The 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans was a titanic battle between the LMP1 heavy weights of Audi Sport Team Joest and Porsche Team. Victory, hard fought and well earned, went to the #19 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Nick Tandy, Nico Hulkenberg and Earl Bamber. All three victorious drivers were making their first attempt on the outright win, two were making their Le Mans debut.
Only four cars led the race during its 24 hour duration, the #17 and #19 Porsches and the #7 and #9 Audis. Looking at the hourly reports you would be forgiven for thinking that it was a four car class but LMP1 is in the strongest health we have seen for years. This piece covers all fourteen entries into the top class of competition.
The #19 Porsche 919 Hybrid had the best of all races after working together as a sportscar team for the first time at Spa. Tandy, Bamber and the high profile F1 driver Hulkenberg took 129 laps to rise to the top of the pile. An initial drop to sixth place in the opening lap scuffles turned into a sixty lap stint working between and against the sister #18 machine to catch up to the Audis. Once they came to the top spot, they lost the lead only eight times.
The #19 car held the lead for the final 143 laps.
Only twice did the #19 car rise to attention for reasons other than pitting or taking the lead. Once when a ten second extension to a pit stop gifted the lead to Audi briefly and again late in the race for contact. The incident wasn’t even the winners fault but that of the #7 R18 e-tron Quattro which moved alongside and actually hit the winners under a slow zone put in place to cover the exit of Strakka Racing’s #42 Dome S103 LMP2 car.
Second went to the red liveried #17 machine of Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley. Initially the full season entries held onto the top spot, trading the lead with the defending champion team from Audi. A one minute stop and go for passing under yellows partially explains the one lap deficit to the winning car but otherwise it was just unable to answer the pace of the white machine later in the race.
Early on though it was all about the red car and between the three drivers they led 97 laps in the first third of the race. Of course they split the lead with their brand mates, the #7 car.
The defending champion car had the eventful run of the cars on the podium. Marcel Fassler, Andre Lotterer and Benoit Treluyer grabbed the race lead eight times over the 24 hours but also rose to attention on more than one occasion. First, just over three hours in Treluyer was at the wheel when the car went wide in the first sector. After running down the wall the Frenchman wrestled the car back under control and continued.
After a clear night the sun rose and showed that the #7 had a small problem. The car was there but the engine cover was missing. A pit stop for damage further delayed their efforts. The final drop in time came after the penalty for ‘disrespecting the slow zone’ after the incident with the #19 919 Hybrid.
The #8 R18 took fourth place after a race which started well, leapfrogging the eventual race leader and battling with the other three Audis for the last position on the podium. The race began to fall apart when Loic Duval lost control of the car on the run to Indianapolis. GT traffic spreading out into a slow zone left Duval with nowhere to go. He missed the Ferrari which blocked his path but dropped the back end and smashed into the Armco at high speed.
Everyone avoided the continuing accident as the car bounced back onto the race track. Even Duval had it pointing in the right direction and on its way back to the pits in a matter of seconds. The car got back to the garage, missing both wheel arches but otherwise looking rather good, and was back out on the race track before the marshals had cleared up the mess.
The #18 Porsche of Neel Jani, Romain Dumas and Marc Leib was the one black mark on the Porsche landscape. The biggest incident coming when Jani ditched the car in the gravel on the Mulsanne under the cover of darkness. It happened just a couple of hours after Marc Leib buried the nose of the car into the tyres at the same corner.
Fifth place was a great reward for their effort.
Sixth place was the best the #2 Toyota Gazoo Racing TS040 Hybrid could produce for Toyota Motorsport in Cologne. Alex Wurz, Stephane Sarrazin and Mike Conway raced to their own programme all week long, as did the #1 machine which placed eighth. Split by the delayed #9 Audi of Felipe Alberquerque, Marco Bonanomi and Rene Rast the two Toyotas struggled for pace all since the test day. In fact the Toyotas have failed to impress since the WEC Prologue at the start of the year.
The only event of note for the two TS040s came when #1 car was blocked exiting the garage from a pit stop by the #50 Larbre Competition Corvette. The prototype almost knocked over a mechanic but managed to get away eventually.
The #9 Audi was delayed when to quote the Audi twitter feed, ‘Albuquerque said he slightly hit a GTE Ferrari’ in the early morning hours. Problems in the dying hours of the race saw the #9 car in the garage for an extended visit and attention to the front end. We don’t know what caused the long delay and work around the suspension area.
The two Rebellion Racing machines also had a fairly quiet race. They were both delayed overnight with simultaneous visits to the garage but given that Le Mans is the first outing for the new AER powered R-One LMP1 cars it was probably planned tests or maintenance. The #12 crashed at Indianapolis around the happy hour but was dragged out of the gravel and continued on, finishing in 10 place in class.
The #13 didn’t get away without problems either. A suspension failure at the Forza Chicane sent the red Rebellion car back to the pit lane for repairs half an hour after the accident.
For Nissan the race was one of mixed fortunes. A combined total of just under six hundred laps from the three GT-R LM Nismo race cars brought in good data but several visits to the pits for brake changes, the #21 car starting late from the pits due to a clutch problem and then later crashing out with three wheels on its wagon are just the highlights.
The list of delays is ongoing though talk of a slow lap was disproved. Harry Tincknell in the #22 machine clocked a 3:35.888 in race conditions, just off the pace of the ByKolles machine and ahead of the fastest P2 lap.
The #21 retired after its accident, the #23 after a gearbox failure. The #22 car actually made it to the end of the race but failed to make the 70%, falling 35 laps short of classifying.
Of the ByKolles CLM P1/01 there was regular but discouraging news. The car spent much of the race in the garage getting attention in the engine bay. The car got to the end of the race and managed to both outpace and out distance the three Nissans.