Despite being dominated by a single car, the largest class at the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans still produced many exciting battles and shocking twists last weekend.
The first ten laps were led by class polesitters KCMG. The #47 Oreca 05 – Nissan was the strongest car in the class for the entire week, and it run a relatively trouble-free race, leading for the vast majority of the race. Murphy Prototypes‘ #48 Oreca 03R – Nissan took the lead from the Hong Kong-based team for a short while, but was soon overtaken by the #46 Thiriet by TDS Racing Oreca 05 – Nissan, which remained out front until lap 18. From lap 20 until the end of the race, KCMG were once again out front.
It was five hours into the race before the first of the 19 entries retired, and this was Greaves Motorsport‘s #41 Gibson 015S – Nissan. The team is a usual entry in the European Le Mans Series and used its usual ELMS drivers Gary Hirsch and Jon Lancaster, as well as GT Academy’s Gaëtan Paletou. The car ground to a halt at the side of the track following an electrical failure.
Next to retire from the running was Signatech Alpine, with the #36 Alpine A450b – Nissan, driven by the all-French line-up of Nelson Panciatici, Paul-Loup Chatin and Vincent Capilaire. Just over 7h30 into the race, it had a large accident at Mulsanne Corner, with the darkening skies making visibility increasingly difficult.
The Swiss Team Sard Morand retired just before the half-way mark, and their #43 Morgan Evo – Sard was driven by Pierre Ragues, Oliver Webb and Zoel Amberg. After completing 162 laps, the car retired with a lot of smoke coming out of it.
Class front-runner Thiriet by TDS Racing had to end their race early after 14 hours following a crash with the #99 Aston Martin LMGTE Pro car. The Aston Martin survived, but the #46 Oreca 05 – Nissan did not, ending Pierre Thiriet, Ludovic Badey and Tristan Gommendy‘s race earlier than expected.
The penultimate car to retire was the #42 Dome S103 – Nissan of Strakka Racing. This all-British driver line-up of Nick Leventis, Danny Watts and Jonny Kane completed two-thirds of the race but retired following a stop on the pit straight. Leventis eventually got it going again but only made it as far as the Dunlop Esses before being forced to retire.
Finally, Oak Racing didn’t complete their race in the #34 Ligier JS P2 – HPD. Chris Cumming, Laurens Vanthoor and Kevin Estre completed 22h30 of the race but a problem, likely with the gearbox, denied them from a race finish.
13 cars did finish the race, however. KCMG was the first of these to do so, with Matt Howson, Richard Bradley and Nicolas Lapierre completing the race with 358 laps under their belt. Despite having such a dominant performance, their lead at the end of the race was just 48 seconds. This was because the team suffered from a couple of issues in the morning, including stopping on track.
Behind KCMG was JOTA Sport. The 2014 class winners couldn’t manage to repeat their success, due to a mechanical failure early on in the race. Simon Dolan, Mitch Evans and Oliver Turvey bounced back from this though, and made it onto the second step of the podium in their #38 Gibson 015S – Nissan.
The final podium position was awarded to G-Drive Racing, with the #26 Ligier JS P2 – Nissan of Roman Rusinov, Julien Canal and Sam Bird finishing on the same lap as both cars ahead of it. 4 laps behind it was G-Drive’s other car, the #28 Ligier JS P2 – Nissan, driven by Gustavo Yacaman, Luis Felipe Derani and Ricardo Gonzalez.
In 5th was Murphy Prototypes. The #48 led the race for a very short time in the first hour but found themselves further back in the now outdated Oreca 03R, which was driven by Karun Chandhok, Mark Patterson and Nathanaël Berthon. The #48 narrowly missed a crash with the leading #64 Corvette in LMGTE Pro on Sunday morning when it spun out, but it recovered and came home 11 laps down on the class leader.
SMP Racing didn’t enjoy the same success in LMP2 as they had in LMGTE Am, and instead finished 6th with the #27 BR01 – Nissan piloted by Maurizio Mediani, David Markozov and Nicolas Minassian. The other SMP prototype was the #37 which finished 13th with Mikhail Aleshin, Kirill Ladygin and Anton Ladygin behind the wheel. SMP suffered from a few issues during the race, including punctures and pitstop delays.
7th place was awarded to the American #31 Extreme Speed Motorsports squad, which ran a special ‘Rolling Stone’ livery due to French alcohol advertising laws banning their popular ‘Tequila Patrón’ colours. Ed Brown, Johannes van Overbeek and Jon Fogarty completed 339 laps in total in their Ligier JS P2 – HPD. The other #30 ESM car of Scott Sharp, Ryan Dalziel and David Heinemeier Hansson finished a few positions behind, in 10th.
Ibanez Racing came home 8th with the bright yellow #45 Oreca 03 – Nissan driven by Pierre Perret, Ivan Bellarosa and José Ibanez. Next was Pegasus Racing‘s #29 Morgan – Nissan of Leo Roussel, Ho-Pin Tung and David Cheng.
Behind the #30 ESM car was Oak Racing with the #35 Ligier JS P2 – Nissan, sister car of the #34 that retired. Jacques Nicolet, Jean-Marc Merlin and Erik Maris completed 30 fewer laps than the leader.
Finally, Krohn Racing completed 323 laps to finish 12th. Tracy Krohn, Nic Jönsson and João Barbosa drove the #40 Ligier JS P2 – HPD but it was Krohn who got a reputation for spinning on track. Ultimately, these setbacks stopped the experienced team from moving up the order. Behind this was the #37 SMP Racing car.
“I dedicated our pole position to my uncle who passed away earlier this week and I’d like to do the same now, so this win’s for you, Jimmy,” said an emotional Richard Bradley. “Credit to my mum for staying here and supporting me; I’m just glad I was able to reward her. As for the race, it was a very surreal experience starting the Le Mans 24 Hours and then enjoying a fun battle over the opening hour or two.
“I also raced for the first time in the dark without floodlights, which took a little getting used to, and then dealt with the sunrise before coping with the slight drizzle having had very little sleep! It was important to control our advantage, which is quite mentally tough to do, but that’s what makes Le Mans so special. It’s been a dream of mine to win this since I was a kid. It’s overwhelming really, especially as we’ve also scored maximum double points and moved into the WEC drivers’ championship lead. The perfect weekend.”