With the typical changeability of the Sarthe weather, the skies grew overcast and rain threatened towards the closing laps of the 83rd edition of France’s twice around the clock endurance classic, but it certainly didn’t dampen the spirits of the #19 Porsche 919 Hybrid as Britain’s Nick Tandy and Le Mans rookies Earl Bamber (New Zealand) and F1 driver Nico Hülkenberg (Germany), took victory at this year’s Le Mans 24 hour race in style, securing a seventeenth overall victory for Porsche, the manufacturer’s first since 1998.
The #17 red sister car, with Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley took the second step on the podium leaving defending race winners Marcel Fassler, Andre Lotterer and Benoit Treluyer in the #7 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18 e-tron Quattro to take the final overall podium spot.
Hard Battle in LMP1
The predicted four-way fight for overall victory was in reality a two-way struggle between ‘sister’ German teams Audi and Porsche. The reigning WEC World Champions Toyota knew their cars were off the pace before arriving in Le Mans, but had campaigned on the hope that their reliability would keep them in the hunt however, the best result they could muster this year was a sixth place for the #2 car driven by Alexander Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin and Mike Conway, some nine laps down on the winners.
And then of course there was Nissan …. Like it or loathe it, the GTR-LM brought with it a garage-full of radical thinking and innovation but in the end proved woefully inadequate; reliability issues (the #23 Nissan missed the opening laps while undergoing repairs to its clutch) and, with the hybrid system disconnected the cars that could run were slow, VERY slow and the ‘all star’ driving teams NISMO had put together found themselves lapped by the LMP2s and the fastest of the GTEs.
Back at the front of the grid and having learned the harsh lesson in 2014 that speed is nothing without reliability, Porsche’s victory this year means the Stuttgart brand’s victories are now unmatched by any other manufacturer in the history of the event.
Flat-out driving in LMP2
In LMP2 the #47 KCMG Oreca with Frenchman Nicolas Lapierre and British drivers Matt Howson & Richard Bradley put in an exemplary performance leading all but a few laps to take the class win, handing KCMG the first ever win for a Hong Kong team at the legendary Sarthe circuit.
Faced with battling the hard charging KCMG trio, New Zealander Mitch Evans and British pairing Simon Dolan and Oliver Turvey drove the wheels off the Jota Sport #Mighty38 Gibson 015S Nissan, bringing it in 48 seconds behind the KCMG car for second spot on the podium, just falling short in their bid to retain Jota’s 2014 title.
Russian backed team G-Drive Racing’s #26 Ligier JS P2 Nissan was third with drivers Roman Rusinov, Julien Canal and Sam Bird.
Everything changes for Aston Martin Racing
In the LM GTE Pro class it had looked like it was to be Aston Martin Racing’s year with the #99 Vantage GTE of Fernando Rees, Richie Stanaway and Alex McDowell starting on pole (thanks to an amazing lap by Le Mans rookie Stanaway) and then locked in an exhilarating wheel-to-wheel battle with the #64 Corvette at the front of the GTE PRO class for most of the race.
However, following a pit stop for a brake change 14 hours into the race, Rees made a brash move on the inside of the Thiriet by TDS Oreca at the first Mulsanne chicane. The resulting contact caused major damage to the front left corner of Rees’ Vantage and sent the French team’s Oreca spinning through the gravel, leaving the way ultimately clear for the #64 Corvette Racing C7.R driven by Brit Oliver Gavin and Americans Tommy Milner and Jordan Taylor to take the GTE Pro honours.
Despite repairs to the Hanergy liveried Aston Martin, it was never again in the running for a podium finish after the crash and the AF Corse Ferraris took the next two spots with the #71 458 Italia of Davide Rigon, James Calado and Olivier Beretta finishing 5 laps behind the Corvette and the #51 sister car, driven by Giammaria Bruni, Toni Vilander and Giancarlo Fisichella a further two laps down to claim third spot.
Rarely does a year go by without some form of drama in the final hour at Le Mans and, in a cruel turn of fate for Aston Martin Racing, this year it was the turn of the #98 Aston Martin Vantage which had led the LM GTE Am class for the majority of the race. On the out lap following his final pit stop, Canadian Paul Dalla Lana crashed heavily into the wall just past SCG Headquarters on Maison Blanche, ending the team’s day and their final hopes of a victory in 2015 just 45 minutes before the flag.
Dalla Lana’s crash left the way clear for the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari 458 Italia of Victor Shaytar, Andrea Bertolini and Aleksei Basov to take the GTE Am class win, finishing 20th overall, one place ahead of the Pro class winners.
Fan-favourite finally gets Podium
The Russian Ferrari was followed home by fan-favourite, the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR driven by Patrick Long, Marco Seefried and former Grey’s Anatomy star Patrick Dempsey who finally got the Le Mans podium he has so desperately desired at his third attempt.
The all-American team #62 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 Italia driven by Jeff Segal, Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler rounded out the GTE Am podium.
37 of the 55 starters were classified as completing the race, proving once more that finishing the world’s greatest and most renowned endurance race is a challenge in itself.
And finally, yet another record was broken as a whopping 263,500 spectators made their annual pilgrimage to the famous Sarthe circuit to sample the greatest motor race on earth, up 200 over last year.
See you next year!