Sunday 19 June 2016

The 24 Hours of Le Mans 2016 - Expect the unexpected!

After the support races, the 'start procedure' began of the 24 hours. This includes flag waving and national anthems and the cars lined up in echelon formation along pit straight. The 'grid girls' this year were accompanied by a smattering of 'grid boys' which is a win for sexual equality. During the grid shenanigans there was a huge crowd of people milling about on the track and it looked like almost as many on the grid as in the grandstands. At 2pm the grid was cleared of the 'throng' and the teams lined up for the official team photo and French national anthem.

Among the celebs attending are Jackie Chan, Jason Statham, Patrick Dempsey and Brad Pitt who would later hold the starting flag. Just as the 're-installation' of the 24 hours trophy was performed, a few spots of rain started to fall and the race director announced a 'wet race' which means free tyre choice. The starting flag itself was delivered by Armée de l’Air rappelling from a helicopter. 

Final grid clearance was at 2:21pm and all drivers aboard for installation lap at 2:22pm. The heavens then opened and deluged the circuit just as the celebs were being ushered indoors. The race was started under safety car conditions due to standing water (1st time since 1992 says Tony). The #67 Ford GT was pushed into pit garage with gearbox problems just 5 minutes before the start in a worrying development for Ford. The ByKolles #4 was also in pit box at the start of the race but joined after lap 1 to the back of the 'train' of cars. The #67 finally left the pits two laps down. The #12 Rebellion entered pits and was pushed into pit garage at 3:25pm with water in the engine air-box.

The rain eased off at 3:30pm but the safety cars remained out until 3:55. Conway in #6 Toyota made his way past Jani in #2 Porsche on the one hour mark. Lotterer in Audi #7 briefly got by Bernhard in #1 Porsche on the next lap. At 4:06 it was Toyota - Porsche - Audi at the top of the field and #36 Signatech Alpine leading LMP2. By 4:10 the pitlane was bathed in sunshine and the track drying quickly. 

#7 Audi arrived in its pit box with problems at 4:20 and Duval in #8 Audi then passed Hartley in #1 Porsche for the lead. The rain returned at 4:35 and Hartley soon made his way around Duval and set fastest lap (thus far) on lap 21 with a time of 3:25.775. At 5:30 Treluyer was making a valiant fight back with several fastest laps in quick succession. Mike Conway in Toyota #6 had made his way right up behind the leading #1 Porsche with Hartley at the wheel and was challenging for the lead.

Just before 6pm and the 3 hour mark, back in GTE Pro, Fisichella in Ferrari #82 was chasing on the tail of the class leading #69 Ford GT. At the head of the field Hartley in #1 Porsche led Conway in Toyota #6 from Duval in the #8 Audi. Close also at the top of GTE Am with the KCMG Porsche #78 battling for the lead with the Porsche #88 of Abu Dhabi Proton Racing. In LMP2 the #47 KCMG Oreca led the #44 Manor Oreca.

By 6:15pm the GTE Pro lead had changed after pit stops with Vilander in #82 Ferrari ahead of Briscoe in #69 Ford GT. In LMP2 the Manor #44 had also passed the #47 KCMG for the class lead. Out at the front the Toyotas were running extra laps on each stop and staying longer in the lead as the Porsches did their pit stops. With the #7 Audi setback earlier, the #8 Audi remained alone in contention for overall lead. Things appeared to be going well for Toyota until Davidson in #5 returned to the pits just one lap after making his scheduled stop for a tyre change, dropping the car to 5th place.

Mechanical troubles for #44 Manor Oreca and #91 Porsche changed the order of the timing screens in LMP2 and GTE Pro just before 7pm. Between 7:30 and 7:45 the Ford GT #68 (Hand) and #69 (Briscoe) passed the #82 (Vilander) Ferrari on-track putting Ford 1-2 in GTE Pro. The #12 Rebellion and #7 Audi continued carving slowly through the LMP2 field. They were 14th and 18th respectively at 7:50pm. There was another setback for Audi, this time for #8 that had a new door fitted. By 8pm after a round of pit stops, Ford were 1-2-3 in GTE Pro. The #82 Ferrari didn't seem to have the pace to hold them off.

At 10pm Toyota #6 with Sarrazin at the wheel was leading, but chased closely by Bernhard in #1 Porsche 12 seconds behind. In LMP2 the #46 Thiriet Oreca led #36 Alpine and #47 Oreca. Ford were still in charge of GTE Pro with #68 and #69 ahead of Ferrari #82. Franchitti in the delayed #67 Ford GT had a misadventure at Mulsanne corner (locked-up and nosed into tyres) which lost the car a little more time. At 10:20 the former LMP2 leader, the KCMG #47 Oreca conked out between Mulsanne and Indianapolis which initiated a slow zone to recover it. At 10:40 Pedro Lamy in the #98 Aston Martin took lead of GTE Am from Patrick Long in the #88 Porsche.

At 10:15 the Porsche #1 made a routine pit stop and Brendon Hartley took over from Timo Bernhard. Brendon was out for 1 lap then back in pitlane and into garage. The #98 Aston Martin (Dalla Lana) hit the barriers in Porsche curves and the #83 Ferrari (Perrodo) went straight on at Mulsanne corner. Safety car deployed at 11:30pm while #1 was still in pit garage. #44 Manor came into pits with rear end damage just after the SC deployment. After a routine stop Conway in #6 Toyota came out just in front of Jani in #2 Porsche then Jani made the pass for the lead at 11:57. Meanwhile #1 Porsche dropped to 8th place while sitting in garage. By 12:30am the #1 Porsche finally rejoined but just did one lap and returned to pit garage. The problems surrounded overheating and eventually a new water pump was fitted. By 2am the Toyotas were leading with two cars in contention but Porsche (#2) and Audi (#8) one car in touch and the other cars for the German manufacturers (#7 and #1) still going but many laps behind.

There were problems for #7 Audi at half way mark when it had to do most of a lap at slow speed, finally getting to pitlane. At 6am #6 Toyota, #2 Porsche and #5 Toyota were still on the same lap. Both Rebellions had fallen out of contention. At 6:45 the Corvette #64 with Tommy Milner aboard had a big hit on the tyre wall on the entry to the Dunlop chicane. The barrier required repair and the stricken car needed to be recovered so a slow zone was initiated. Milner thankfully unharmed despite his spectacular accident.

Retirements at 8:19am 46,64,4,51,71,92,91,47,89

At 9am with 6 hours remaining, top 3 in LMP1 (#5 #6 #2) were running close together, as were the top 2 in GTE Pro (#82 and #68) and GTE Am (#62 and #88). At 10am with 5 hours remaining the #36 Alpine was still leading P2 , #82 Ferrari GTE Pro and #62 Ferrari GTE Am. At the head of the field, the two Toyotas and the Porsche #2 still very close.

At 10:30am it looked like we might have the first Japanese manufacturer to win since Mazda in 1991, but at each stop the #2 Porsche popped up into the lead, showing that a win was still uncertain. In GTE Pro, the #82 still in the lead but three Ford GTs were still in contention with the #67 Ford a few laps adrift. Finally at 10:32am Hand in #68 Ford GT muscled past Malucelli in the #82 Ferrari to lead the class. In GTE Am the #62 Ferrari continued to lead the #88 Porsche a lap behind. Status quo also maintained in LMP2 with #36 Alpine nearly a lap ahead of the #26 G-Drive Oreca.

Just before 11:00am, the #8 Audi was pushed into the pit box for some intense activity around the front right corner. At the same time, Davidson in the #5 Toyota made an 'on track' pass on Lieb in the #2 Porsche on the approach to Mulsanne corner. There was a worrying moment for Kobayashi in #6 Toyota with a spin into the gravel at the Porsche curves at 11:20 but he managed to escape without the aid of snatch tractor. Meanwhile the #8 Audi finally emerged from its pit garage and rejoined ahead of the #7 Audi, also Webber in #1 Porsche had lifted the car to the first page of the timing screen.

At 11:30am there was an odd incident for the #44 Manor Oreca with Matt Rao at the wheel, which had a minor off at Indy then when limping back through the Porsche curves the nose collapsed and went under the front wheels precipitating the car into the barrier more comprehensively. By this time all the leading cars in LMP1 were showing battle scars, particularly the #2 Porsche with tyre marks all down the left side and the #6 Toyota with flapping bodywork, again on driver's left. At 11:45 Vilander in the (2nd in class) #82 Ferrari had a spin at Porsche curves and went straight into the pits for a full service.

The #6 Toyota was taken into pit garage at 12:10pm for a new nose and other repairs. The chasing #8 Audi was safely a few laps behind so no need for Toyota to take risks. The car stayed in for 10 minutes but retained position when Sarrazin took the car back on the circuit. The #2 Porsche was therefore at least reasonably safe from being monstered from behind by the #6. At this time the GTE Pro leading Ford GT #68 was a not very safe looking 40 seconds ahead of the #82 Ferrari.

With 2 hours remaining, the top 3 order in all classes remained fairly stable with #5 #2 #6 in P1 / #36 #26 #37 in P2 / #68 #82 #69 GTE Pro / #62 #83 #88 GTE Am but nothing was safe from a minor misfortune or penalty. There was a little excitement at 13:40 when a small fire broke out on the #28 Pegasus Morgan after Inès Taittinger had tried to nurse a flat tyre back to the pits. That car had made rather a lot of trips to the gravel and escape road at Mulsanne corner and after it's final excursion in the same place, it appeared to have a puncture. Slow zone procedure was applied to rescue the car.

Nobody could have predicted Nakajima slowing dramatically in the #5 Toyota and then stopping just over the finish line on the penultimate lap in a heart stopping last minute mechanical failure. They had looked so secure and confident right up to that moment. The Toyota team could hardly believe their eyes. The Porsche #2 worked hard to put themselves in a position to take advantage of any weakness at Toyota, but it was a cruel twist of fate for the Japanese manufacturer.

In the end the Porsche #2 won overall from Toyota #6 and Audi #8. In LMP2 it was the #36 Signatech Alpine from #26 G-drive Oreca and #37 SMP Racing BR01. In GTE Pro the Ford GT #68 finished first from #82 Risi Ferrari and #69 Ford GT but the Ferrari had ignored a black and orange flag that it was shown in the last few minutes of the race, so there is the possibility of a post-race time penalty. In GTE Am the #62 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 Italia finished ahead of the #83 AF Corse Ferrari and #88 Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing Porsche.

For those curious as to why the Toyota #5 was unclassified, it fell foul of Article 10.15 of the Regulations; 
section e) Cars must finish the last lap in under 6 minutes except in case of "force majeure" at Stewards discretion.

#5 had a final lap of 11 minutes 53 seconds