One of the most interesting battles in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans was in the LMGTE Pro class, and despite being the smallest category, we got some fantastic racing from it.
The 9 car entry list was reduced to 8 before the race even began, with the #63 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7R unable to even start the race. This came after Jan Magnussen suffered from a crash at the Porsche Curves during final qualifying, destroying the car to a state that was beyond repair without returning to the Michigan factory. The team of Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia and Ryan Briscoe could therefore not even enter the race, seemingly harming Corvette’s chances of taking the class win.
Starting from LMGTE Pro pole position was the #99 Aston Martin Racing Vantage V8. By the end of the first lap, though, it would be AF Corse in the lead, with the #51 Ferrari 458 Italia. Soon after, the polesitter re-took the lead, before losing it to its sister #95 Aston Martin. This meant that the class had three different leaders within the first 25 minutes of the race.
The first retirement of the race came just before the 1 hour mark, when the #92 Porsche Team Manthey 911 RSR was forced to end its race early. This came after contact at the Forza chicane, causing an oil fire. With Patrick Pilet, Frédéric Makowiecki and Wolf Henzler out of the race, just one Porsche remained to challenge for the class win.
Only one other car wouldn’t finish the race, and this was the #97 Aston Martin Racing Vantage V8 ‘art car’ of Darren Turner, Stefan Mücke and Rob Bell. This car stopped on the side of the track on its 110th lap, around 8 hours into the race. AMR later stated that the problem was caused by an engine failure.
The lead battle was between the top 3 cars for most of the race. These were the #51 and #71 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italias and the #64 Corvette, but the #99 Aston Martin was also in the mix for the first half of the race.
Ultimately, the win would go to Corvette Racing with their sole remaining car. The #64 was driven by Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Jordan Taylor. Like its sister car, this is not a full-season FIA World Endurance Championship entry, and instead takes part in the Tudor United SportsCar Championship over in the United States. They had a relatively straight-forward race and were towards the front of the field for most of the 24 hours, apart from during a pitstop issue in the early morning.
Finishing second was Davide Rigon, James Calado and Olivier Beretta in the #71 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia. They also had a trouble-free race, and were in the top 4 for the vast majority of the running. By the end of the race, though, they were unable to catch up with the Corvette and finished 5 laps behind.
The third and final podium position in LMGTE Pro went to the other AF Corse car, the #51 of 2014 winners Gianmaria Bruni, Toni Vilander and Giancarlo Fisichella. They were running in the top four for the first half of the race, but got the class lead in the early morning. Ultimately, they finished the race a further two laps behind their sister car.
In a very disappointing race for Aston Martin Racing, the #95 was the highest placed of the Vantage V8s, and was piloted to 4th place by Marco Sørensen, Christoffer Nygaard and Nicki Thiim. The Gulf-liveried #95 car led the race for a while on Saturday evening, but by the morning they had lost multiple positions and were unable to catch the Ferraris and Corvette. As always, Aston Martin Racing will bounce back and will be hoping for better results next year.
Porsche wasn’t able to enjoy the same success they had in LMP1 in the LMGTE Pro class, and after one of their cars had to retire early, only one car remained. Richard Lietz, Michael Christensen and Jörg Bergmeister drove the #91 Porsche 911 RSR that was entered by Porsche Team Manthey. This car also suffered from mechanical problems, but they were fixed and so the car eventually made it to the end of the race, albeit 10 laps behind the class leader.
Finally, Aston Martin’s #99 car was the last of the LMGTE Pro finishers. Fernando Rees, Alex MacDowall and Richie Stanaway led the race for a while early on, but had to spend a lot of time in the garage early in the morning after colliding with the Thiriet by TDS LMP2 car. However, unlike the Oreca it crashed into, the Aston Martin didn’t have to retire and was fixed. Before the crash, the #99 led the class but was being chased down by the #64 that would eventually win.
“Winning Le Mans is always a fairy tale story,” said Oliver Gavin. “The way everything turned out over the week, with the #63 Corvette having its issues and not being able to start the race… the way the team all came together and led us into the race and enabled us to have this fantastic result today, it’s just amazing.
“The battle has been very close and the ebb and flow of the race in GTE Pro was extraordinary. There wasn’t much between Corvette, Aston Martin and Ferrari, but Le Mans is brutal and it doesn’t pull any punches when choosing who’s going to win. The victor can be someone who has performed brilliantly, or somebody that did a good job, but has had a nice slice of luck. We have needed to catch a break after a few tough years at Le Mans and I’m delighted that we took our chance here today.”
|1||64||Corvette Racing - GM||Chevrolet Corvette C7R||Gavin / Milner / Taylor||337|
|2||71||AF Corse||Ferrari 458 Italia||Rigon / Calado / Beretta||332||5 laps|
|3||51||AF Corse||Ferrari 458 Italia||Bruni / Vilander / Fisichella||330||7 laps|
|4||95||Aston Martin Racing||Aston Martin Vantage V8||Sørensen / Nygaard / Thiim||330||7 laps|
|5||91||Porsche Team Manthey||Porsche 911 RSR||Lietz / Christensen / Bergmeister||327||10 laps|
|6||99||Aston Martin Racing||Aston Martin Vantage V8||Rees / MacDowall / Stanaway||320||17 laps|
|DNF||97||Aston Martin Racing||Aston Martin Vantage V8||Turner / Mücke / Bell||110||DNF|
|DNF||92||Porsche Team Manthey||Porsche 911 RSR||Pilet / Makowiecki / Henzler||14||DNF|
|DNS||63||Corvette Racing - GM||Chevrolet Corvette C7R||Magnussen / Garcia / Briscoe||DNS||DNS|