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Porsche Survives Le Mans

The winning Porsche 919 charged through the field. [Photo by Porsche Motorsport]

The winning Porsche 919 charged through the field. [Photo by Porsche Motorsport]

by Jack Webster & Eddie LePine

It was a Le Mans 24 Hours for the ages. It seemed like the race that no one was destined to win.

Toyota set the pace, shattering the existing track record in qualifying and starting two of their three cars on the front row. Porsche, with two entries, looked to be struggling to keep up for the 24-hour contest, as the fastest of their 919 Hybrids was over two seconds back on the grid.

Would Toyota send the Conway/Kobayashi/Sarrazin car out as the very fast rabbit for everyone else to chase? Would Porsche use their superior pit strategy to stay in the hunt?

The best laid plans, as they say….

After the first hour, it was Toyota, Toyota, Porsche, Porsche, and Toyota atop the charts. It stayed that way until Hour 5, when the #2 Porsche 919 of Bernhard, Bamber and Hartley experienced problems with one of the electric motors on their Hybrid and lost 18+ laps in the pits for repairs.

Things then stabilized until Hour 9, when the #8 Toyota was also delayed by Hybrid problems, and they spent close to 2 hours in the pits making repairs.

Then, within 6 laps of one another in the 10th hour of the race, both the #7 and #9 Toyotas were retired. #7 with no power and #9 with a hydraulic leak and small fire after blowing a tire. Both cars nearly made it around the circuit to get back to the pits, but fell short.

Meanwhile, Porsche looked to be in the catbird seat, with the #1 car of Jani, Lotterer and Tandy holding a 9 lap lead over a P2 car for the overall win. The #2 Porsche, after their early troubles, was also running like clockwork, slowly moving up the charts, but at the halfway point, they were still 18 laps behind the lead Porsche and holding onto 16th position overall.

Again, things seemed to settle down into a rhythm, with the lead Porsche running a conservative pace, the #2 car still running without problems, and the remaining Toyota so far behind as not to be a factor in the race.

Then as fate would have it in this most unusual of Le Mans races, the lead Porsche, with Andre Lotterer behind the wheel, suddenly lost oil pressure and came to a stop, with under four hours remaining in the race. Unbelievably, the Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca, an LMP2 class car, was now leading Le Mans overall. However, the blistering pace of the now healthy Porsche 919 #2 began to pay off and by the beginning of the 23rd hour of the race, they took the overall lead and held onto it to take the victory.

It just goes to show you that in racing you should never give up, for at one point the winning car was running as low 55th place overall, some 18+ laps behind the leader of the race.

Overall, it was an outstanding race, with spirited battles throughout the contest (in GTE-Pro, Aston Martin defeated Corvette on the final lap of the race! – but that is another story).

However, one must question where the LMP-1 Hybrid class is heading in the future. For the huge amounts of money that both Porsche and Toyota are spending on their teams, only to have the majority of their cars fail to finish at Le Mans surely must give them pause. One must also wonder how long Toyota will continue to spend money only to keep coming up short at Le Mans. They are leading the FIA-WEC World Championship, but the only race that really mattered to them was Le Mans – everybody knows that. And Porsche – if Toyota falls by the wayside, what reason would they have to continue and race against themselves?

There is talk (there is always talk) of additional manufacturers joining the LMP1 ranks, but if those manufacturers watched Le Mans and saw the problems both Porsche and Toyota had with these ultra complex Hybrid cars it is hard to imagine them lining up to join the fray without first taking a very hard look at risk vs. reward.

One huge bright spot at Le Mans was the entry in the LMP2 class, which attracted 25 cars. Most of these cars ran strongly during the race and 8 of the top 10 finishing positions were LMP2 cars. Perhaps the ACO and FIA will take a look at the success IMSA is having in the US with their DPi class and make the rational and correct decision to make IMSA DPi and LMP2 the top class at Le Mans and in the World Championship. Given the current state of affairs in the LMP1-Hybrid category, it seems that such a move would be the way to go.

As we stated in an article we wrote for RacingNation.com when Audi announced their withdraw from LMP-1 last year:
“It seems inevitable, more likely sooner than later, that the IMSA DPi formula will be welcomed by at least the ACO so the US teams can participate at Le Mans, for in the recent past upwards of 20% of the grid at Le Mans has been composed of US teams.”

After this year’s Le Mans race, it seems like a good time to reassess the situation.

For everybody.

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Jack Webster has been shooting motorsports since the early 1970’s, covering Formula One, CanAm, F5000, TransAm, GrandAm and American Le Mans races, among others. In addition to his photography, he has also worked on racing teams, both in IMSA and IndyCar, so has a complete knowledge of the inner workings of motorsport. Both his photography and writing can be seen here on racingnation.com. Eddie LePine has been involved in motorsports for over 30 years as photographer, columnist, and driver. Eddie also is now a retired racer (well, retired unless a good ride pops up). You can usually find Eddie in the paddock area, deep in conversation with a driver.