I have been looking forward to this years Le Mans a lot! 4 manufacturers (Porsche, Audi, Toyota and Nissan) all battling in the LMP1 Hybrid hybrid category, a fiercely competitive LMP2 contingent and the usually start to end wheel to wheel GTE Pro and Am.
It is not a secret that I wanted a Porsche win and of course I was not disappointed. #19 Porsche 919 winning by 1 lap from the #17 919 and #7 Audi R18 another lap back.
The race was of the highest calibre, the Porsche v Audi battle raged extremely closely for for opening 8 hours or so and continued until the end, the LMP2 and GTE classes raged until the latter part of the race.
The LMP1 (Hybrid) battle…
The Qualifying result to some extent set the tone for the race, Porsche 1-2-3, Audi 4-5-6, Toyota 7-8 and the Nissans 12-13-15 (although Nissan were relagated to the back of the LMP grid due to the 110% rule).
Nissan although in the LMP1 Hybrid category had a rough weekend, qualifying in the LMP2 cars, no working hybrid electric power and a race featuring numerous problems!
Granted they were attempting to debut a car in the worlds hardest race but still I ended up feeling sorry for them as they tried to nurse their cars to end despite lengthy spells in the garage.
After watching numerous videos about the Nissan GTR LM NISMO I do think that there are certain merits in its design it’s just a shame that they had such a disastrous debut and were so far off the pace. At least there is only one way to go. They have 2 cars entered in the 6hrs at the Nurburgring in August and they will have learned a lot!
Toyota also struggled with pace as they have against Porsche and Audi all season, their race was quiet and was most likely based on making no mistakes as the pace of the leading pair was too much. #1 did have contact with another car but it made very little difference to a Le Mans to forget for Toyota. On a big positive Toyota announced that next year they are going to use a smaller turbo engine and different hybrid unit to bring them into line with the others, it cannot come soon enough for the current world champions.
The Porsche Audi battle was so exciting and complicated that writing it up here would take a long time, the most interesting element of the battle was the changing pace of the cars depending on the conditions. In the hot weather early in the race the Audi’s seemed to have the edge, the #7 Audi with Lotterer at the wheel had the measure of the Porsches, no doubt Lotterer is a fine driver but the R18 seemed quicker and had a large advantage on its tyre life. Due to a couple of issues for the Audi’s the #17 Porsche remained in the lead for much of the pre night time racing but in general the Audi’s looked like it was a matter of time before they started to build a lead.
Once the night took hold and the temperatures dropped the Porsches seemed to be transformed, they were able to match the Audi’s pace and Mark Webber set the trend for the 919’s by match the Audi’s 4 stints on tyres. All 6 drivers of the #17 and #19 drove superbly (and #18), but the standout performances from what I saw were the staggering consistency of Webber and Hulkenberg (surprise surprise!) through the night (taking nothing away from the others). Once the day light started to break Porsche were looking strong and sure enough it only took an uncharacteristic issue for the #7 Audi and it was suddenly Porsches to lose, 2 laps clear and able to match the pace of the Audi’s.
Audi had a mixed Le Mans, as usual showing great pace and without doubt having a car strong enough to win but they weren’t as reliable as the Porsches. Each Audi suffered with some kind of issue where as #17 and especially #19 didn’t, it is worth remembering that in the early stages #19 was the slower car of the 6 and looked like it was going to be playing catch up for a while, not so, once Tandy, Bamber and Hulkenberg had settled they were flawless. Audi can certainly be happy with their performance, especially the repair to the crashed #8 car that took 4 minutes (!) a true testament to the strength and design of the R18, but they ran into a Porsche team so driven for victory 17 and so focused and perhaps most importantly on form that victory was too much of a tall order. Regardless, all 9 of the Audi drivers showed why they are driving for the success machine that is the Audi LMP1 team.
Porsche #18 was the only blip and seemed to suffer all the bad luck for the whole team, 2 trips off the track which seem to be down to brake issues, Marc Lieb even losing out on a place when behaving correctly in the aftermath of Bonamoni’s accident in the #8 Audi. It was good to see all three driver so happy with the result for the team despite a challenging race for themelves.
LMP2 was also close and was a battle to end too, 48 secs is all that separated the front two, the winning KCMG car had Nicolas Lapierre to thank for some brilliantly fast and solid laps as no doubt Oliver Turvey and Sam Bird were just waiting for a mistake after some fantastic work them selves in 2nd and 3rd spot respectively.
GT Pro and Am was as usual very tight, I was routing for the #99 Aston in Pro (and the Manthey factory 911s) and the #98 Aston in Am. Alas the #99 cars accident all but dashed there hopes of a victory, it was a shame especially after Fernando Rees driving in an amazing battle with the Corvette in which the lead was exchanged, great to watch.
This was however not as sad as the #98, heroics from Pedro Lamy meant the car started at the front of the Pro class and a superb race meant they were literally miles in the lead when Dalla Lana accident happened 45 mins from the end, the head real was clearly visible in the garage on the mechanics faces and in my living room. I hope the GTE classes are not changed rule wise for a long time, they are perfect and give close to perfection in entertainment and racing.
So the 2015 Le Mans was straight from the top draw, the racing was fierce in all classes and the result was perfect. Why was the race so good? Firstly because it’s Le Mans and it tends to bring the best out of all competitors but also it is due to the current situation in the WEC with the rules.
With the top LMP1’s all pushing 1000bhp the pace is exhilarating, not just at Le Mans but at all of the WEC circuits. There has been talk from the Le Mans officials that they are concerned about the speed of the top cars and that next year their speed should be limited. I really hope this is not the case, but I understand that there is a safety concern.
Roll on the Nurburgring WEC in August and let’s hope Le Mans 2016 is as good with full programs from Nissan, Toyota, Audi and of course Porsche.
Great result for Porsche and especially the #19, this result will keep me happy for a while…
Finally the below video is onboard from Timo Bernhard, it’s is about a 3:17 and was good enough for 2nd on the grid, the acceleration is crazy. I love the 919!