by H. Mayor – photo: lemans.org |
Many things can happen during a 24 hour race and the dynamics are different from what we are used to. One one hand, the importance of a record pole position is only relative and on the other, someone that seems to have lost his chance can later climb back up and win. The 85th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans this past Sunday had a bit of everything with a particularly dramatic undertone in many phases.
To sum it all up, Porsche achieved again the coveted triumph after a vertiginous comeback, Toyota suffered from another catastrophic streak and the lower category stepped up, nearly making history at the podium. It seemed that the Japanese scuderia would finally touch the sky this weekend at this mythical race. A race nonetheless extremely taxing and demanding for both their sophisticated machines and their pilots. Kobayashi’s historic pole made for a great start, but in such a long race anything can happen.
At Le Mans there is enough time see a driver climbing up 20 laps or more and winning. In between the fall of Toyota and the erratic performance of Porsche, the LMP2 (second category) had a chance to dream with the victory, something unseen before. Rebelion’s Oreca 07 and the team of actor Jackie Chan lead the race during many laps, until they were overtaken by the winning Porsche at just one hour from the end of the race.
Porsche #2, driven by Timo Bernhard, Earl Bamber and Brendon Hartley was the one to take the victory home after a day full of ups and downs. After barely 3 hours and a half into the race, the prototype vehicle entered boxes with a fault on the electric engine of the front left wheel. The problem continued for 18 laps making it lose some precious time until it was finally back on track. From then on, a factor laden comeback.
The key factor was Toyota’s decline. Propelled by Kobayashi’s pole, the Japanese dominated the race with authority at the beginning. First came prototype #8 from Sebastian Buemi. What seemed like a minor issue ended up being a serious fault of the electric motor which needed a lengthy repair.
Later on, after the first safety car, Kobayashi’s #7 lost its clutch and couldn’t even make it to boxes, having to quit the race. Soon after, Nicolas Lapierre’s #9 crashed against an LMP2 and also had to withdraw. The horizon was clear for Porsche, although the way ahead was no walk in the park. The 919 Hybrid #1 took the leadership comfortably until a new problem had him quitting the race at 11.15, with Lotterer at the wheel.
The landscape was changing again. The Oreca #38 of Jackie Chan’s team became, to everyone’s surprise, the new leader during the last hours of the race, followed by Rebelion. But they couldn’t hold the position till the end. A mistake and subsequent penalty for Rebelion’s #31 paved the way for the breathtaking comeback of Porsche #2, back on the track as the last of the Stuttgarts’ bullets. With just one hour to go they caught up with the LMP2 of the Chinese actor and their powerful machine overtook it with ease.
This is Porsche’s third consecutive triumph and its 19th overall at the 24 hours of Le Mans. At this edition it was their capacity to adapt and endure all contingencies that saw them reach the final victory. Toyota has no choice but to take comfort in their dominance over the first nine hours of the race and reflect over what make them fall apart during the night after two of their prototypes had to quit early on and the third withdraw at just 30 laps of the finish line.