I thought the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans was going to make me eat my words. In our Fan Guide I said "let's not mince words: The overall race winner will come from this category." When the #1 Porsche dropped out of the race at 11 AM local time, an LMP2 car lead Le Mans overall for the first time ever. Going in to the race it appeared that the 24 Hours of Le Mans would be an out-and-out slugfest between Porsche and Toyota for overall victory. Instead, what we got was a race of attrition in the fine tradition of Le Mans races of decades ago, rather than a 24 hour sprint race.
Race Report: The Prototypes
Normally this segment would solely cover LMP1, as that is the sole prototype class Porsche competes in. Because of the unique conditions of this year's race, we will cover the prototype classes more broadly. Because of numerous breakdowns, just two LMP1 cars finished the race- the #1 Porsche and 1 of the 3 Toyotas that started the race. Two Toyotas and the ByKolles entry all retired over the course of the 24 hour race. Eight of the cars in the top ten were from the LMP2 class, and the second place LMP1 Toyota finished ninth overall. So, what happened this year?
The Overall Winners: The #2 Porsche 919
A congratulations are well and truly in order. In a confusing race full of breakdowns, the #2 919 of Timo Bernhard, Brandon Hartley and Earl Bamber claimed overall victory. Porsche's 19th overall and their third in a row. Despite suffering mechanical issues Saturday night, putting them well back in the standings, the team was able to overcome incredible odds. In the words of Earl Bamber:
“I can’t believe we’ve managed to pull this one off having been at the back of the field after an hour in the pit-box. Both Brendon and Timo have been part of the Porsche LMP program from the beginning while this victory is as much down to the guys in the pits. Without their hard work we wouldn’t have got back racing again so this win is down to them.”
The #1 Porsche 919, which had been leading the race following the earlier retirement of Toyota's leading entries, came to a stop on track just after 11AM. This breakdown caused the leading LMP2 car, the Jackie Chan DC racing entry, to claim the overall lead from the retired Porsche. At this time the #2 Porsche was sitting in fourth position overall.
At lap 312 Hartley brought the #2 Porsche 919 in for his final fuel stop, and handed the car over to Timo Bernhard. Over the next 18-laps Bernhard turned laps consistently 10-seconds or more faster than the leading LMP2 car, and by lap 330 (12:50PM) was on the same lap as the leading car. After a fuel stop on lap 338, Bernhard continues to run down the leading car and ultimately claims the lead on lap 347, just twenty laps before the checkered flag would fall on Porsche's 19th victory.
LMP1: The Remaining Entries
This year's LMP1 results could hardly be more different from last year. While in 2016 the #5 Toyota entry was not classified, the car proved fast and reliable until mere minutes from the end of the race. The only LMP1 entries which retired early in the race were the Rebellion Racing and ByKolles entries, both of which retired right around the 200-lap mark.
For Toyota's two entries which failed to finish, the issues which took them out of contention were not the same. The #7 Toyota suffered a clutch failure at the ten hour mark. The #9 car collided with an LMP2 car, and suffered a puncture which lead to cascading damage which took it out of the race as well.
The ByKolles car completed just seven laps. Prior to the race the team had suffered some engine troubles, and within a few laps these manifested as loss of compression and a very early retirement.
The #1 Porsche suffered , and was unable to make it back to the pits and rejoin the race.
GTE-Pro and GTE-Am
GTE-Pro is an intensely competitive class, and currently the most diverse class in the WEC with five radically different models in the field. Over the course of the race, both the #91 and #92 Porsches sat at or near the front of the GTE-Pro field. Throughout the race the lead traded between numerous entries numerous times, though victory finally went to the Aston Martin Vantage GTE after completing 340 laps.
The two Porsche entries performed well at their first outing at Le Mans, and neither car suffered any major mechanical failures over the course of the event.
The leading #92 911 RSR suffered a collision in corner #1, though it was able to return to the pits and rejoin the race after a short amount of time. By lap 179, however, a misjudged curb-hop put #92 out of the race permanently.
The #91 car lead the field on several occasions on Sunday morning, with Patrick Pilet, Richard Lietz and Frédéric Makowiecki each leading the pack over the course of the morning. With around an hour left the car was running in third place, when a puncture and resulting pit stop pushed the car to fourth place, where it remained 'til the end of the race.
Per, Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser, Vice President Motorsport and GT Cars:
“This was our first time at Le Mans with our new 911 RSR and I think we delivered a good performance. It’s a shame that we lost our #92 car in the night due to an accident. It’s also a pity that our #91 vehicle only managed fourth place at the end, although the drivers and team had done everything and the vehicle had even led over long distances. But then tyre damage hit and on top of that we were a little unlucky with a slow zone. That cost us the chance of a better placing, but we’ll be back next year.”
In the GTE-Am class, the best finish for a Porsche was sixth place by the #77 Dempsey Proton Racing entry. This car was shared by Porsche Young Professional Matteo Cairoli, alongside German racers Christian Ried and Marvin Dienst.