Porsche Wins Dramatic Le Mans 24-Hours
The 84th running of the world endurance classic was a turbulent one for Porsche, which became locked in a battle with Toyota and came out on top clinching overall victory from the jaws of defeat in the final five minutes of the race…
If the Le Mans 24-Hours did nothing else this year, it served as a clear reminder of just how intense and close modern endurance racing has become. Porsche fielded two 919 Hybrid prototype cars in the LMP1 category, not the three it ran 12-months ago at the circuit Le Sarthe. Meanwhile, a pair of 911 RSRs were also entered by the factory into the GTE-Pro category, but between the two very distinct racing categories Porsche’s race would be marred by reliability problems but benefitted from a dramatic end to the 24-Hour race, sweeping through to clinch victory.
Porsche qualified its LMP1 919 Hybrids on the front row and the start of the race looked promising. For the first time in living memory the great race began under the safety car due to wet conditions, and both Porsches, the No1 entry of Timo Bernhard/ Brendon Hartley/ Mark Webber and the No2 car of Romain Dumas/ Neel Jani/ Mark Lieb ran at the front for the first four hours. It quickly emerged that the Toyotas would be the biggest rivals for Porsche this year as they pushed the pace, but the Porsche duo remained in touch largely until darkness fell.
In a race that ebbed and flowed as cars pitting for fuel and driver changes, come early evening the No1 Porsche was leading the race with the No2 entry sitting in fourth, but that was set to change. The gap between the Porsches and Toyotas grew and shrank as the two teams ran their respective strategies, and worked their way through slow zones and traffic. The Toyotas typically completed 14 lap stints, the Porsche cars 13 laps, and it looked to be that single lap difference that might have proved the deciding factor between them over the course of the race.
Just after 11pm local time the No1 Porsche was brought into the pits for high water temperature, and there it would largely stay for the best part of three-hours as the Porsche mechanics changed the car’s water pump and fought to get it back on track. This finished its chances of a good result. Meanwhile the sister car, No2, charged onwards. When morning broke the No1 car was buried down the running order but the No2 machine was still performing well, running in the top three and battling the Toyotas for victory. That dice developed as the clock ticked down and the final three hours were signalled, Porsche kept Mark Lieb in the car for a set of long stints in a bid to save time in the pitlane. Toyota’s ability to run longer stints though allowed it to make less pit stops in the final hours, handing it a tactical advantage.
Meanwhile the No1 919 Hybrid fought back up through the order chasing points in the all-important World Endurance Championship (WEC), for which Le Mans counts and offers double championship points. The No1 car crossed the line in sixth position, but all eyes were on the sister car, No2, further up the road. It decided its battle with the Toyotas, ending the race in first place with Neel Jani completing the final stint behind the car’s wheel. It all came down to the final five minutes of the race when the leading Toyota slowed with technical issues, as the Toyota team looked on in utter horror, Jani swept through to win the race.
During the course of the Le Mans weekend a controversial argument ensued surrounding the hotly contested GTE-Pro class. Certain performance penalties applied to the faster cars, referred to as the ‘Balance of Performance’ (BoP) were deemed somewhat unfair, even causing Porsche’s Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser to reportedly break down into tears during a press conference, such was his emotion surrounding the subject. Two 911 RSRs were fielded, No91 driven by Patrick Pilet, Kévin Estre and Nick Tandy, the No92 car was driven by Frédéric Makowiecki, Earl Bamber and Jörg Bergmeister. Whether or not Porsche’s speed deficit to the Fords in the class was genuine or caused by the BoP, both looked to struggle during qualifying.
During the early stages of the race however both factory RSRs performed well, moving to the front of the class and running well, but things would not stay that way. The No91 entry lost time when its radiator was holed by a stone and had to be changed. The sister car, No92, lost several positions when a sheered drive peg forced the team to fit a new wheel hub, and to fix the car’s power steering system. It seemed as if 2016 was not the Porsche 911’s year, and that was confirmed during the night when both cars were retired due to further technical dramas. This left the customer RSR, No77 of Dempsey Proton Racing, as Porsche’s best hope. It made it through the night and come morning sat in eight spot, finally crossing the line in eighth position.
Porsche, like sister marque Audi, suffered pain during the 2016 Le Mans race, but thanks to Toyota’s failures the brand took its 18th victory – the dream of back-to-back wins in 2015 and 2016. Regardless though it’s worth remembering just how competitive modern endurance racing as become, and how big a challenge a race like the Le Mans 24-hours actually is, GT Porsche contributor Andrew Frankel perhaps put it best with this tweet: ‘@Andrew_Frankel 2200 miles into
@24hoursoflemans, the gap between first and third is 2.2sec.’ All eyes will now be on the remaining races in the WEC series, where Porsche will hope it can clinch victory over its rivals.
Porsche: 2016 Le Mans winners…