So the 86th running of the Le Mans 24 hours is over and we think the dust has settled on this, the first of two visits to Le Mans during this FIA World Endurance Championship super season.
Way back on the Sunday of scrutineering, as the cars arrived to a wet Place de la Republic, we may have been forgiven for thinking that the result was already known and that Toyota would win the race… but what would be in store for the teams and drivers on their journey to the flag… remember 2017!
In the final qualifying session, the number 8 Toyota Gazoo Racing car of Buemi, Nakajima and Alonso took the pole position, with the sister car number 7 in second. The non-hybrid LMP1 cars were some 4 seconds off the pace and as widely expected were not in a position to challenge for pole.
So, the scene was set for the start of the race; the French Army, in spectacular style, delivered the flag to the official starter, tennis ace Raffa Nadal, who took up grip and started the 86th running of the Le Mans 24 – but not before an early scare for the ByKolles - stalling before pulling away then spinning in an effort to catch up!
The new start line proved a hit with the fans as the pack were nicely bunched for the first lap, although trouble ensued on the run up to the Dunlop Bridge, the Rebellion of Lotterer making contact with a Toyota before collecting the 10 Dragonspeed car and losing its nose.
After the first hour of racing, the Toyota’s had started to pull away from the rest of the field and had over a 1 minute gap back to the SMP number 17. In LMP2 the 26 G-Drive and 28 TDS Racing cars were at the head of the field with only the 36 Signatech Alpine for company on their lead lap. The story could not be more different in GTE Pro with every car still on the lead lap and 58 seconds covering them all! In GTE AM, the 86 Gulf Racing Porsche was heading the field, while the 85 Keating Motorsports Ferrari was a lap down in last place after an uncharacteristic departure from the track by Bleekemolen.
4 hours in and, what seemed to be a quite obvious switch of position between the 7 and 8 Toyotas, put the 8 into the lead. There appeared to be contact between the 80 Ebimotors Porsche and the 4 ByKolles LMP1 sending the 4 spinning off track and making heavy impact into the barriers which ended their race.
The battle throughout the race however was between the GTE Pro Ford GT’s and the 91 Porsche, which allowed the 92 Porsche to have a lap lead over their teammates by the end of the race.
Just 54 mins before the end of the race, the engine on the number 11 SMP LMP1 gave up, ending the race of Button, Petrov and Aleshin.
So, as the chequered flag fell, at last a Toyota crossed the line making it a 1 – 2 for the team, 8 followed by the 7 with the number 3 Rebellion Racing took 3rd some 12 laps behind the winning car.
In LMP2 the 26 G-Drive crossed the line in first followed by the 28 TDS Racing, with 3rd being taken by the 36 Signatech Apline. But this is not how they would stay; a stewards decision late on Sunday evening saw the top 2 cars stripped of their places and disqualified from the race for a non-compliant part in their fuelling rigs which allowed them to refuel faster than the other teams. This promoted the 36 to 1st, and the 39 Graff to 2nd with 32 United Autosports 3rd in the LMP2 Class. This decision is being challenged by G-Drive and TDS so watch this space!
In GTE Pro, the ‘Pink Pig’ of Christensen, Estre and Vanthoor came home in 1st, followed by the sister car the 92 and in 3rd the 68 Ford GT of the Chip Ganassi team.
In GTE Am the 77 Porsche of Dempsy Proton Racing took the win, followed by the Spirit of Race Ferrari and in 3rd the 85 Keating Motorsports Ferrari – how Jeroen must be kicking himself for that early trip into the gravel…
So how does this look for the FIA WEC teams?
In GTE AM, the 77 Dempsey – Proton Racing car leads (51 Points), followed by Clearwater Racing (33 Points) and in 3rd Spirit of Race (31 Points).
In LMP2, Signatech Alpine lead (57 Points), 2nd (38 – 43 Points) and 3rd (37 – 42 Points) are Jackie Chan DC Racing.
And in LMP1, no surprises here with Toyota Gazoo Racing in the lead (65 Points) followed by Rebellion Racing (38 Points) and ByKolles (12 Points).
After a little breather, the next round coming up is the 6 Hours of Silverstone, 17-19 August – see you there!