Le Mans 24 Hour - Race Report - 19/6/16
After taking the lead on Sunday morning, the #5 Toyota driven by Anthony Davidson, Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastien Buemi looked untouchable and as the clock ticked down they looked certain to take the Japanese manufacturer's first ever success in the Le Mans 24 Hours and de-throne the usual top dogs Audi and Porsche. Disaster struck however when the Toyota, which was leading by 45 seconds, came onto the start-finish straight to start the final lap and suddenly ground to a halt, allowing the #2 Porsche of Neel Jani, Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb past to secure an unlikely victory.
The weather had not been kind for the organisers and fans as the race was forced to start behind the safety car after torrential rain pummelled the Circuit de la Sarthe half an hour before the race was due to get underway. Because of this, the honorary starter, Brad Pitt, had to embarrassingly wave the field off from under an umbrella on the grid, rather than on the stroke of 3pm as they exited the Ford Chicane. Whilst many felt that the decision was the right one given the conditions and the blinding spray, the fans were restless for the action to begin and resorted to booing the cars as they came round to the grandstands in the hope of a green flag.
After almost an hour the green flag came and finally the action got underway in what proved to be somewhat drier conditions. A number of cars chose to pit early for intermediate tyres while others went straight from wets to slicks by staying out longer. The conditions appeared to suit the Toyotas and in particular the #6 of Mike Conway as he worked his way past both Porsches to take the lead of the race. In many ways it was a sign of things to come as the Toyotas were dominating the LMP1 class.
After an hour the #7 Audi of three-time Le Mans winners Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler suffered a turbocharger failure and was wheeled back into the pits where they lost the best part of 5 laps. With further issues plaguing the car, it never got back in contention. The field then made their move to slicks and it was the reigning champions in the #1 Porsche out in front. Shortly before midnight local time, the Porsche was taken out of the equation with what was diagnosed as a water pump and engine temperature issue. They lost 38 laps to the leader after a failed return so the trio of Webber, Bernhard and Hartley will have to wait yet another year before they can realise their potential and win the Le Mans 24 Hours.
As the race crossed over into darkness, the drivers settled down and got on with the job at hand before a dramatic Sunday morning jolting everyone into life. Both the Rebellions hit trouble that would wreck their race, while the JOTA Sport/G Drive Racing #38 of Jake Dennis, Simon Dolan and Giedo van der Garde was hit by the #98 Aston Martin and hit the Ford Chicane barrier, ending their race prematurely once they limped back to the pits. Their team-mates, the #26 Oreca of Rene Rast, Will Stevens and Roman Rusinov, benefitted greatly from the chaos as the #44 Manor, #46 TDS Racing Oreca and #35 Alpine all crashed out of the race within half an hour of each other.
Things were also about to change up front as a two-horse race developed between the #5 and #2, but despite threatening and pulling to within a second, the Porsche was not able to do anything about the Toyota. Davidson managed to build a healthy gap before handing the car over to Nakajima and the Japanese former Formula One driver continued to lead the way right to the finish only for disaster to strike. The #2 Porsche of Jani, Dumas and Lieb was joined on the podium by the #6 Toyota of Mike Conway, Stephane Sarrazzin and Kamui Kobayashi, with the #8 Audi of Oliver Jarvis, Loic Duval and Lucas Di Grassi taking third after the #5 Toyota was deemed to have not completed the race despite crossing the finish line. Porsche were keen to celebrate their 18th Le Mans win and the party lasted long into the night!
Words copyright MJP Media
Pictures copyright MJP Media / Formula Photographie
Published 20 June 2016