Race Weekend Central

Porsche Steals Le Mans Overall Victory in Final Lap

On Sunday morning, Porsche Team claimed a shocking overall victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans when the leading No. 5 Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050 fell victim to issues under the rear bodywork in the final couple of laps of the race.  With less than ten minutes, the No. 5 driven by Kazuki Nakajima had a one minute lead over the No. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid driven by Neel Jani.

However, the car suffered a significant loss of power on the Mulsanne Straight, preventing the car from exceeding 200 kilometers an hour.  Given that the average speed of Jani’s pole time was over 245 kilometers an hour, that could be charitably considered a problem.

By the end of the penultimate lap, the advantage was merely visible.  Then, Nakajima’s No. 5 came to a stop on the pit straight, allowing Jani to pass for the lead with a little more than three minutes remaining.  The Porsche garage went insane with teammates Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb literally rolling around on the ground in jubilation.

From there, Jani simply had to get the 919 Hybrid around the 8.469 mile course to claim Porsche’s second consecutive overall victory at Le Mans.  As for Nakajima, he fell victim to Section 10.15(e) of the Specific Regulations for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which specifies that the final lap must be completed in less than six minutes.  Nakajima’s took 12 minutes, so the No. 5 Toyota was not classified as a finisher.

The No. 6 Toyota was elevated to second overall as a result, three laps down to the winner.  Audi Sport’s No. 8 R18 was third.

In P2, attrition bit a number of the top teams in the class.  Manor led early, but Matthew Rao spun out of the class lead early.  On Sunday with three hours to go, the front nose broke and pitched Rao into the wall in the Porsche Curves, ending the No. 44’s race.  Baxi DC Racing Alpine‘s No. 35, driven at the time by Nelson Panciatici, ended the day in the wall after suffering a failure at the Forza Motorsport chicane.  Pierre Thiriet crashed his own No. 46 ORECA 05-Nissan at the Mulsanne Corner at roughly the same time that Panciatici crashed to end his day.

All the attrition allowed the race to fall into the hands of Signatech Alpine‘s No. 36 Alpine A460-Nissan (Note: The Alpine A460 is really a rebadged ORECA 05).  The trio of Nicolas Lapierre, Gustavo Menezes and Stéphane Richelmi led much of the race and held on to take a solid victory over the No. 26 G-Drive Racing ORECA 05-Nissan shared by René Rast, Roman Rusinov and Will Stevens.  The SMP Racing No. 37 BR01-Nissan that started from the overall pole at Daytona finished third with the trio of Vitaly Petrov, Viktor Shaitar and Kirill Ladygin.

For the IMSA contingent, Michael Shank Racing, despite having good pace, never could recover from a stop and five minute hold penalty that was assessed on Thursday due to an engine change.  WEC regulars were permitted one engine change during the weekend, but non-WEC regulars were not.  Once the penalty was served, the No. 49 Ligier JS P2-Honda was two laps down and they were never able to make it up.  With limited issues, the team of Oswaldo Negri, Jr., John Pew and Laurens Vanthoor finished ninth in class.

The Murphy Prototypes No. 48 ORECA 03R-Nissan, run in association with Riley Motorsports, finished 14th in class, 34 laps down.  Both of the Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligiers ran into problems.  The No. 31 was the faster of the two cars, but lost hours due to repairs in the garage and a persistent vibration.  They would eventually finish 16th in class.  The No. 30 was not as quick and fell victim to a number of incidents.  Chris Cumming spun entering a Slow Zone in the Porsche Curves and lost time.  Ed Brown ended up in the sand at Tertre Rouge and lost significant time.  Regardless, the team still managed to bring the No. 30 home 11th in class.

GTE-Pro turned out to be a IMSA benefit.  Ford Chip Ganassi Racing‘s two American-based entries (Nos. 68 and 69) battled for the class lead for nearly the entire race with Risi Competizione‘s No. 82 Ferrari 488 GTE.  Even with somewhat controversial Balance of Performance rule changes that were handed down after qualifying and no time in the dry to dial the cars in before the race, the Fords were still dominant.

Only Risi Competizione’s No. 82 could really keep up, but a spin entering the pits more or less ended their chances for victory.  Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 68 shared by Joey Hand, Dirk Müller and Sébastien Bourdais claimed the class victory by a minute over the No. 82 shared by Giancarlo Fisichella, Toni Vilander and Matteo Malucelli.

Then, the protests were issued.  Both sides protested the other.  In the end, a series of rulings were made.  First, Ford received a 50 second time penalty for speeding in a Slow Zone.  Later, an additional 20 second time penalty was added for faulty wheel speed sensors.

This would have been enough for Risi Competizione to claim the class victory, but Risi Competizione was hit with a 20 second time penalty and a fine of 5000 Euros for ignoring the black flag with the orange circle (also known as “The Meatball”).  That required the team to pit in order to repair faulty leader lights in the final minutes of the race.  As a result of the penalties, the No. 68 Ford’s official margin of victory is 10.2 seconds.

However, there is still one more protest outstanding.  Ferrari has alleged that Ford broke the ACO’s Performance Window rule, designed to prevent classes from overlapping each other, something that happens on a regular basis in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship between the Prototype Challenge and GT-Le Mans classes.  Stay tuned to see the result of that protest.

In GTE-Am, Abu Dhabi-Proton Competition led much of the race in their No. 88 Porsche 911 RSR.  However, the team ran into trouble during the night, and that was all it took for Scuderia Corsa to take advantage.  Running 331 trouble-free laps, the Ferrari F458 Italia GT2 shared by Townsend Bell, Jeff Segal and Bill Sweedler ended up lapping the rest of the class to win in only their second appearance at Le Mans.

The aforementioned No. 88 shared by Khaled Al-Qubaisi, Patrick Long and David Heinemeier Hansson was a lap back in second.  AF Corse’s No. 83 Ferrari shared by François Perrodo, Rui Aguas and Emmanuel Collard was third in class.

Round No. 4 of the FIA World Endurance Championship is the 6 Hours of the Nürburgring, scheduled for Jul. 24.  Coverage of the race will be live on the FOX Sports family of networks.

About the author

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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