The final appearance of the GTE Pro category at the 24 Hours of Le Mans did not disappoint, as differences in pace, accidents and car issues provided a fitting finale.
Making the pace at the start of the race were the pair of Corvette C8.R, which had locked out the front row in Thursday evening’s Hyperpole session. The two factory Porsches also showed promising speed and remained within touching distance of the Corvettes as the race progressed.
The race then took a turn for the worse from Corvette’s perspective, with the #64 car having to pit out of schedule to replace its brakes just shy of the seventh hour. Shortly afterwards, the #63 machine then suffered a major left-rear suspension failure, resulting in a lengthy stay in the garage.
Corvette’s travails gave the upper hand to Porsche in the battle for class honours, and that’s how things remained for much of the night. A drive-through penalty for the #91 Porsche for track limits violations saw the #92 assume the lead and start to build a gap in the early hours. The #64 Corvette also remained within striking distance of the lead car and at times was lapping more quickly.
Disaster strikes for leading Porsche and Corvette
Things appeared to be going to plan for Michael Christensen, Kevin Estre and Laurens Vanthoor in the #92 RSR-19, but a small mistake by Christensen put paid to the trio’s chance. Entering Mulsanne Corner early on Sunday morning, the Danish driver locked up his brakes and flat-spotted his tyre. Shortly afterwards, the tyre carcass disintegrated and left Christensen with a slow crawl back to the pits.
The Porsche incident left the #64 Corvette back in prime position to take the class win, but a serious accident dashed any hopes of victory. At a narrow part of the circuit on the Mulsanne Straight, Corvette driver Alexander Sims was pushed into the crash barriers and into early retirement by an LMP2 car.
The race directors handed the car in question, the #83 AF Corse entry, a three-minute stop and go penalty, and driver Francois Perrodo made his way immediately to the Corvette garage to apologise. But it was all to no good, as Corvette’s Le Mans challenge ended in a flash.
Ferrari and Porsche the last men standing
The #91 Porsche of Gianmaria Bruni, Richard Lietz and Fred Makowiecki was left to battle it out against the #51 Ferrari for the remainder of the race. The Porsche enjoyed a significant advantage on pace but had a couple of minutes to catch up. Fortunately for Porsche, a safety car brought the cars back together and Bruni was able to catch and pass the Ferrari and seal a memorable win for the German marque.
AF Corse Ferrari finished second and third but left the Circuit de la Sarthe cursing what they viewed as balance of performance adjustments that gave their GTE Pro competitors an unfair advantage.
Keating finally breaks duck in GTE Am
Ben Keating finally stood on the top step of the podium at the seventh time of asking after securing victory in the GTE Am category. Keating, who piloted the #33 TF Sport Aston Martin together with Marco Sorensen and Estaban Chaves, put together a flawless display together with his team to record a long-overdue class win.
“It’s really special,” Keating said after the race. “For me it’s particularly special because of how we won it: we didn’t win it on pace. The Porsches were two seconds per lap quicker than we were. But everyone did their job perfectly. We made no mistakes, no penalties, nothing. We had a perfect race.”
The key to the Aston’s success was the ability to complete the race without a brake change, something that no other GTE Am competitors were able to do. Second was the #79 WeatherTech Racing Porsche of Cooper MacNeil, Julien Andlauer and Tom Merrill, with the #98 Northwest AMR crew rounding out the podium places.
A full list of results is available here.