Monday 17 June 2019

Le Mans: Race report

Under hazy sunshine and after the usual entertaining shenanigans on pit straight, the cars peeled away neatly from their echelon formation for a single parade lap before the rolling race start promptly just as the clock ticked past 3pm.

Immediately Mike Conway took a commanding lead in the #7 Toyota and set increasingly faster lap times despite a report of rain at Mulsanne corner. On lap 2 he set a time of 3:17.910 then on lap 2 3:17.425 followed by lap 4 3:17.297, the fastest ever race lap at Le Mans. On the First lap Menezes in Rebellion #3 briefly split the Toyotas. Meanwhile  Mat Vaxiviere in the #28 TDS set the fastest LMP2 time 3:27.611 and at 15:25 Garcia in Corvette #63 led GTE Pro and #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari led GTE Am.

At 15:39 Jamin in #30 Duqueine Engineering ORECA was reported as slow at first chicane. It looked like a flat tyre. There was a good dice developing between Estre and Garcia in #92 Porsche and class leading #63 Corvette.

There was a brief FCY just before the end of the first hour of racing when tyre trouble afflicted #29 Racing Team Nederland and #1 Rebellion. There was an FCY at 16:41 to remove debris from circuit and punctures for #88 and #70 and we went back to green at 16:44. By this time the The all-female Ferrari #83 was up to 10th in GTE Am.

At 17:37 10s time penalty was added to the pit stops of cars #26,#60 and #93 for not respecting the FCY procedure. At 17:42 the #7 Toyota led the #8 Toyota by 49s. De Vries in #29 Racing Team Nederland was limping back with a puncture and littered debris in Porsche curves. There was a brief full course yellow for the clean-up. There was a 30s stop & go penalty announced for the #20 High Class Racing ORECA for speeding under FCY.

Just after the 3 hour point Bomarito in Ford GT passed Pilet in the #93 Porsche for 2nd in GTE Pro. By 18:22 Hand had slipped to 4th Bomarito back to 5th in the ebb and flow of pit stops. At 18:25 Hand in Ford #68 was nipping at the tail of Pilet the #93. There was a big lock up for Lietz at Mulsanne in #91 Porsche, losing position, down to 7th in Pro. Ten seconds was added to next pitstop for #89 Risi Competizione Ferrari and #71 AF Corse Ferrari.  At 19:23 the #50 Larbre Competiton Ligier had contact with #67 Ford GT at Mulsanne this was the probable cause of debris that brought yellow flag.

Approaching 20:00 #43 was beached in a dangerous position at Tertre Rouge bringing on a safety car interlude for a few minutes. It was unfortunate for Toyota #8 which was pitting at the time and was stuck at pit exit losing 30s. Rain spots were seen at 20:30 but not for long. That didn't dampen the fight for LMP2 lead with Alpine vs G Drive wheel to wheel on the Mulsanne straight with Negrao in #36 passing Rusinov in #26.

Soon after the change of lead in LMP2, Fassler in #64 Corvette tangled with Hoshino in the #88 Proton Porsche in the Porsche curves and put the car into the barrier. Hoshino struck the rear of the #64. This immediately brought about another safety car period for the #64 to be recovered. The SC helped the #8 Toyota which managed to make up nearly a lap to 20s behind the #7. The track went green again at 20:55. Fassler in Corvette #64 was later judged to have caused the accident with Hoshino in the #88 Porsche (€7,000 fine & 6 penalty points).

Light rain was reported at Arnage at the stroke of 21:00 when Nakajima in Toyota #8 passed Lopez in #7 to lead for the first time since the first lap.

Laurent in Rebellion #3 passed Aleshin in #11 SMP in Porsche Curves for 3rd overall but the two then tangled on the approach to second chicane on the Mulsanne straight when Laurent was surprised by a damp area in the braking zone and #11 ran into the debris. FCY immediately called. Both cars continued to pits and the #11 got away more lightly and rejoined quickly. The #3 Rebellion was delayed but only 3 minutes 38s before Laurent rejoined. FCY went to safety car while the barrier was repaired. Bart Hayden explained "it was wet and slippery and he lost it on the brakes". The SC period ended at 21:19 and was replaced with a slow zone adjacent to where barriers were being repaired. The track went green again at 21:30.

The #98 Aston Martin was reported as slow on track with Lamy at the wheel, it limped back to pit lane with overheating problem at 22:00. This was the beginning of the end for #98. At 22:08 Lopez in Toyota #7 had an excursion to the gravel at Mulsanne corner giving Nakajima in #8 the lead. Lopez then put two tyres in the gravel at Indy, losing the a little more time just before a 2 minute FCY at 22:14. #7 then regained the lead after a pit stop for #8. Just before 23:00 Pedro Lamy parked the #98 on the Mulsanne straight and there was a brief local yellow while it was pushed to safety. Meanwhile Garcia in #63 Corvette retook 3rd place in GTE Pro.

At 23:30, Lu in the #84 JMW Motorsport Ferrari had a trip to the gravel at the second chicane but retained 2nd place in GTE Am. Just after midnight, Lynn in the #97 Aston Martin went off, sideswiped the wall and got stuck in the gravel in the Porsche curves. It was pulled out and returned to pits for repairs.

We were only green for a few moments before we got a safety car period after Sorensen in Aston Martin #95 had an off into the tyres at the Indy kink. Sorensen appeared to be limping and was taken for medical attention. We got back to green flag at 00:37. The Dragonspeed #10 finally got back on track just before 01:00 but was seen going slowly and finally stopped at Indianapolis. The SC period broke up the gaps in LMP1, LMP2 and GTE Pro by splitting the leaders from the chasing pack.

Orudzhev in #17 SMP went into the tyre wall at Porsche curves at 01:20. The safety cars were scrambled again to allow the rescue the #17. The SC bunched the two Toyotas and Conway had to pit under SC, losing position to #8. The tyre wall was rebuilt and we went green again at 01:47. Within a couple of laps the gap between the two Toyotas was down to less than a second.

Buemi pitted the #8 giving the lead to #7 but when Conway handed the #7 over to Kobayashi they maintained that lead over the #8.

At 02:40 just before the half way point, Enqvist in the #49 ARC Bratislava Ligier ran off the track and stopped on the Porsche curves. It got going slowly but stopped again and there was a safety car period to allow marshals to move the car to a place of safety. We got back to green at 02:58. At 03:19 the #49 managed to limp to pit lane and was pushed to its pit garage.

Estre in #92 Porsche went into pits from the lead of GTE Pro, and was pushed into its garage at 03:48 for replacement of its exhaust. This quickly dropped the #92 to 12th in class and behind the #82 BMW. At 03:57 Dillman in the ByKolles #4 stopped at Arnage. A slow zone was called while the car was recovered to a safe place. Meanwhile the #92 was pushed out of its box and rejoined 5 laps adrift. At 04:20 the Porsches #93 and #91 pitted together. Garcia in the #63 Corvette led GTE Pro briefly 12 seconds ahead of Pier Guidi in the #51 Ferrari until the regular stop for the #63 dropped it back to 4th in class.

At 04:45 the Jackie Chan DC Racing #37 had a gearbox failure with Taylor at the wheel that launched 5th gear through the gearbox casing. That was the end of the race for #37. At 04:56 Hankey in the #90 TF Sport Aston was stranded in the gravel at Mulsanne corner, dropping it from 2nd in GTE Am to 6th in class by the time it was rescued. 

There were just 10 official retirements at sunrise. #37 #17 #4 #49 #71 #95 #98 #64 #88 #10

At 06:38 Pianezzola in Kessel #60 Ferrari and Wainwright in Gulf Porsche #86 went off into gravel almost simultaneously in separate incidents at (respectively) the entry of Porsche curves and Indianapolis. There was a brief full course yellow while the cars were recovered.

At 07:12 Pastor Maldonardo in 4th placed Dragonspeed Oreca #31 went hard into tyres at Tertre Rouge bringing out a safety car period. The car had front damage and was craned off the track. Green flag was at 07:33. At 07:50 the Rebellion #3 served a 3 minute stop and hold for using incorrect tyres. This allowed Vandoorne in the #11 SMP up to 3rd place overall.

Menezes spun into into gravel in Porsche curves in Rebellion #3 at 08:05. A slow zone was imposed until 8:14 to recover the  car. At 8:25 Aubry the (3rd in LMP2) #38 JCDC Racing Oreca was seen going slowly on track. It took 7 minutes for the car to limp to pitlane. After fuel, tyres and driver change to Ho Pin Tung the car rejoined at full speed, still in 3rd in LMP2 ahead of #28 TDS. That was not the end of trouble for the #38. A few minutes later it returned to pitllane with a left front tyre, but still retained 3rd in LMP2

Conway took over the #7 Toyota and began opening up the gap to Nakajima in the #8. At 9am the gap had opened to 1 minute and 42 seconds. The #51 Ferrari and the #63 Corvette continued to exchange the lead of GTE Pro as pit stops unfolded. 

There was drama at 09:11 as the #26 G-Drive that had held the lead of LMP2 most of the race had trouble restarting the engine after pit stop. It was pushed into garage to solve the problem. The #36 Signatech picked up the class lead after making a regular stop. By 09:30 the #26 was back out on pit apron and rejoined in 7th place after a 20 minute stop.

As #26 rejoined, Berthon in the #3 Rebellion was seen going slowly on track. The Rebellion returned to pits and was pushed into the pit garage. Lotterer in the sister car #1 took 4th overall from #3. At 09:54 the United Autosports #32 shed its rear deck at Indianapolis. The car continued to the pits but there was a full course yellow to allow the bodywork to be removed from the circuit. The #32 rejoined after a few minutes to fit a new rear.

At 11:14 a penalty was posted for 3rd placed #91 Porsche, 10 seconds to be added to next pit stop for not respecting FCY procedure. With the top of GTE Pro so tight, 10s could be significant. At 11:22 we had a safety car due to De Vries taking the Racing Team Nederland #29 hard into the tyres at Indy. The car managed to get going and return to the pits with the left front wheel at a crazy angle.
The Corvette #63 pitted under SC but was held for some time at pit exit which contributed to the #51 Ferrari taking a more decisive lead in GTE Pro. It took a while to repair the tyre wall then the track went green at 11:45.  Soon after the green flag, Magnussen had a spin into the wall in the #63 Corvette in Porsche curves then came directly into pits for repair. Magnussen took the Corvette #63 back on track at 11:55 having dropped to 8th place in class.

The Porsche problems continued when a penalty of 10 secs was added to next pit stop for the #93 Porsche for crossing white line at pit entry. At the front of LMP1, the Toyota #7 led the #8 by over two minutes.

With two and a half hours remaining, the order became more settled but of course Le Mans holds surprises for the very end. The Toyota #7 led the #8 by over two minutes and short of accident or incident appeared safe. Teams appeared to focus on making the finish and staying out of trouble. 

Eng in the #81 BMW coasted to a stop in the escape lane of the second chicane at 13:03. It was a sad postscript for a difficult 24 hours for BMW. An out of schedule stop for a nose change at 13:10 delayed the #85 Ford GT allowed the Team Project 1 Porsche #56 to close to striking distance of a challenge for the lead of GTE Am, only a minute behind. Van der Garde in the #29 Racing Team Nederand Dallara had to nurse the car home with a flat tyre with 90 minutes remaining in the race. 

With 70 minutes left there was drama followed by more drama. Bergmeister in the Team Project 1 Porsche #56 had cut the GTE Am lead of Keating in the the #85 Ford GT to 42 seconds.  To add to the tension, the #85 was given a stop and go penalty for spinning wheels when released from pit stop. The penalty closed the gap to just under 6 seconds. Meanwhile the overall leader Lopez in the #7 Toyota had to make and out of schedule stop to replace a tyre. On his out lap the #7 was seen going slowly again on the Mulsanne straight and had to return slowly to the pits and was passed by Nakajima in the #8 Toyota.  As we entered the final hour the position of the two Toyotas was reversed and the #8 had a 58 second lead.

Jeronen Bleekemolen took over the #85 Ford GT for the charge to the flag with Bergmeister in #56 Porsche in hot pursuit. Meanwhile Eng had managed to get the #81 BMW back to life and made it back to the pits. With 30 minutes remaining Lopez had cut into the lead of the #7 but 47 seconds was a mountain to climb in the time available. The #8 Toyota made its last stop at 14:33 but #7 also needed to stop for a splash and when the pit stop unwound, the #8 was 24 seconds ahead with 17 minutes remaining. Bergmeister had to bring the #56 Porsche in for a late splash of fuel which clinched the GTE Am result for the #85 Ford GT. **

At the chequered flag it was the #8 Toyota over the line first followed by the #7 Toyota and #11 SMP. In LMP2 a well deserved win for Signatech Alpine Matmut #36 from Jackie Chan DC Racing #38 and TDS #28. AF Corse #51 took the GTE Pro win from Porsches #91 and #93. The GTE Am win went to the #85 Keating Motorsports Ford GT from the Team Project 1 #51 Porsche and #84 JMW Ferrari. 

Text: Dave Davies
Pictures: Kristof Vermeulen, Erik Junius & Jellybaby.Media

** Postscript:

During the post-race technical checks, the race stewards officially disqualified the #68 (Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA's Ford GT) and the #85 (Keating Motorsports' Ford GT) for breach of fuel tank capacity regulations.  The top step on the LMGTE Am class podium is now claimed by Team Project 1's #56 Porsche.

Full results HERE