Porsche take Le Mans glory after Toyota heartbreak

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The #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Timo Bern­hard, Bren­don Hart­ley and Earl Bam­ber took vic­to­ry at the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans after an aston­ish­ing con­clu­sion to the French endurance clas­sic. The #2 car secured vic­to­ry after a bril­liant recov­ery dri­ve, hav­ing spent an hour in the pits in the ear­ly stages of the race while mechan­ics changed the entire front axle.

Bern­hard, Hart­ley and Bamber’s team­mates in the #1 car, André Lot­ter­er, Nick Tandy and Neel Jani, had been set for a com­fort­able win at the Cir­cuit de la Sarthe after all oth­er LMP1 run­ners suf­fered tech­ni­cal issues or crash dam­age – includ­ing Toy­ota los­ing two of its cars in 20 crazy min­utes in the mid­dle of the night. How­ev­er, Lot­ter­er ground to a halt with oil pres­sure prob­lems with just four hours of the race remain­ing – hand­ing the lead to the #38 Jack­ie Chan DC Rac­ing Ore­ca of Thomas Lau­rent, Ho-Ping Tung and Oliv­er Jarvis.

With the #2 car charg­ing hard behind, it made up two laps on the lead car before catch­ing and pass­ing it with just one hour remain­ing in the 24 hours, despite the best efforts of the youngest dri­ver in the field: Thomas Lau­rent.

The 2017 vic­to­ry is Porsche’s 19th and their third in suc­ces­sion. New Zealan­der Bren­don Hart­ley final­ly gets his name on the famous tro­phy after four years of dis­ap­point­ment, while Timo Bern­hard wins his sec­ond Le Mans title and his first for Porsche. Fel­low Kiwi Earl Bam­ber main­tains his 100% record in the LMP1 class at Le Mans, hav­ing won on both of his starts for the Porsche works LMP1 team.

In LMP2, it was the pair of Vail­lante Rebel­lions that made the ear­ly pace in the race, fol­lowed by the #38 Jack­ie Chan DC Rac­ing car. The pole­sit­ting #26 G-Dri­ve Rac­ing machine had a poor start and then col­lid­ed with the #88 Abu Dhabi-Pro­ton Rac­ing Porsche 911 RSR and was forced to retire.

With the demise of the LMP1 class, the LMP2 bat­tle sud­den­ly became a bat­tle for the podi­um and even the lead. At the halfway point, the #31 Vail­lante Rebel­lion Ore­ca of Nico­las Prost, Julien Canal and Bruno Sen­na held a 30-sec­ond lead from the Tung/Laurent/Jarvis #38 Jack­ie Chan DC Rac­ing Ore­ca, which itself was also 30 sec­onds ahead of the sis­ter #13 Vail­lante Rebel­lion of Piquet Jr./Heinemeier Hansson/Beche. But as night turned to day, a num­ber of issues – some, like a pit lane penal­ty for the #31 car for start­ing its engine while still raised up on the jacks, entire­ly self-inflict­ed – pushed the #38 car to the head of the field, where it stayed for the remain­der of the race.

Fur­ther issues for the #31 machine brought the #35 Sig­nat­e­ch Alpine Mat­mut car dri­ven by Nel­son Pan­ci­ati­ci, Pierre Ragues and Alessan­dro Negrao into con­tention. How­ev­er, a late off by Negrao dashed any hopes of Sig­nat­e­ch repeat­ing their 2016 class win and gave the ini­tia­tive back to the #13 Vail­lante Rebel­lion, which went on to score its maid­en podi­um at Le Mans – iron­i­cal­ly in LMP2, after so many years just falling short in LMP1.

GTE Pro deliv­ered the head-to-head bat­tle it promised, with the bal­ance of per­for­mance for­mu­la this time per­fect­ed to ensure 24 hours of wheel-bang­ing, bumper-to-bumper rac­ing. Bat­tles for the lead and oth­er key places were ten a pen­ny, as cars chopped and changed on their pit strate­gies and tried to opti­mise any advan­tages they may have gained.

In fact, it became more a ques­tion of who would make the first mis­take and lose touch with the break­neck speed of the class bat­tle. The #82 Risi Com­pe­tizione Fer­rari 488 was one of the first to fall out of con­tention, although through no fault of dri­ver Pierre Kaf­fer, who was spiked into the bar­ri­ers after around four hours of the race by an ill-judged move from Math­ieu Vax­ivière in the #28 TDS Rac­ing car.

By the halfway point, the #66 Ford GT (Pla, col­li­sion with the bar­ri­ers at Indi­anapo­lis) and the #64 Corvette C7.R (Mil­ner, acci­dent in the Porsche Curves) had dropped away, but the remain­der of the field were aston­ish­ing­ly still on the same lap and sep­a­rat­ed by mere sec­onds.

A top­sy-turvy bat­tle through­out the morning’s run­ning even­tu­al­ly saw the #63 Corvette of Jor­dan Tay­lor, Jan Mag­nussen and Anto­nio Gar­cia emerge at the head of the field quick­ly pur­sued by the #97 Aston Mar­tin Van­tage of Turner/Serra/Adam and the #67 Ford GT of Tincknell/Derani/Priaulx.

In an edge-of-your-seat finale, Tay­lor attempt­ed to fight off the efforts of John­ny Adam with just 40 min­utes remain­ing. On the penul­ti­mate lap of the race, Adam tried his luck down at Arnage but braked a lit­tle too late and ran wide, before Tay­lor brushed past him and appeared to have decid­ed the vic­to­ry in favour of the US mus­cle car man­u­fac­tur­er. How­ev­er, the con­tact was more severe than first though, with Tay­lor dam­ag­ing part of the steer­ing and ulti­mate­ly los­ing first place in class to Adam on the final lap, with Har­ry Tinck­nell in the #67 Ford also sneak­ing past the Amer­i­can into the final cor­ner. It was a wor­thy end to a fan­tas­tic class bat­tle.

GTE Am was a lit­tle less fran­tic. The #84 JMW Motor­sport took a fan­tas­tic win in its first Le Mans with the new Fer­rari 488 with the help of dri­vers Dries Vanthoor, Will Stevens and Robert Smith. Sec­ond was the #55 Spir­it of Race Fer­rari of Cameron/Scott/Cioci, while the #62 Scud­e­ria Cor­sa machine of Townsend Bell, Coop­er Mac­Neil and Bill Sweedler made it a Fer­rari 1–2-3 in class.

Images © WEC-Mag­a­zin / Wal­ter Schruff / Ton Kerdijk

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