PORSCHE has ended the recent dominance of Audi with an emphatic win at the Le Mans 24 Hours.
THE number 19 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Nico Hulkenberg, Nick Tandy and Kiwi Earl Bamber crossed the finish line a lap ahead of team mates Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard to complete the one-two victory.
The battle with Audi lasted virtually all race with the Porsches asserting dominance only in the last eight hours. The number 7 Audi R18 e-tron quattro driven by Marcel Fassler, Andre Lotterer and Benoit Treluyer completed the podium, finishing two laps behind the leader.
It was Porsche’s 17th victory at Le Mans and its first since 1998. The company only re-entered the World Endurance Championship last year, spearheaded by ex-Formula One pilot Webber.
It was a current F1 driver who took home the big trophy however, and the moment must have been sweet for the hugely talented Hulkenberg who was unable to attract the attention of the bigger F1 teams this season.
Of the other LMP1 outright contenders, the number 8 Audi finished fourth and the number 9 car was seventh after an off in the latter stages of the race damaged its front end.
The number 8 Audi was in the wars early in the race when driver Loic Duval seemed to misjudge the speed of cars slowing for a previous yellow flag sector, got his car into the grass and biffed the wall. A new nose fixed the damage but at least a minute was lost in the crucial early stages of the race.
In fact, it does not diminish Porsche’s huge effort this weekend to say that the balance of good fortune was tilted slightly further in its way than Audi’s.
The winning car ran the full 24 hours virtually without issue, completing 395 laps and 5372km in a race run without the rain predicted beforehand until a small shower in the last 30 minutes of the race.
The number 17 Porsche lost a chunk of time when New Zealander Hartley was penalized for speeding during a yellow-flagged slow zone. Mark Webber served the one minute stop-go pitlane penalty late on Saturday night during his marathon stint and was never able to recover the deficit.
Toyota’s TS040 Hybrid was reliable but not able to match the pace of the Germans either in qualifying or race, and the two car team came home sixth and eighth, split by the third Audi.
Nissan’s debut in LMP1 was fraught with difficulty as the Nismo team completed what was virtually a public test session in its underdeveloped GT-R LM.
Steering, handling, bodywork and braking problems conspired to put the three front-engined, front-drive Nissans at the rear of the field.
Even so, it looked like two cars would finish before an engine fire put paid to the number 23 car only an hour from the chequered flag.
The number 22 car driven by sometime V8 Supercar pilot Alex Buncombe, Michael Krumm and Harry Tincknell crossed the finish line amid scenes of jubilation by the team that were remarkable if only because the car finished dead last out of 40 Le Mans 2015 survivors.
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