Sunday 17 June 2018

86th 24 Hours of Le Mans - Toyota slay the ghost of 2016

The strains of the French national anthem had barely finished reverberating before French army soldiers dropped from a hovering helicopter to present the starting flag to tennis legend Rafael Nadal who had the honour of waving it to start the 86th 24 Hours of Le Mans.

By 14:52 all drivers were aboard and the cars peeled away from their 'en-epi' configuration to take the formation lap. All except Dillman in the Bykolles #4 which was reluctant to start. He finally got it going and was in such a hurry to catch up he had a minor off track moment at the Dunlop chicane. At 15:00 the race started spot on time and in the first corner there was contact between Lotterer in #1 Rebellion and Hanley in the #10 Dragonspeed. Lotterer got a blinding start and was charging up behind the #8 Toyota when they touched, disloging the nose of the Rebellion before the contact with Hanley. Lotterer in #1 Rebellion made an early stop to get a new nose, followed by Jaafar in the #37 JCDC car which was going slowly on track suffering with overheating problems. #10 Dragonspeed car also stopped a little later, presumably also with damage from the 1st corner incident. The #8 had rear deck replaced as a precaution at the first opportunity.

Early leaders in P2 was Berthon in the Dragonspeed #31 followed by Chatin in the #48 Idec Sport and Duval in the TDS #28. In GTE Pro it was Bruni in the #91 Porsche followed by Estre #92 Porsche with Mucke in #66 Ford GT 3rd after 3 laps. In GTE Am it was Barker in the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche leading Fisichella in the #54 Spirit of Race Ferarri and Cairoli in the #88 Dempsey Proton Porsche.

At the front, the pair of Toyotas changed places and Conway the #7 car led the first lap before letting by Buemi in the #8 car. In the first half hour the 3:17.993 fastest lap for Buemi in #8 Toyota was faster than best lap in the race last year (3:18.604 also by Toyota #8) but not outright race record (3:17.475 by Andre Lotterer in 2015. In LMP2 3:28.557 was an outright LMP2 lap record for Berthon in #31 DragonSpeed (was 3:28.632 for DCRacing #38 in 2017). At this time the fastest lap in GTE Pro was Dirk Mueller in #68 Ford GT with 3:50.108 a class lap record (was 3:50.950 for Aston #97 in 2017). Records falling in GTE Am also with 3:52.600 for Ben Barker in Gulf Racing #86 Porsche (was 3:53.320 for Aston #90 in 2017).

At 1 hour: P1 8,7,17,3 / P2 26,28,36,48 / Pro 92,68,91,93 / Am 86,54,88,61

At 16:50, Loic Duval set the fastest lap time in LMP2 in the #28 TDS Racing Oreca with a time of 3:27.901. Wainwright in the #86 Gulf Porsche had an off at Indy and managed to limp home but it took quite a while to repair the tyre wall and a slow zone was in place from Mulsanne corner to Arnage for sevral laps around the 2 hour mark. At 17:25 three Ford GTs were 3rd, 4th and 5th in GTE Pro, #68 ahead of #69 and #66 with #67 in 8th. At 17:29 Alonso took over the #8 Toyota from Buemi. At 17:40 there was a change of leader in GTE Pro as Fred Mako passed team-mate Laurens Vanthoor to put the #91 Rothmans-liveried car, which began on pole, back into the lead.

At 3 hours: P1 7,8,17,3 / P2 26,36,23,34 / Pro 91,92,68,93 / Am 77,84,88,54
At 4 hours: P1 7,8,17,3 / P2 26,36,39.23 / Pro 92,81,69,52 / Am 77,84,56,98

The #11 SMP car spent a very long time in the pit garage. The team contined to work on getting it back out. It was fixed after having spent over 2 hours in pits. Button was sent out in the car at 19:10. Alonso in Toyota #8 swept past Lopez at 18:23 and retook the overall lead from Lopez in the #7 Toyota. At 18:38 the #38 JCDC car shredded a tyre and distributed debris on track as Aubry returned it to pitlane. Clearing the debris required a Safety Car period. At 19:18 Dominic Kraihamer in the Bykolles #4 LMP1 tangled with the #80 Porsche GTE Am (Maris) in the Porsche curves and tagged barriers front and rear. Kraihamer was soon safely out, but the car looked very ugly. A 30 minute Safety Car period was necessary to recover the #4 and debris. At 20:52 Montoya put the #32 into the gravel at Indianapolis, causing a slow zone from Mulsanne to Arnage.

At 5 hours: P1 8,7,17,3 / P2 26,36,23,48 / Pro 92,81,93,91 / Am 77,84,56,54
At 6 hours P1 8,7,17,3 / P2 26,23,36,48 / Pro 92,81,93,91 / Am 77,56,54,84

Renger Van Der Zande in #10 Dragonspeed spent a long time in the pits with broken car after riding the curbs spectacularly. Lapierre brought the #36 Alpine up to 2nd in LMP2 at 21:30. Dumas in #94 Porsche had problems at 21:39 and returned to pits for a very long visit to the pit box. At 21:51 Dalla Lana in #98 Aston went into the tyre wall in the entry of Porsche curves bringing a slow zone for recovery until 22:03 At 22:46, Newey in #35 SMP suffererd a right rear tyre failure and crawled slowly back to pitlane, arriving at 22:55. Isaakyan in #17 SMP at 22:58 put the car into the tyres at Porsche curves. Hankey spun the #90 Aston at the same time in a separate incident. The problems for the #17 promoted the #26 G-Drive LMP2 to 5th place overall. Isaakyan had three attempts to restart the #17 and was recovered back to a safe place each time. At 23:54 Tandy in the #93 Porsche was pushed back into its pit box with problems. Just after midnight at 00:18 Buemi in #8 Toyota was penalised with a 60s stop and go for speeding in a slow zone. The #81 BMW pitted for work on brakes and dampers. Extended stop dropped the car from 3rd to 12th in class. To add insult, they were later hit by a drive through penalty for a pit stop infringement. The #6 Ginetta stopped at Tertre Rouge then got going again slowly and limped back to pit lane.

At 7 hours: P1 7,8,17,3 / P2 26,48,36,23 / Pro 92,93,91,81 / Am 77,84,56,86
At 8 hours: P1 7,8,3,1 / P2 26,23,36,48 / Pro 92,91,93,81 / Am 77,84,88,56 
At 9 hours: P1 7,8,3,1 / P2 26,23,36,48 / Pro 92,91,81,68 / Am 77,84,88,85
At 10 hours: P1 7,8,3,1 / P2 26,36,23,48 / Pro 92,91,68,52 / Am 77,84,85,88
At 11 hours: P1 7,8,3,1 / P2 26,36,23,48 / Pro 92,91,68,52 / Am 77,84,85,88
Retirements at 11 hours: 98,94,17,4,6
At 12 hours: P1 7,8,3,1 / P2 26,23,36,48 / Pro 92,91,68,52 / Am 77,85,84,56

At the half way point the #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche continued to dominate GTE Am. Similarly the #92 'pink pig' Porsche remained solidly in the lead of GTE Pro as the challenge of BMW in GTE Pro faded as they were beset by technical problems with brakes and dampers on both cars. Long time leader in LMP2 the G-Drive #26 seemed fixed at the top of the class and an impressive 5th overall. The Toyotas were predictably untouchable ahead of the pair of Rebellions #3 and #1.

'Legality' plank problems resurfaced for the #3 Rebellion which visited to the pit garage in the 13th hour. Gutierrez in the #40 G-Drive had a big slide and impact with the barrier in the Porsche curves. A slow zone was in place while the car was recovered.

At 13 hours: P1 7,8,1,3 / P2 26,23,36,48 / Pro 92,91,68,52 / Am 77,85,54,84
Retirements after 13 hours: 98,94,17,4,6,40
At 14 hours: P1 7,8,3,1 / P2 26,23,36,48 / Pro 92,91,68,52 / Am 77,85,54,99

On the stroke of 05:00 the #52 AF Corse Ferrari (4th in GTE Pro at the time) was given a 1 minute stop and go penalty for speeding in a slow zone. Berthon in the #31 Dragonspeed was going slowly on track and limped home to the pits with what appeared to be a tyre problem but it turned out to involve brakes and the car was pushed back into the box.

At 15 hours: P1 7,8,3,1 / P2 26,23,36,48 / Pro 92,91,68,67 / Am 77,54,85,84

There was a slow zone at Indy for Sernagiotti at 06:33 in #47 Cetilar Villorba Corse stuck in gravel. At the same time Sims in BMW #82 came into the pits with tyre problems after hitting barrier in Porsche curves. Almost the same time Segal went off at Mulsanne Corner in the #84 Ferrari and had to be recovered.

At 7:04 Cairoli in #88 Dempsey Proton Porsche went into tyres at Ford chicane bringing out a slow zone to recover the car, then at 7:20 Hanley in #10 Dragonspeed went off at Porsche curves into tyres. A short time later both Toyotas #8 and #7 were then given a one minute stop and go penalty for speeding in slow zone. Hanley managed to get the #10 back to pits in poor shape.

At 16 hours: P1 8,7,3,1 / P2 26,23,36,48 / Pro 92,91,68,67 / Am 77,85,54,99
At 17 hours: P1 8,7,3,1 / P2 26,23,36,48 / Pro 92,91,68,69 / Am 77,85,54,99
At 18 hours: P1 8,7,3,1 / P2 26,23,36,48 / Pro 92,91,68,63 / Am 77,54,85,56

The retirements with 6 hours remaining were: 88,40,34,94,82,4,98,17,6,10

At 09:13 there was a Safety Car period to re-fit and weld-down a drain cover and 'floppies' at Tertre Rouge. Maxime Martin in #97 Aston Martin was going slowly on track during SC period and was overtaken by SC and the 'train'. At the same time the #64 Corvette was pushed into its pit garage with an overheating problem. The process of fixing the broken drain required welding and quick setting cement. Also during SC period, Gonzalez in #31 Dragonspeed came into pitlane with a left rear flat tyre. At 09:42 the safety car was replaced by slow zone 3 and instruction to stay to the right to allow the cement to set.

The safety car bunched up the second and third place cars in GTE Pro with the #91 Porsche followed by the #68 Ford GT. On the first lap after SC period, Ricci in the #50 Larbre Ligier went into the gravel at Porsche curves and snagged the tyre wall. Ricci limped the car back to pit lane.

At 10:00 DiResta in United Autosports #22 Ligier had a big impact with the concrete barrier at Porsche curves. This brought out the safety cars again. The destroyed #22 became the 11th retirement of the race. DiResta was taken to medical facilities to be checked over.

At 19 hours: P1 8,7,3,1 / P2 26,23,36,22 / Pro 92,91,68,67 / Am 77,54,85,56

From second place in LMP2, Will Stevens in the #23 Panis Barthez Ligier was pushed into pit box with technical problems. The track went green again at 10:17 except for the Tertre Rouge slow zone which remained for another 30 minutes.

At just before 11:00 Priaulx in Ford GT #67 passed team-mate Bourdais in #68 then makes the pass on Mako in #91 Porsche for 2nd in GTE Pro class. The change in position lasted until the #67 had to make a scheduled stop, leaving Bourdais to snap at the tail of the #91. The Porsche / Ford battle was the spectacle of the closing hours of the race.

At 20 hours: P1 8,7,1,3 / P2 26,36,48,39 / Pro 92,67,91,68 / Am 77,85,54,56

The desperate efforts of Fred Mako in the #91 Porsche to hold off Bourdais in the #68 Ford GT won him a driving standards investigation but it was ultimately dismissed with no action. The Ford seemed capable of making the pass but just not quick enough to make it stick on the Porsche. Both cars pitted together but Mako stayed ahead. Meanwhile Lafargue in the #48 Oreca which was 3rd in LMP2 was pushed into its box with technical problems and slid back to 5th in class when it finally rejoined.

There was a spin at Dunlop for Lopez in Toyota #7 at 11:45. He was lucky to get away with no harm done.

At 21 hours: P1 8,7,1,3 / P2 26,36,39,32 / Pro 92,91,67,68 / Am 77,85,54,56

On a pit stop exit, Nakajima the #8 Toyota appeared to spin front wheels while on jacks, flirting with the possibility of a penalty.

At 22 hours: P1 8,7,3,1 / P2 26,36,39,32 / Pro 92,91,68,67 / Am 77,54,85,56

The retirements with 2 hours remaining were: 88,40,34,94,82,4,98,17,6,10,22,64,25,48

There was a fright for Toyota at 13:22 when the #7 car was going slowly on track. It appears to have been a short fuel problem, necessitating most of a lap in slow zone mode before diving into pitlane for a top-up. Hankey in #90 TF Sport Aston then had a spin into gravel at Porsche curves. It looked like he would drive out but the car died at the edge of the gravel bed, bringing on another slow zone to recover it.

At 23 hours: P1 8,7,3,1 / P2 26,36,39,28 / Pro 92,91,68,67 / Am 77,54,85,99

The #11 SMP that was delayed early on in the race but continued without incident almost the entire remainder of the 24 hours suddenly let go of its engine with just under an hour to go and in the hands of Jenson Button. It was a great effort and a cruel end. Ten second stop and go penalties were awarded to the #7 Toyota for exceeding fuel allowance and exceeding the number of laps per stint, presumably due to the whole extra lap in slow mode thing, although it really changed nothing.

In the final half hour there was no repeat of the last dash to the line we had last year in GTE. The emphasis was more on bringing the cars safely home. Final pit stops for the leaders were uneventful and under blue sky and sunshine the final few minutes counted down. There was a brief slow zone to recover debris on the Porsche Curves with 20 minutes on the clock.

Under the chequered flag, Toyota laid the ghost of 2016 and claimed victory in the 24 hours of Le Mans. It was a well deserved win also for the G-Drive #26 which led almost from flag to flag in LMP2. The same applies to the Dempsey Proton #77 in GTE Am and the #92 'pink pig' Porsche in GTE Pro, both of which ran flawlessly twice around the clock.

At 24 hours: P1 8,7,3,1 / P2 26,36,39,28 / Pro 92,91,68,67 / Am 77,54,85,99

The retirements were: 88,44,40,34,94,82,4,98,17,6,10,22,64,25,48,11,90

Dave Davies

Full Timing results HERE