After an unpredictable and attritional race it was the No.2 Porsche which eventually came out on top in the 85th 24 Hours of Le Mans. Despite being as much as 18 laps behind at one point thanks to a hybrid failure, the crew persisted and took the lead with just over an hour to go.
But it wasn’t Toyota or even the other Porsche that it had to fight for the win. Although Toyota were looking unassailable at one point its ‘Le Mans curse’ struck – and struck badly. Toyota lost two of its three cars within the space of half an hour, while the No.8 car could only finish down in ninth after spending a couple of hours in the garage with mechanical issues.
The drama wasn’t over yet though. The No.1 Porsche had a monster lead of 13 laps but with just under four hours to go the 919 Hybrid ground to a halt and was out.
That left the LMP2 team of Jackie Chan DC Racing in the overall lead of the Le Mans 24 Hours, which is a sentence nobody ever thought they’d have to write! We all wondered if it had a big enough lead to hold on for a shock victory but in the end the No.2 Porsche overtook it comfortably and went on unhindered to the flag, giving Brendon Hartley his first Le Mans win, Timo Bernhard and Earl Bamber their second, and Porsche as a manufacturer its 19th.
The Jackie Chan squad came home as LMP2 class winners and second overall in the hands of Oliver Jarvis, Ho-Pin Tung and 19-year-old rookie Thomas Laurent, who made history by becoming the first ever driver to lead overall at Le Mans in an LMP2 car.
Signatech Alpine had been running second in LMP2 but with just 42 minutes remaining Nelson Panciatici put the car in the gravel at Mulsanne corner. That allowed the No.13 Rebellion of Nelson Piquet Jr., Mathias Beche and David Heinemeier Hansson to take the runner-up spot in class and also the final spot on the overall podium.
In fact Rebellion had been looking very strong in the class earlier in the race but a series of minor problems ultimately dropped them out of contention for the class victory.
Probably the fiercest battle of the race took place in GTE-Pro. Different manufacturers looked strong at different phases of the race but the gap between the leaders was never really more than a pit-stops worth – an amazing scenario given that it’s a 24 hour race.
In the closing laps it came down to a one-on-one battle between Jonathan Adam in the No.97 Aston Martin and Jordan Taylor in the No.63 Corvette, the two of them rarely more than a second apart. Adam dropped back briefly but mounted a late challenge in the dying minutes in a thrilling fight for the lead.
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Adam made a move at Arnage but ran wide and Taylor got back past, only to run straight across the gravel at the second chicane on the Mulsanne straight on the following lap. The tyres on the Corvette had gone, and the Aston got past to take the lead coming onto the final lap. 24 hours of racing down the the last lap. Yeah, that’s close!
Therefore it was the Aston Martin of Jonathan Adam, Darren Turner and Daniel Serra which won the category, with the No.67 Ford of Harry Tincknell, Pipo Derani and Andy Priaulx coming second after the Corvette suffered a puncture on the last lap and dropped to third.
The GTE-Am battle was slightly more sedate, with the No.84 Spirit of Race Ferrari of Dries Vanthoor, Rob Smith and Will Stevens (yes, the Will Stevens!) coming out on top ahead of teammates Duncan Cameron, Aaron Scott and Marco Cioci.
It was a typically crazy race, and the unreliability of the LMP1 cars definitely came as something of a shock. As well as the unpredictability up front there were also plenty of crashes (particularly between the LMP2 and GTE cars), which isn’t exactly surprising given the nature of multi-class racing.
But for Porsche it was an emotional victory, especially given all the difficulties in terms of suspect reliability and not being on the ultimate pace of Toyota. It would have to be the ex-Mark Webber car that wins though, wouldn’t it? He’s still having bad luck even after he’s retired!
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