suffered a tyre blow out. Whether it was a puncture or a tyre blow out is currently unknown, but the team lost a lot of time in the garage repairing the bodywork and the car which dropped them too far down the order to recover to the podium. Pedro Lamy was making good progress through the final stages but his pace was not enough to take the front of the field.

European Le Mans Series #90 TF Sport looked to be the closest challenger for the leading #84 Ferrari. Sitting comfortably second in class, a mistake in the middle of the night from one of the Am drivers saw the car in the barrier. It was able to recover itself to the pits but there were extensive repairs needed on the car.

With two of the three Astons out of contention, Ferrari entrants went on to make it an all-Ferrari podium. JMW finished over a lap ahead of the second place competitors #55 Spirit of Race. The best finishing Aston Martin was the #99 Beechdean. They finished on the same lap as third-placed #62 Scuderia Corsa but Ross Gunn was too far behind to challenge for the final podium position.