After being all but finished at 6pm the night before, the #2 Porsche 919 with Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber claimed the most unlikeliest of wins at the 85th 24 Hours of Le Mans. The #2 Porsche stuck at it through the night and made gains from the 8th hour of the race to be in contention with less than two hours of the race to go.
This years race had echoes of the 2010 event with Toyota suffering mechanical issues in the same Peugeot had back in 2010, after being firm favourites for the outright win.
It wasn’t until Timo Bernhard caught and passed the leading LMP2 #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca 07 with Ho-Pin Tung behind the wheel for lead of the race with only just over an 1 hour of the race left, this was quite remarkable as almost everyone had written off the teams chances after three hours of the race the #2 Porsche was 20 laps down on the leader after suffering from mechanical failure to the front motor generator unit.
The #2 Porsche 919 was the first of the five LMP1 Hybrids that had technical issues and after spending over an our in the garage whilst the pit crew repaired the front axle. Once repaired the trio of Bernhard, Hartley and Bamber got stuck in to try and gain a respectable position in the overall standings. No one expected them to be in contention the following day. But as each of the Toyota’s experience their own technical issues as well as colliding with slower LMP2 runners the unexpected started to look possible and Porsche, with a rich heritage at Le Mans was never going to give up.
Favourites to claim their first victory at the 24 Hours, Toyota Gazoo Racing watched on as two of its trio of TS050 Hybrids retired within 30 minutes of one another around the halfway through the race. The number 8 was also suffering with technical issues and spent a lengthy time in the pits, suffering with its own motor generator unit issues.
After the two Toyota’s dropped out, the leader was the #1 Porsche with Nick Tandy, Andre Lotterer and Neel Jani. The car was running like clock work until the twenty hour mark, with Andre Lotterer behind the wheel the car just ground to a halt, suffering from low oil pressure.
With Lotterer dropping out instantly after twenty hours, the unthinkable was looking like it might happen. The race was then led by the LMP2 Oreca of DC Racing which had around a two lap advantage on the chasing #2 Porsche with German Timo Bernhard hunting down Thomas Laurent for the lead. Laurent pitted to hand over to Ho-Pin Tung to do the final stints his lead was slowly ebbing away as Bernhard was lapping around fifteen seconds faster.
The race leading LMP2 of DC Racing then suffered an issue with the cars rear and had to pit for a rear deck change which cost the team around a minute. It was long before Bernhard had untapped the #2 Porsche and then began to reel in the leader. With around an hour of the race left Bernhard passed Tung’s Oreca to take the lead of the race for the first time.
The 2014 World Champion then finished a lap ahead of the second placed and class winning LMP2 DC Racing Oreca run by the crack Jota Sport Team.
This race really showed how competitive the new 2017 LMP2 cars are, with eight taking the top ten overall positions after the remaining #8 Toyota with Kazuki Nakajima behind the wheel steered his car to ninth place overall.
The other LMP1 entry, the #4 ByKolles CLM-P1 only managed two laps of the race after suffering from a puncture at the start which then had a knock on effect causing more damage to the body which in turn damaged the engine.
Toyota, the red hot favourites to overturn their traumatic race last year ended up empty handed. Le Mans is the best race in the world, but its also the toughest and at times the cruellest. Luck deserted Toyota again, the team have stated they will be contesting the FIA World Endurance Championship until the end of 2019, but this year will no doubt knock the confidence of the Japanese team, to end up without the win they crave the most.
The win for Porsche marks the companies nineteenth overall victory in the French endurance classic. It was also the second overall win for Bernhard and Bamber, and the first for the likeable Kiwi Brendon Hartley who was racing in his sixth 24 Hours of Le Mans.