Image credit: JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP/Getty Images.
Welcome everyone to SportscarGlobal! To kick us off, we thought that we would re-publish our Editor’s round up of the 2014 race which was originally published in our sister publication, Diesel Driver Magazine 16th June 2014.
“ Le Mans 2014, what a race! “
Audi, with its dominant R18 e-tron quattro LMP1s, stole a one-two finish at this year’s 82nd running of the Le Mans 24 Hours, overcoming an early charge from rivals Toyota and Porsche and chalking up the 13th win for the German marque at the legendary endurance race.
This year’s running of the ‘Vingt Quatre Heures du Mans’ will live long in our memory; it marked the return after 16 years of Porsche to the top flight of prototype racing at the legendary 38-turn, 8.469 mile French Circuit de la Sarthe to take on the might of Toyota and ever its dominant VW Group stable mate, Audi.
In LMP2, the British team Jota Sport had their eyes set on only one goal, winning their class, and with a driver line up of McNish protégée Harry Tinknell and ex-F1 driver Marc Gené (drafted in to replace Audi Factory driver Filipe Alberquerqie who was piloting the third R18 e-tron Quattro), team owner and third driver Simon Dolan was feeling confident. However, following a huge crash by Loïc Duval in the No. 1 Audi during the Wednesday practice, Duval was not cleared to race and Gené was called up by Audi to replace him in the No. 1 car. Somewhat on the back-foot, Jota drafted in Briton Oliver Turvey as an 11th hour replacement and he drove the car for the first time in Thursday qualifying!
Moving out of the prototypes the 2014 grid saw one of the most competitive GT fields ever assembled, packed with Ferraris, Porsches, Corvettes and Aston Martins and the Garage 56 innovation spot taken by Nissan’s unconventionally shaped ZEOD RC racer.
The competition did not stop with the cars either; this year’s driver line-up boasted some of the very best racing drivers in the world, including a host of ex-F1 drivers such as recent Red Bull F1 retiree Mark Webber, Giancarlo Fisichella, Marc Gené, F1 hopeful Sam Bird and of course, the legendary nine-times Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen.
Action in all four categories went down to the wire; racing was compelling, rivalries intense and despite Audi having won 12 of the last 14 Le Mans races, nobody could have predicted that the German marque would steal a 13th win this year.
With the Toyota’s 1000 horsepower Goliath No. 7 TS040 Hybrid having grabbed pole ahead of Porsche’s 919 Hybrid, the pundits were calling it as literally anyone’s race as the clock approach 3pm on Saturday. As Fernando Alonso waved the French tricolour flag on the start line, it was clear to see they were right and the results at the front of the field were far from decided.
Action commenced almost immediately, with Toyota capitalising on their front-of-grid position to power into the lead and the other hybrid prototypes battling it out at the front, the elite drivers showing no signs of nursing their cars through the 24 hours and instead suggesting this was going to be a 24 hour sprint race.
But, as happens in this most iconic of races, high profile retirements caused a regular rewriting of the script. The first casualty of the LMP1 group came in the form of the number 14 Porsche 919 Hybrid, dropping off the leader’s pace with a fuel system problem requiring a costly trip to the pits.
Just two hours in from the start the sunny weather had been replaced by heavy rain showers causing early LMGTE Am leaders, AF Corse, to crash out with driver Sam Bird unable to see a group of slow moving cars ahead on a spray covered Mulsanne Straight and smashing his Ferrari 458 Italia into the pack forcing him into retirement. The crash also saw two LMP1 casualties, the No. 3 Audi R18 e-tron Quattro of Marco Bonanomi and the No. 8 Toyota of Nicolas Lapierre and while the Toyota managed to limp back to the pits, it was the end of the campaign for Bonanomi and Audi removing one of the main contenders for the overall win from the race.
While the No. 8 car suffered crippling loss of laps during the repairs, Alex Wurz in the No. 7 car was able to maintain his lead through the changing weather conditions confirming Toyota were a serious contender to break Audi’s string of Le Mans wins.
As night fell a hard-charging No. 14 Porsche once again suffered the same fuel system problem, requiring a second trip to the pits for repairs and the No. 2 Audi suffered a recurring turbo issue requiring several visits to the pits for repairs. However, perhaps the biggest shock of the night-hours came when after leading for over 14 hours the No.7 Toyota, driven by ex Williams F1 racer Kazuki Nakajima, fell foul to a wiring loom issue which forced it into retirement at the trackside at 04:30.
Night action wasn’t restricted to the LMP1 class however, the No. 97 Aston Martin V8 Vantage GTE took the charge to the leading No. 51 Ferrari 458 for GT honours as the sun rose on Sunday.
Le Mans Legend Tom Kristensen’s hopes of a 10th Le Mans win were cruelly dashed when his No. 1 car developed the same turbo problems that had beset the No.2 Audi earlier, requiring a lengthy repair in the pits and allowing the No. 20 Porsche, piloted by Mark Webber, to take the lead in what looked to be the biggest surprise of the weekend. However, two hours from the end hopes of a Porsche win in their comeback year were lost when an engine issue caused the leading 919 Hybrid to retire from the race indefinitely, gifting the lead to the now repaired No. 2 Audi. Within minutes of the No. 20 car’s retirement the sister No.14 Porsche also returned to the garage only reappearing shortly before the finish.
With a dominant final stint, Audi’s No. 2 car, piloted by André Lotterer, Marcel Fässler and Benoît Tréluyer then managed to hold onto the lead to grab German marque’s 13th Le Mans win, bringing them to within three wins of record holders Porsche. The top three were rounded out by the now repaired No. 1 Audi and No. 8 Toyota.
Taking the honours in LMP2 after an amazing 11th hour driver change was Jota Sport with its Nissan powered Zytek, narrowly defeating nearest rival Thiriet by TDS Racing. AF Corse took the LMGTE Pro win in the No. 51 Ferrari 458 Italia GT2 after a late grab of the lead when Aston Martin required an extra pitstop. Rounding out one of the most unpredictable Le Mans races in history and in what many fans viewed as a fitting tribute to the late Alan Simonsen, the iconic British Marque’s No. 95 ‘Dane Train’ did come home with a win in the LMGTE Am class.
After such excitement, what can next year bring for the race fan? Time will only tell but with the addition of new manufacturers into the LMP1 class and LMP2 and GTE both arguably in ‘rude health’ we believe it can only be bright. Here’s to next June when we all meet again to be thrilled by the drivers and cars in the world’s most iconic race.