Mission accomplished: Porsche achieved its 17th overall Le Mans victory at the 83rd running of the famous 24-Hour race in a perfect way with a one-two finish. The main question leading into the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans was whether or not Porsche would be able to combine its qualifying pace with race reliability and compete with Audi. After battling neck-and-neck with Audi for most of the race, deciding factors occurred on Sunday morning to secure the victory for Porsche. This win is the first overall trophy for Porsche since 1998 when they finished 1-2, Audi had previously won the last five races, and 13 of the last 15.
The winning number 19 prototype had started third on the grid, and for a short time at the beginning even dropped down the order to eighth before settling in sixth for a longer period. Of all things, it is the rookie crew that won the monstrous classic. Neither Formula One driver Nico Hülkenberg, who had the joy of being in the car at the most emotional moments of the race, being the start and the finish driver, nor Earl Bamber brought Le Mans experience with them. Nick Tandy, the third driver of the winning trio, had at least done two Le Mans 24-Hours for Porsche in the GT class. By doing super fast laps, staying calm but highly focused, the three of them drove a race with no errors and won it by their own merits.
In the early stages of the men and machine stressing marathon the number 17 Porsche had been leading. However, a one-minute stop-and-go penalty at the end of the first third of the race dropped them back to fourth. Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and Mark Webber kept their heads down and worked hard. With a consistently strong performance they made it up to second place.
“That our Audi R18 e-tron quattro was absolutely competitive is a positive,” said Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. “Unfortunately, each of our three cars had at least one crucial incident. And when you’re pitted against a strong rival like Porsche you can’t afford that. Obviously, we’re disappointed but in sports you’ve got to accept defeats as well. It simply wasn’t our race. My thanks go to all who have worked extremely hard in the past months and here at Le Mans as well.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing endured a long Le Mans 24 Hours, showing good reliability but finishing a disappointing sixth and eighth at the Circuit de la Sarthe. The #2 TS040 HYBRID of Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin and Mike Conway finished in sixth place, with Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima in eighth. The two TS040 HYBRIDs ran consistently and reliably but fell short of the pace of their rivals. An improvement of one second in terms of fastest race lap compared to 2014 was not enough to challenge and led to a solitary race for both cars.
Toshio Sato, Team President: “Congratulations to the Porsche team who performed very well and can be proud of their achievement. Ultimately our car was not fast enough at Le Mans this year to fight for the podium. We reduced the gap to the opposition compared to qualifying but we were not able to fight, which is disappointing. We cannot be happy with this result, but I am satisfied with the professional work and dedication of the team. It has been a hard journey, but we never gave up. Aside from the contact for the #1 car early in the race, we made no mistakes and the cars ran well. Now we start preparation for Le Mans 2016 when we want Toyota to return much stronger.”
For most of the race, the battle at the top went back and forth between the two German manufacturers. A tire puncture in the No. 7 Audi gave up the lead to Porsche, and moments later a crash forced the No. 8 into the garage. But a three-minute replacement of the front and rear bodywork kept the Audi in contention. As the race wore into the night, Porsche maintained a faster pace than Audi. Nick Tandy took the lead on Lap 253 early Sunday morning, and car No. 19 never gave up the top position. The win is the first for all three drivers of the No. 19 – Nico Hülkenberg, Earl Bamber, and Nick Tandy. A lap behind in second was the No. 17 Porsche. The Audis fought reliability problems late in the race but still finished third with the No. 7 R18.
The GTE Pro class proved to be just as exciting as the P1 class, with a four-way battle for first after four hours into the race. As the Aston Martin cars dropped away, the lone Corvette Racing entry took over, followed by a charging AF Corse team Ferrari 458 Italia. The Corvette and Ferrari continued to trade places in the final hours until gearbox trouble forced the No. 51 Ferrari out of contention. It was eventually passed by the other AF Corse car, No. 71.
KCMG won the LMP2 class and came in ninth overall. Corvette also returned to the winner’s circle, with the No. 64 C7.R taking winning the GTE Pro division. Unfortunately for Aston Martin with 45 minutes to go the No. 98 Aston Martin crashed out of first place in GTE Amateur, and gave the class win to SMP Racing’s Ferrari and second place to the Patrick Dempsey Racing Porsche 911 RSR.
Nissan experienced all the pain of a first-year effort with its front-wheel-drive GT-R LM Nismo. The three car effort was consistently 20 seconds a lap slower than the leaders as they were never able to get the Hybrid portion of the engine to work. And cascading list of problems kept the cars in and out of the garage for the race. The 21 car retired late into the night after losing a rear tire, while the 23 stopped running with just an hour to go.
“I am feeling very proud of the whole team right now,” said Nissan’s Darren Cox. “For sure we have had problems but that’s what happens when you innovate. Our engine is strong and we were able to quickly fix the other problems that we had. We have learnt an incredible amount at Le Mans and our battles will only make us stronger.
In addition to its fledgling LM P1 program, Nissan provides engines to many of the LM P2 teams at Le Mans. Those teams did the Japanese manufacturer proud at Le Mans by taking the top seven finishing positions in the LM P2 class.
Le Mans 24 Hours 2015 results
Hülkenberg/Bamber/Tandy (Porsche) 395 laps
Bernhard/Webber/Hartley (Porsche) – 1 lap
Fässler/Lotterer/Tréluyer (Audi R18 e-tron quattro) – 2 laps
di Grassi/Duval/Jarvis (Audi R18 e-tron quattro) – 3 laps
Dumas/Jani/Lieb (Porsche) – 4 laps
Wurz/Sarrazin/Conway (Toyota) – 8 laps
Albuquerque/Bonanomi/Rast (Audi R18 e-tron quattro) – 8 laps
Davidson/Buemi/Nakajima (Toyota) – 9 laps
Howson/Bradley/Lapierre (ORECA-Nissan) – 37 laps
Dolan/Evans/Turvey (Gibson-Nissan) – 37 laps