The 100th anniversary of the 24 Hours of Le Mans have concluded and with a great performance in the first third of the race, the Porsche teams showed what they are capable of. But it would not be Le Mans without a wide variety of race situations: Le Mans had everything to offer from long Safety Car Phases over multiple accidents to section-specific weather changes. For Porsche Penske Motorsport and the Customer Racing Teams, the race on the Circuit de la Sarthe was a constant uphill battle. Still: GR Racing reached a spot on the podium in the GTE Am class.
The first third of the historical race went well for all Porsche teams: The Porsche 963 and 911 RSR vehicles were on the constant move forward through the grid or could maintain good positions. The only downers were the long Safety Car phases. At least the audience could admire the 75th anniversary livery of the leading Safety Car.
Within the first thirty minutes, the three vehicle classes were forced to fall into line behind the three Porsche 911 Turbo S Safety Cars. In this phase of the race, the Porsche 963 vehicles moved around the middle of the Hypercar grid, while the Hertz Team JOTA #38 was in the 14th spot. However, the latter would not remain there for long.
After track clearance, the Porsche 963 vehicles chose focused consistency. Felipe Nasr, Michael Christensen, Laurens Vanthoor and António Félix da Costa were constantly pushing forward. After two hours of race runtime, their hard work bore fruit. The Porsche 963 #5 was in second position, and the number 75 right behind it. Hertz Team JOTA was also on the way up, coming in at fifth place and followed by the Porsche Penske Motorsport #6.
Meanwhile, in the GTE Am class, the Customer Racing Teams had a successful showing and were in positions one through five within the first two hours. However, this would turn out to be the climax of the first third – the weather in Le Mans would cause difficulties for the entire grid.
Around 7 pm, the section around the Mulsanne Straight was drenched by a torrent of rain. Though the French weather forecast had issued a warning about storms in the time around the early afternoon, the region around the track had remained dry until the evening. The sudden change of weather caught the teams by surprise and even though a Safety Car phase was quickly announced, it was not on time. Throughout all classes, the vehicles equipped with slicks got caught by aquaplaning – such as the leading GR Racing Porsche #86. Driver Pera Riccardo lost control and crashed against the track boundary with his vehicle’s rear.
Tricky evening hours.
It would rain for over an hour across multiple track sections. But already during the Safety Car phase, it became clear that Porsche factory driver Yifei Ye in the Hertz Team JOTA vehicle would go in for the attack against his colleague Dane Cameron in the Porsche Penske Motorsport #5. The very moment the end of the Safety Car phase was declared, an intense battle for second position broke out. In the end, Yifei Ye came out as the winner.
Despite all team spirit, Dane Cameron refused to give up easily. The two Ferrari Hypercars came between him and the number 38, but he cut them closely to get back behind the sister car. Throughout the battle between #5 and #38, both cars pass the leading Peugeot. With that, Hertz Team JOTA was in first and the number five Porsche Penske Motorsport in second position.
As the evening dawned, the 24-hour race would display its tricky side. While Dane Cameron would only lose one position, Laurens Vanthoor in the #6 was forced into the pit early due to his rear tire losing pressure. The Hertz Team JOTA Porsche 963 would experience the greatest setback: The vehicle spun in the Porsche Curves and crashed against the track barriers with its rear. Parts sailed through the air. Thankfully they were mostly coverage and Yifei Ye managed to return his car to the pit.
Throughout the further course of the race, number five suffered a sensor malfunction and was forced to continue in stop-and-go as Dane Cameron had to restart his vehicle multiple times. In addition to that, the cooling system was leaking. But a yellow phase turned out to be a blessing in disguise: The #5 spent most of the time in the garage without losing too much contact with the remainder of the grid.
The number six was also ill-fated. The driver team of Kévin Estre, Laurens Vanthoor and André Lotterer proved their tenacity and forced their way from the back onto third position throughout the night – an impressive showing that may be familiar to Porsche Motorsport fans from the time when brand participated in the LMP1 class. But during a passing maneuver by a LMP2 car, the strong performance was disrupted: the number six was forced to return to the pit for over 40 minutes.
Better luck was had in the GTE Am class. The Iron Dames car had pushed forward from the bottom of the grid and were constantly among the top five, while GR Racing had recovered from their initial setback. Project 1 – AO and the Proton Competition #911 also had a strong showing. The team of the latter vehicle held great hopes: Richard Lietz and Martin Rump had trained with their driving colleague and actor Michael Fassbender for the legendary race. Curious readers can watch his training of the last season in the YouTube series “Road to Le Mans”.
A calm morning.
The morning over Le Mans dawned grey and cloudy at lower temperatures compared to the previous days. The stroke of bad luck for the Porsche teams had not quite ebbed off.
After an unwanted excursion into the gravel, Kévin Estre and later André Lotterer are forced into the pit multiple times. They push their Porsche 963 #6 to a responsible limit, but they were 22 laps behind the leading vehicle. The driver team of Dane Cameron, Michael Christensen and Frédéric Makowiecki were in a better spot with the Porsche 963 #5, only needing to catch up on six laps to first position.
Meanwhile in the GTE Am class, the race went through little changes. The Iron Dames car with the number 85, driven by the team of Sarah Bovy, Michelle Gatting and Rahel Frey, were constantly showing great performances. The same could be said for Project 1 – AO drivers PJ Hyett, Gunnar Jeannette and Matteo Cairoli in the #56, better known as “Rexy”. GR Racing was also constantly among the top five.
Sadly, the race ended early for Proton Competition: The number 911 was victim of the very tricky turn that had already caused trouble for other vehicles. Michael Fassbender’s 911 RSR circles around and crashes against the tires along the track with its left side. Though he managed to save the vehicle into the pit, the team was forced to retire after a few hours.
In the final hours of the race, the Porsche Penske Motorsport Team in the #5 went to their limit. After a switch from Frédéric Makowiecki to Michael Christensen, the Dane constantly raced better lap times than the vehicles ahead of him.
But 30 minutes ahead of the conclusion of the race, luck ran out for the Porsche Penske Motorsport team. As the Porsche 963 #5 exited the Mulsanne, it began to slow down. At around 80 kph, the Hypercar vehicle rolled toward pitlane as other vehicles sped by.
Meanwhile, in the GTE Am class, the Project 1 – AO 911 RSR #56 had fallen behind on seventh position. The Iron Dames #85 were on fourth spot and third went to GR Racing #86. The teams finished the race on these positions.
Even though it was not enough to achieve a podium in the Hypercar class: The Porsche Penske Motorsport Team has proven in Le Mans that it can do far more than keep up. The historical race is well-known for having a mind of its own. Mere competitiveness is hardly enough, and victors are rather chosen than made.