Porsche recovers to triumph at wild Le Mans
18 June 2017 – Porsche captured its 19th victory at the Le Mans 24 Hours, with Earl Bamber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley triumphing for the #2 car in a thrilling, topsy-turvy encounter at the Circuit de la Sarthe.
In a dramatic race, Toyota's hopes were dashed with a litany of problems in quick succession, the #1 Porsche lost a 14-lap advantage, while an LMP2-spec machine led as late as the 23rd hour.
All six LMP1 cars were heavily delayed or retired, with the #2 Porsche emerging as the least compromised, recovering from spending over an hour in the garage on Saturday evening, which put it 18 laps down, while a new Motor Generator Unit was fitted.
The trio of Hartley, Bamber and Bernhard had to battle through from second-last place and surged past the GT cars and the bulk of the LMP2 runners, helped by the demise of LMP1 rivals in hot conditions in France.
The comeback was completed when Bernhard captured the lead from the LMP2-spec #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECA 07 machine with 65 minutes remaining.
It is the second overall Le Mans victory for both Bernhard and Bamber, and the first for 2015 WEC Champion Hartley in the 919 Hybrid.
Another LMP2 package, the #13 Vaillante Rebellion ORECA of Nelson Piquet Jr., Mathias Beche and David Heinemeier Hansson, finished in third overall, and second in LMP2.
The #8 Toyota was the only other LMP1 car to reach the chequered flag after 24 hours of racing, ninth overall, 10 laps behind the winners.
The GTE Pro category was decided in favour of the #97 Aston Martin, piloted by Jonathan Adam, Darren Turner and Daniel Serra, in a scintillating finale, with the positions only decided in the dying moments.
Toyota had been seeking to end its Le Mans 'curse', having missed out on a number of wins, most dramatically in 2016, when its race-leading car retired with just five minutes left.
Toyota ran 1-2 during the early stages of the race, having locked out the front row of the grid, and the #7 of Kamui Kobayashi, Stéphane Sarrazin and Mike Conway gradually pulled clear.
The #8, piloted by Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Anthony Davidson, held second spot but began Toyota's series of dramas when Buemi reported that he was losing fluid approaching one-third distance.
The lengthy repairs meant the #8 emerged from the garage 30 laps down.
The #7 Toyota continued to lead and extended its advantage over the #1 Porsche to over two minutes as night fell, aided by a Safety Car phase.
However, upon the restart, Kobayashi slowed as he exited the final corner and crawled to a halt due to a clutch problem; the Japanese driver attempted to get going again but it was to no avail.
The #9 car, Toyota's third entry driven by Nicolas Lapierre, Yuji Kunimoto and José María López, remained in contention, in second position, albeit a lap down on the leading Porsche.
The car had been hindered by picking up debris from the #4 ByKolles, which soon retired, on the opening lap, compromising its pace before repairs were undertaken, while an additional stop was needed later to secure a slightly loose door.
It was in the 11th hour when its prospects came to a halt, as Lapierre collided with an LMP2 rival approaching the Dunlop Curve, the contact giving the #9 a rear-left puncture.
Lapierre halted within a few hundred metres of the pit lane, leaving Toyota represented by only the #8, running substantially adrift of the leaders.
Porsche thus controlled proceedings from the midway point, with the #1 of André Lotterer, Neel Jani and Nick Tandy the only LMP1 machine so-far unaffected by reliability issues.
It meant the trio led the race by nine laps, an advantage which ballooned to 14 laps throughout the remainder of the night and morning.
However, with just under four hours remaining Lotterer suddenly slowed along the pit straight amid a loss of oil pressure.
Lotterer tried to fix the car but had to accept defeat, retiring the #1 Porsche, which elevated the LMP2-spec #38 Jackie Chan DC-run machine into the overall lead.
The #38 had emerged at the front of the secondary category, two laps clear of the #13 Rebellion, and gradually moved up the overall order amid the high rate of attrition in the LMP1 class.
Astonishingly, the demise of the #1 gave the #38 the lead, three laps clear of the #2 Porsche, which was charging through the LMP2 runners after its major delay on Saturday evening.
The #2, lapping over 10 seconds quicker, soon captured second overall, and moved closer to the lead when the #38 lost a minute in the pits due to a rear light change.
With just over two hours remaining, Bernhard put the #2 back on the lead lap and continued to draw closer, sweeping past Tung approaching Indianapolis shortly before the 23-hour mark.
Bernhard coasted home thereafter, delivering victory for Porsche, while LMP2 machines captured second and third, the #38 substantially clear of the #13.
Adam attempted a move during the final five minutes into Arnage, the pair rubbing panels, though Taylor fought back on the exit of the corner, preserving his slender advantage.
Taylor moved marginally clear but shot wide through the gravel at the second chicane and caused damage to his Corvette, with Adam utilising superior traction to pull clear entering the pit straight next time around.
Adam stormed clear across the final lap, while Taylor dropped to third in class by the chequered flag, with Harry Tincknell moving the #67 Chip Ganassi Ford into second place.
In GTE-Am, the #84 JMW Motorsport Ferrari of ex-Formula 1 driver Will Stevens, Robert Smith and Dries Vanthoor took honours.