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24 Heures du Mans, 13 – 14 June, 2015

The 83rd edition of the Le Mans 24 Hour Race, which was the 3rd round of the 2015 FIA WEC series, was held over the weekend of 13 – 14 June at the great Sarthe circuit. The race may have been run over the weekend, but that was the culmination of a week’s build-up to the endurance classic, in and around the track, starting with the traditional scrutineering procedures in the town centre of Le Mans on the preceding Sunday and Monday. For the 2015 running there were 56 entrants in four classes, 14 in the LMP1 class, 19 in the LMP2 class, 9 in the LMGTE Pro class, and 14 in the LMPGTE Am class. This was reduced to 55 starters, after the # 63 Chevrolet Corvette, driven by Jan Magnussen, crashed heavily during the Wednesday evening qualifying session in the Porsche Curves, as a result of debris becoming stuck in the throttle return assembly, and the throttle not closing when he took pressure off the accelerator pedal. The car was unable to be repaired at the track, so the entry was withdrawn, fortunately the driver was unhurt in the incident.

Apart from providing the greatest endurance race in the world, the organisers also provide a wide variety of off-track activities to entertain the legions of race fans which make the annual pilgrimage. This year the attendance once again broke the record, with 263,500 spectators recorded, and again this showed in the traffic circulation problems on the roads around the track. Apart from the scrutineering sessions in the town centre, there was also the traditional driver parade through the town on the Friday evening, an autograph session in the pit lane on the Tuesday afternoon, the pit walk all day on the Friday and a host of other activities. These included support races, this year for Aston Martin Festival and Le Mans Legend, the trade village, live music shows, wandering musicians, the funfair, manufacturer displays, including a novel Lego Porsche 911 RSR, the presentation of the Alpine 60 Celebration concept car, an exhibition titled “Ford Ferrari Le Duel 1964 – 1967” celebrating the battle between the two marques for overall supremacy during that period. This featured a quintet of Ferraris from the period, albeit the 250 GTO was a replica, a quintet of Ford GT40s and a Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe.

One event almost overshadowed the race (certainly in the French press on Sunday), when the French President, Francois Hollande, arrived as a guest of the Minister of Agriculture, Stephane Le Foll, who is from the Sarthe region, to witness the start of the race. This was the first visit to the race by a reigning French President in over 40 years, the last being Georges Pompidou in 1972.

Business on the track starts in earnest in the Wednesday evening qualifying session, and as it turned out this was when the quickest overall times were set. In the LMP1 group it was a Porsche 919 landslide, with their cars occupying the top three slots on the starting grid. Quickest was their # 18 car in the hands of Neel Jani, who recorded a time of 3min 16.887secs, which was a little under a second quicker than the # 17 example driven by Timo Bernhard, followed a fraction over a second slower by the # 19 car driven by Nick Tandy. The quickest of the Audis was 4th fastest, which was the # 8 R18 e-tron quattro driven by Loic Duval, with the sister # 7 & # 9 examples close behind. The pair of Toyotas was next up on the time sheets, but their pace, compared to their competitors last year, wasn’t competitive, as they were some 7+secs off the pole position time. As for the trio of new Nissan GTR-LM Nismos, with their radical front wheel drive set-up, in their first race outing it was a baptism of fire. They couldn’t match the pace of the other main works protagonists, and were also slower than the three private LMP1 entries. Their quickest example in qualifying was the # 22 car driven by Harry Tincknell, but it was some 20secs off the pole position time, and only around a second quicker than the top LMP2 time.

The LMP2 class pole position went to the KCMG entered # 47 ORECA-Nissan 05 driven by Richard Bradley, which was a fraction under a second faster than Sam Bird in the G-Drive Racing # 26 Ligier-Nissan JSP2. In its previous two outings this year the KCMG car has proved fast but fragile, so the team were hoping that they could tick all the boxes this time out from the perfect class start position. In the LMGTE Pro category, it was Richie Stanaway who put the # 99 Aston Martin Vantage GTE on the class pole. However, it was by mere fractions of a second from the # 51 AF Corse entered Ferrari 458 GT2 driven by Giani Bruni. The quickest of the LMGTE Am runners was also an Aston Martin Vantage GTE, this time the # 98 car driven by Pedro Lamy. In fact the whole GT field was very closely matched, with only a little over 6secs covering all 22 starters. The # 71 AF Corse Ferrari 458 GT2, which had qualified 4th in class, was forced to start from the back of the grid, as Olivier Beretta hadn’t completed a qualifying lap within the 120% cut-off point. This fate also befell the trio of LMP1 Nissans and the # 4 CLM P1/01-AER, plus the LMP2 # 45 ORECA 03R-Nissan, which were all relegated to the back of the LMP part of the grid.

From the qualifying times it was clear that, unless massive misfortune overtook them, it was going to be a Porsche or an Audi that would take the chequered flag first on Sunday afternoon. There was some misfortune for both teams in varying degrees, but not enough for anybody else to be in with a chance of taking the spoils of victory. When the light went out at 3.00pm on Saturday afternoon, it was the Porsche trio that led away from the line, with the # 17 example getting the jump on the pole sitting # 18 car, whilst the chasing Audis were all over them like the proverbial rash, as they pulled away from the pursuing pack.

The casualties started early during the first hour, when the # 92 Porsche 911 RSR lost oil from its gearbox at Indianapolis, which ignited and set the car on fire, although it was quickly extinguished by the marshals. However, the dropped oil caught out the # 13 Rebellion which collided with the # 42 Strakka racing Dome, and ended up in the gravel trap, signalling the first safety car period. This brought the Audis back onto the tail of the Porsches, and when the track went green, Andre Lotterer in the # 7 Audi, put two swift moves on the Porsches in front of him to take the lead. He lost it again during the next round of pit stops, but soon fought back, until his efforts were thwarted by a puncture in the 3rd hour. This was not a good time for Audi, as the # 8 car driven by Benoit Treluyer glanced the barriers just before Indianapolis, due to misleading information to some competitors caused him to come across a large group of slow moving cars, and nowhere to go, although he was able to continue minus most of the front of the car.

A second safety car period didn’t work well for Audi, and allowed the # 17 Porsche to establish a lead of around a minute in the 4th hour. As the race approached quarter distance, the Audis began to haul the Porsches back in, but the # 17 Porsche held on to the lead. Porsche had a fright in the 8th hour when Romain Dumas in the # 18 car went straight on at the end of the Mulsanne Straight due to a brake problem, but little damage was done and he only dropped one place. The same thing happened to Neel Jani some hours later, in the same place, dropping the car further out of contention. Porsche had a further blip in the game plan, when the # 17 car had to serve a 1 minute stop-go penalty in the 9th hour for an earlier “Slow Zone” infringement, which handed the lead to the sister # 19 “Rookie” car of Hulkenberg / Bamber / Tandy, the first two drivers having had no previous Le Mans race experience. Once this car was at the head of the field it didn’t look back, and stayed ahead of its sister cars through the night, when it showed better speed, and right through until 3.00pm on Sunday afternoon when it was the first across the line, which gave Porsche their 17th overall Le Mans win. The sister # 17 car of Webber / Hartley / Bernhard took the runner-up spot, a lap down on the winning car

The Audis suffered a series of problems, which was unusual for them, including lost rear bodywork, a need to top up engine oil level, a failed driveshaft and sundry other things, that stilted a strong challenge, but they still managed to get their # 7 car of Lotterer / Faessler / Treluyer on the final step of the podium, albeit a further lap down. The # 8 Audi of Duval / di Grassi / Jarvis finished 4th, another lap down and a lap ahead of the 5th place # 18 Porsche of Jani / Dumas / Lieb. As for the Toyotas, they were both still running at the end, but didn’t have the speed of the Porsches or Audis, and couldn’t capitalise on any failings, finishing in 6th and 8th positions, sandwiching the # 9 Audi. For Nissan it was a poor showing, as only one of their three cars was running at the end, the # 22 example, and that didn’t complete enough laps to be classified as a finisher. The # 4 Team ByKolles CLM-AER P1/01 could be deemed even less fortunate, as after Kaffer / Trummer / Monteiro went the distance, albeit with an unclassified 260 laps, the car was excluded for being underweight.

In the LMP2 class the “frail” # 47 ORECA-Nissan 05 of KCMG was in dominant form throughout the race, its frailty seemingly a distant memory, as the driving team of Bradley / Lapierre / Howson took a strong class win. However, it wasn’t without its moments, including a drive-through penalty for a pit lane infringement, one of the illuminated number panels necessitating a stop for attention, and a couple of offs, one of which lost a couple of minutes, as reverse gear wouldn’t engage. All three podium finishers in the LMP2 class were on the same lap at the end of the race, and the others also had their share of problems during the course of the race. Eventually the # 38 Jota Sport Gibson-Nissan 05S of Turvey / Dolan / Evans took the runner-up spot, and the final podium place went to the # 26 G-Drive Racing Ligier-NissanJSP2 of Bird / Rusinov / Canal.

The GT classes saw a sprint like battle for supremacy from the start, and were closely bunched for much of the early part of the race, especially after the early safety car periods drew them all back together again. In the LMGTE Pro class almost every car suffered from some problems, some more serious than others, and the only car that had a relatively trouble-free run was the one that collected the victors laurels at the end. This was the # 64 Corvette C7.R of Gavin/Milner/Taylor, which, although it was the slowest class qualifier, was slugging it out with the # 51 AF Corse Ferrari 458 GT2 of Bruni / Fisichella / Vilander, which suffered a gearbox problem whilst leading the Corvette with 2 hours remaining. This necessitated a lengthy pit stop, and dropped it to 3rd place behind the sister # 71 AF Corse entry of Calado / Rigon / Beretta, which finished 2nd to the Corvette, despite having lost 4 laps earlier in the race, when it needed a new alternator. The LMGTE Pro Aston Martins had even more problems than the Ferraris, with the # 95 example of Sorensen / Thim / Nygaard the first to hit problems with power steering failure, which lost it a lot of time whilst the mechanics effected repairs. Then, during the night the # 97 “art car” lost an oil line when it was bounced too hard over the kerbs, sending it into retirement, and the pole sitting # 99 example had a collision with a LMP2 car, which put it back in the pits for repairs, and out of contention for a decent finishing position. The # 95 car survived to finish 4th in class, and the # 99 car managed to come home 6th in class.

The LMGTE Am class also saw multiple cars suffer from a variety of problems, although the class pole sitting # 98 Aston Martin Vantage V8 of Dalla Lana / Lauda / Lamy, appeared to be the class of the field, leading comfortably for most of the race, apart from the # 72 SMP Racing Ferrari 458 GT2 snapping at its heels on occasion. However, with all the Aston Martin team’s hopes pinned on it, disaster struck in the final hour of the race, as Dalla Lana crashed heavily at the Ford Chicane, putting it out of the race with only 45mins to go, fortunately without injury to the driver, handing the class win to the # 72 SMP Ferrari driven by Shaytar / Bertolini / Basov. The American actor Patrick Dempsey made it to the podium with his team mates Patrick Long and Marco Seefried in 2nd in class in their # 77 Porsche 911 RSR, with the final podium place going to the # 62 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 GT2 of Segal / Sweedler / Bell.

R# Model Chassis # Team Colour Drivers Position        O/A Cl.

Class LMGTE Pro
71 458 GT2 2884 AF Corse Multicolour D. Rigon/  J. Calado/  O. Beretta 21st 2nd
51 458 GT2 2886 AF Corse Multicolour’ G. Bruni/ 25th 3rd       T. Vilander/ G. Fisichella

Class LMGTE Am
72 458 GT2 2872 SMP Racing Blue-White-Red A. Bertolini/  V. Shaytar/  A. Basov 20th 1st
62 458 GT2 2830 Scuderia Corsa Red-Blue & White Stripes B. Sweedler/  T. Bell/ F. Perrodo/  J. Segal 24th 3rd
83 458 GT2 2880 AF Corse Red-RWB Stripes E. Collard/  R. Aguas 26th 4th
61 458 GT2 2848 AF Corse Red-RWG Tric’ P. Mann/  R. Giammaria/ M. Cressoni 31st 5th
66 458 GT2 2808 JMW Motorsport Yellow-White- Red-Black A. Al Faisal/  J. Giermaziak/  M. Avenatti 36th 7th
55 458 GT2 2854 AF Corse Orange-Multi D. Cameron/  M. Griffin/ A. Mortimer DNF DNF

Keith Bluemel