Sunday, 18 June 2017

Le Mans 2017 Race report - Expect the unexpected

File this race under "you couldn't make it up" !

As the grid was assembling under blazing sunshine, quite a few VIPs were spotted including FIA president Jean Todt, official Le Mans 2017 starter the F1 boss Chase Carey and Le Mans legend Jackie Ickx. Another familiar face was Dr Wolfgang Ullrich the boss of the Audi prototype programme for many successful years. The only non-motor-sport celeb was Maria Sharapova. The grand marshal of the event was F1 and WEC superstar Mark 'Aussiegrit' Webber, who got the honour of driving the pace car for the start. Although the crowd appeared to be slightly less numerous than last year they were no less enthusiastic. There was a particularly animated performance of the french national anthem.

Race start was promptly at 3pm and during the first lap the ByKolles #4 (Webb) was trailing smoke after an unseen contact and Jani the #1 Porsche passed Buemi in the #8 Toyota. Meanwhile Jarvis in #38 Jackie Chan DC racing was up to the lead of P2 from 3rd. Guidi in #51 got himself up to lead of GTE Pro from 2nd on grid. The #9 Toyota (Lapierre) showed evidence of damage from the opening lap. The #4 ByKolles (Webb) returned to pit-lane and got a new nose. On a clear track with no traffic, Mike Conway in the #7 Toyota set the fastest lap 3:18.932 on lap 3 which remained fastest for almost the entire race. Rusinov in the #26 G-Drive Oreca had an inexplicable spin at pit entry and was stranded for a while.

Just after the turn of the 1st hour the Lapierre in the #9 Toyota was forced to edge of track passing group of GTE cars, and just a few minutes later Al Qubaisi in the #88 Porsche was hit by Rusinov in the #26 G-Drive at Porsche curves. The #88 was too damaged to continue but the #26 returned to pits. Barrier repairs at Porsche curves caused a slow zone to be called.

At 16:41 the #4 Bykolles retired. At 17:04 the 50 minute slow zone was lifted. At 17:15 Pla in #66 Ford GT set fastest lap in Pro 3:51.828. At 20:01 #82 Ferrari (Kaffer) was touched by Vaxiviere in #28 approaching 1st chicane bringing about a slow zone at sector 3. The #82 nose was destroyed and lots of debris thrown on track plus the barrier was damaged. A slow zone on 1st section of Mulsanne was called to clean up the mess. At 20:32 the slow zone was lifted. The #28 was awarded a 7 min stop and go for the collision with #82. The #8 Toyota of Nakajima passed Lotterer in #1 Porsche to take 2nd place. At 21:44 the 60 Ferrari of Wee went into gravel at Mulsanne Corner bringing about a double yellow and then a slow zone. About a half hour later #49 Keating Motorsports Ligier (Konopka) went off off at Indy causing yet another slow zone. At 22:15, Lamy in #98 Aston Martin came slowly through out of Mulsanne corner with a right front puncture which had flailed and taken wing and light out. 

There were more signs of more trouble for Toyota at 22:25 when #8 (Buemi) appeared to be losing fluids. At 22:51 Milner lost a wheel from the #64 Corvette and was propelled into the barrier at the approach to pit entrance. Milner managed to coax the car back to pitlane. The fight in GTE Pro was intense and stayed that way all through the night and into Sunday. Pla in the #66 Ford GT made himself unpopular by filling the car with gravel at Mulsanne corner then depositing it along the track up to Indy. This brought about a safety car period for the area to be swept. 

Just as the safety car period ended Kobayashi in the #7 Toyota was spotted going slowly, stuck in one gear. He tried hard to get the car back to pitlane but eventually had to give up the struggle almost in sight of pit entry. Within half an hour Lapierre in the #9 Toyota was going slowly with smoke and flame visible from the rear as a result of a shredded tyre. Lapierre Stopped at Porsche curves then started again. The car finally stopped for good at approach to Ford chicane and Lapierre got out. At 1:46am the #7 and #9 were official retirements and Toyota's three had become one.

At 08:25 Stanaway in the GTE Pro leading #95 Aston Martin went into the tyres at Arnage. He managed to keep going over the gravel, and rejoin with damage to the front and return to the pits for a lengthy repair. We later caught up with Tom Kristensen who commented "It is a very difficult corner because you arrive there from Indianapolis with hot brakes, it's a rookie mistake, but  Stanaway is not a rookie " 

By mid morning on Sunday the only real race was GTE Pro where the top four exchanged the lead at each pit stop. An hour of fitting a new hybrid wheel motor to the #2 Porsche and two hours for a similar job on the #8 Toyota had left the #1 Porsche 11 laps ahead of the LMP2 pack with the nearest LMP1h cars out of contention.

The #1 Porsche looked untouchable right up until 11:30 when Lotterer rolled to a halt at the side of the track at the bottom end of the Mulsanne straight. With such a lead, the car remained at the top of the timing screen for some time, but the end was inevitable. The leading trio of #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca, #13 Valliante Rebellion Oreca and #35 Signatech Alpine hacked away at the laps. Meanwhile the delayed #2 Porsche that we had counted out last night had also been chipping away at the laps and by 11:30 had recovered to 5th place and theoretically able to challenge for a podium finish. By noon Hartley in the #2 had risen to 2nd overall helped by the official retirement of #1 Porsche and the #13 delayed by a stop-and-go penalty for a pit lane infringement. Three hours remained and just under three laps to take the lead... game on! The leading #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca was running at a pace that would make it catch-able in the time available but only if there were no slow zones or safety car periods. 

In GTE Pro at noon there was still all to play for in the four way Porsche, Corvette, Aston Martin, Ford GT battle raging with any of the top four possible winners. In GTE Am, things were more stable Ferrari-fest with long time leading #84 JMW Ferrari solidly ahead of the #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari and #62 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari.

At 12:08 Laurent in the #38 Oreca made an unscheduled stop for rear end repairs allowing Hartley in the #2 Porsche to claw back more time. Meanwhile the last remaining Toyota #8 was also fighting back and had made it to 10th overall by that time, about half way up the surviving pack of LMP2 competitors.

At 12:33 Timo Bernhard took over from a rather flushed and sweaty-looking Brendon Hartley for the final stint of the #2 Porsche. 

At 12:45 Piquet in #13 Vaillante Rebellion and Calko in #49 ARC Bratislava touched at the Dunlop chicane leaving debris on the circuit and bringing out a local yellow flag. Both cars continued and the yellow flags were only brief. At 12:49 Timo in the #2 Porsche 919 hybrid breezed past Laurent in the #38 Oreca LMP2 coming out of Arnage towards Porsche curves.

Just before 13:00 Matt McMurry in #45 Ligier went into gravel at Mulsanne bringing out a slow zone, the last thing that Porsche needed in their fight back but it was lifted promptly at 13:02. The earlier ill-advised lunge at Dunlop chicane won a 10 second penalty for Piquet in the #13 Oreca.

There was a fuel only stop for Bernhard in # Porsche at 13:20 followed a few seconds later by Laurent in the #38 Oreca who handed the car over to Ho Pin Tung.

At 13:26 Buemi in the #8 Toyota finally broke Conway's fastest time of the race with a lap of 3:18.604. At 13:40 the gap between #38 and #2 was down to 44.176s with both cars requiring at least one more stop. The gap reduced to 28.621s by 13:45 and closing fast. By 13:52 the gap was only 3.2s and the pass would be made soon and so it was that between Mulsanne corner and Arnage Timo Bernhard drew neatly past Ho Pin Tung to take the lead.

As the final pit stops in GTE Pro unwound the outcome remained open until the very end. The final fuel-only stop for Timo Bernhard in the #2 Porsche 919 hybrid went smoothly with 54 minutes left on the clock but all eyes were on Taylor in the #63 Corvette which emerged from its stop a shade ahead of Adam in the #97 Aston Martin to take the GTE Pro lead.

Negrao ran wide at Arnage into the gravel in the #35 Signatech Alpine but was pushed out by marshals with only a short yellow flag. That promoted the #13 Vaillante Rebellion to 3rd overall and second in class. The #35 returned to the pits and was pushed back into its box for a new nose and a clean-up. The top three LMP2 cars pitted for the final time with 23 minutes remaining on the clock. Bernhard in the Porsche #2 LMP1-h also stopped for a splash but had a decent gap so was in no danger of losing a place.

A late pit stop from #91 Porsche handed 3rd place in class to the Ford GT #67. On the dash to the flag, the leading pair (#63 and #97) in the class were a mere 0.7s apart after nearly 24 hours racing.  There was an incredible dice in the final laps between Taylor and Adam with a door-handling incident at Arnage corner with Taylor staying ahead in the Corvette. The following lap Taylor locked up and took the shortcut at the second chicane but remained ahead, but not for long as Adam made the pass on the exit of the Ford chicane. The Corvette straight-lined the Dunlop chicane having picked up a puncture.  Tincknell managed to pass the stricken Corvette to take 2nd in the Ford GT #67.







*** Update: Vaillante Rebellion #13 ORECA 07-Gibson has been disqualified from 24 Hours of Le Mans because of post-race inspection. Mathias Beche, Julien Canal and David Heinemeier Hansson lose their second-place finish in LMP2 (3rd overall). The ORECA 07-Gibson violated Article 3 of the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship LMP2 Technical Regulations: “No bodywork variation is permitted.”  Jackie Chan DC Racing's second car, the #37 driven by Cheng Gommendy Brundle, is now classified 2nd behind its sister car.

Full results HERE

No comments:

Post a Comment