So now that the dust has settled on the 84th running of the Le Mans 24 Hours it’s time for our usual look back at the race, the entertainment, the weather, the fans and ourselves during our regular week at La Sarthe.
With Brad Pitt, Jason Statham, Jackie Chan and Keanu Reeves on the start line there was much pomp and ceremony at the kick off of this year’s race – the start flag was even delivered by French Special Forces by helicopter!
A Cruel Wind Blows Through La Sarthe
Let’s start, of course, with the results of the race its self. The #5 Toyota TS050 of Anthony Davidson, Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastien Buemi had showed amazing promise throughout the 23 hours and 59 minutes of the race when, with a one minute lead over the #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Neel Jani, Nakajima suffered the cruelest of luck and his car lost power as he traversed the start straight for the final time. The Japanese driver somehow managed to crawl his wounded Toyota towards to pits and elected to try and make it to the finish line, however, his mirrors soon filled with the black and white of a hard charging Jarni’s Porsche and the dream was suddenly over, the Porsche passed Nakajima’s striken Toyota yards from the finish line to steal what had been certain victory for Toyota and give Porsche their 18th win at La Sarthe.
In what was perhaps the cruelest twist of fate, the rules of Le Mans state that to be classified cars must pass the finish line no more than 6 minutes after the winner – with Nakajima taking 11 minutes to complete his final lap not only did Toyota lose an assured win and double WEC points, the #5 car failed to be classified at all and was listed as DNF …. A sad and very bitter pill to swallow for crew and team alike. In a post race press release, Toyota Gazoo Racing confirmed that the fault was due to a break in a seal on one of the pipes feeding the turbos.
The team did at least salvage something as the slower running #6 car took the second podium step and, due to the disqualification of the #5, Audi took the third step in what must have been a huge relief for the German squad who were looking to finish off the podium for the first time since 1999.
In the record 23-car LMP2 class, the #36 Signatech Alpine took the honours with a dominant and faultless performance by Stephane Richelmi, Nicolas Lapierre and Gustavo Menezes. The class win giving Lapierre his second LMP2 win in as many years having taken the win last year with KCMG. The #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca took the second place almost three minutes behind the French squad. Closing out the podium was the Russian #37 SMP Racing BR01 of Vitaly Petrov, Victor Shaytar and Kirill Ladygin.
Now, to GTE Pro … of all the classes before the race, here was where we expected, and were provided with, a huge amount of excitement. With Ford strenuously denying any sandbagging it was very clear something had happened when the cars set a blistering qualifying pace and earned themselves an 11th hour BoP. However, what was also clear was the the Fords, even after Friday’s additional BoP were still blisteringly fast and appeared to be able to breeze past any of their class competition as needed. Needless to say, Ford did what they arrived at Le Mans to do and took the win with the US based #68 car.
The #82 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 of Fisichella, Vilander and Malucelli, electing to ignore a black and orange flag (for faulty leader lights) and a Stop and Hold for non-observance of the earlier flag continued to race for second spot on the podium with the team deciding to take their chances fighting the penalties after the race from a position of strength on the podium rather from inside the pack.
The second of the Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA Ford GT’s, the #69 of Briscoe, Westcott & Dixon rounded out the GTE Pro podium places 14.794s behind the Ferrari.
However, the GTE Pro excitement did not end with the race – protest and counter protest from both Ford and Risi Competizione during the race lead to both teams being hit with time penalties that, in a rare show of diplomacy from the French, retained the racing status quo. Additionally, both squads received further post-race sanctions; Risi fined for non-observance of instructions and the #68 Ford collected a further time penalty for a faulty wheel speed sensor.
The #62 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 Italia took honours in the GTE Am class, AF Corse’s #83 second spot and the #88 Porsche 911 RSR of Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing rounded out the podium places. Interestingly, the race’s fastest class lap of 3:56.634 (Lap 206, 207,3 Kph) was set by Matt Griffin who’s #55 AF Corse Ferrari failed to finish the race.
Last year’s winning Corvette Gavin, Milner & Taylor crashed out leading to retirement and both the #95 and #97 Aston Martin Vantage’s gave a worthy performance finishing fifth and sixth respectively.
More Reasons To Remember 2016
As well as the race its self, 2016 will go down as a year to remember for the weather – we’ve had rain and bad weather many a time at Le Mans but the heavy and continious nature of the the rain this year certainly caused many people problems – campsites such as Houx Annexe and Beausejour suffered serious flooding and car parks soon turned into something resembling an international 4×4 course. With the majority of the staff hired just for the race week, it was perhaps not surprising too that when things got bad the staff appeared not really to know what to do or where to turn for help and advice. Despite the weather the ACO reported 263 500 visitors over the weekend, in line with 2105’s figures.
For us at SCG, we had an interesting week as well – unlike the majority of the media we are, and remain, fans first and always chose to camp at Le Mans rather than the more usual hotel option and for the first time in many, many years had moved from our usual Maison Blanche home to a new ACO campsite, Epinettes – on the whole we were very pleased and certainly did not suffer anywhere near the flooding that some of the other sites did but it really is time that the ACO invested some serious money into their campsites overall – better drainage, better roadways though and more facilities would al be relatively easy and inexpensive to accomplish yet provide enormous benefit to the fans onsite. Better communications as well – in today’s world there is no excuse for losing 4/3G signal from Friday onwards as people arrive and fill up the airwaves and while we’re at it – wifi – every ACO campsite should have wifi available especially as the ACO have moved into the app territory with their new information.
And talking of expense …. who on earth thought it was a good idea to replace hardcards with a shonky piece of paper from a xerox machine as ID? Whether it was in an effort to save what was likely a few thousand euros at most, or a major mis-jusdement by the ACO, the usual cards handed out to teams, team owners, drivers, media etc. had been dropped in favour of a piece of paper that, once out in the rain, started to disintegrate …. In a week where the terrorist threat was HIGH replacing professionally made ID cards with something any child could knock up with a free graphics program and a laser printer seems very ill-advised. Let’s hope that things revert to more sensible cards again on 2017! (oh, and while we are having a whinge, can we have a media car park pass and a desk next year please? Not sure why we were ‘victimised’ but no parking and no desk in the media centre certainly made this year a little ‘interesting’ for us, thank goodness for 3G/4G connections …..!)
However, whinging and weather aside, 2016 will most certainly go down as one of the most exciting races in the history of Le Mans – even the most outlandish of Hollywood scriptwriters could never have conceived so many twists and turns, accusations by all GTE teams of Sandbagging, Hollywood stars, monsoon weather, crashes, 11th hour driver sickness, mechanical and electrical failure …. what a race! It’s taken us days to digest it all and there are sure to be many months of talking points left so for the moment all we are left to say is “Wow, just wow.” and we’ll see you next year to do it all again.
Our 2016 gallery is online here – don’t forget to check back as we add more!
Full results and timings can be found here.