Endurance Racing

Tyre troubles in the final hour sees Alonso, Nakajima and Buemi snatch Le Mans victory

Photo Credit: Toyota Motorsport GmbH

The conspiracy theorists were out in full force as last-minute tyre troubles spoiled the fantastic race for Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez in the #7 Toyota. The #8 crew of Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima nabbed the lead in the final hour of the race.

You honestly couldn’t write this script. Just when we thought it had all settled down, drama reared its head for the two Toyota Hybrids. Two punctures on consecutive laps (or perhaps an electrical gremlin posing as a puncture) ruined the lead for the #7, and the #8 made the past as we went into the final hour. Of course, you could say that doesn’t constitute drama for the #8. They simply inherited the lead. But remember, Fernando Alonso is aboard that #8. So, as soon as the #7 had its first issue, conspiracies were being thrown around like confetti at a wedding.

In fact, according to Toyota (via Sportscar365s John Dagys), the #7 had a puncture on the right rear, but the sensor was telling them there was a right front puncture too. The team then admitted to Radiolemans that the team changed the wrong tyre. Regardless, the point is: Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima have won the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the second time. Mike Conway can at least come away from this race knowing that not only did he set the fastest lap of the race, but also a new racing lap record. The third step on the podium went the way of Russian outfit SMP Racing. Mixed fortunes for the team as only one of their cars crossed the line. The#17 car crashed out earlier in the race, while Stoffel Vandoorne, Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin will no doubt be delighted with a third place for the #11. Fourth and fifth in LMP1 were the two Rebellions. Neither ran an immaculate race, and the #1 finished nine laps off the lead car, with the #3 a further six laps behind following a string of incidents. Three of the eight starters retired during the 24 hours – the aforementioned #17 SMP Racing, the #10 Dragonspeed and the #4 ByKolles.

Photo Credit Joao Filipe/AdrenalMedia.com/WEC

In LMP2, the honours went to Signatech Alpine. The second consecutive win for the #36 squad of Andre Negrao, Pierre Thiriet and Nicolas Lapierre, though this one is being awarded on the day. They inherited the win last year from G-Drive Racing who were disqualified post-race. The Russian ELMS team were looking to correct that this year with a recognised win, but disaster struck, and an extended pit top stay sent the #26 car tumbling down the order. Second in LMP2 went to the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing car in the hands of Stephane Richelmi, Ho-Pin Tung and Gabriel Aubry. The sister car was running in the top five with them for a while, but a gearbox problem cut their race short. Third in the class belonged to the #28 TDS Racing crew of Loic Duval, Matthieu Vaxivierre and Francois Perrodo.

The #22 United Autosports entry finished in fourth, claiming the title of ‘Highest Placed Ligier’ and they toppled some pretty high ranking opponents to do so. The second United Autosports didn’t share in the good luck, finishing in 14th after several issues. As for Dallara, things were looking good for the Racing Team Nederland squad, but it wasn’t to last. With just over three and a half hours to go, Nyck de Vries wound up in the tyres at Indianapolis. The safety cars were scrambled to retrieve the broken ‘JUMBO’ car. De Vries was successfully removed from the tyres, and the young Dutchman somehow managed to bring his Dallara back despite having one wheel perpendicular to the car. The team repaired the car in just over an hour, and Giedo van der Garde rejoined in 30th place. The car made up some ground in the capable hands of Giedo Van Der Garde and ultimately finished 15th in class. A few other LMP2 entries shuttered their garages during the race – the #43 RLR Msport, #49 ARC Bratislava and #31 Dragonspeed.

The GTE Pro field started as an intensely close battle covering most of the field. Unfortunately, this meant that when the safety car periods occurred, the sudden gaps appearing between competitors were rather noticeable. Eventually, only five cars finished on the lead lap in the class, and even they were separated by almost three and a half minutes. Almost poetically, however, Ferrari walked away with a GTE Pro victory on the 70th anniversary of their first Le Mans win. Only one of the two AF Corse cars made the finish line, but Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Daniel Serra took the top step of the podium. Second and third both went to Porsches, one from the WEC side and one from the IMSA side. The #91 car in the hands of Gianmaria Bruni, Richard Lietz and Fred Makowiecki beat the #93 to second position. Earl Bamber, Nick Tandy and Patrick Piley finished around 20 seconds down on their teammates.

Photo credit: Ford Performance/Drew Gibson

The four Fords all crossed the line in their final Le Mans 24 Hours, all one behind the other. Fourth to seventh were the #68, #67, #69 and #66 – no silverware, but the fact they all finished is a testament to the team and the Ford GT.  It wasn’t quite as good a swansong for the two BMWs however. The highest placed car for the German team was the #82 of Jesse Krohn, Antonio Felix da Costa and Augusto Farfus who finished 11th overall. The #81, however, ground to a halt during the last portion of the race, but Philip Eng managed to get the car back to the garage some 60 minutes after it stopped. The team got the car turned around, and the Eng, Nicky Catsburg and Martin Tomczyk finished in 14th. It was an appalling weekend at La Sarthe for Aston Martin. The team lost the #95 in a massive shunt for Marco Sorensen, and the #97 could only manage 13th following a long session in the garage. Disappointment for Corvette too who were challenging and leading the race at various points throughout. The #64 was retired early on due to an incident with the #88 Dempsey Proton Porsche. While the #63 had a few scuffles of its own and also had to spend some time being repaired.

A candidate for the best headline of the race, however, comes from GTE Am. Ben Keating and his team Keating Motorsports managed to pull off a class win in their first Le Mans 24 Hours with the only customer Ford GT. Despite being handed a late stop/go penalty for spinning their wheels in the pitlane, the crew of Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Felipe Fraga drove a great race. They even managed to keep a charging Jorg Bergmeister at bay. Speaking of Bergmeister, he, Egidio Perfetti and Patrick Lindsey took second in class in their Team Project 1 Porsche. Rounding out the GTE Am podium was the #84 JMW Motorsport Ferrari of Wei Lu, Jeff Segal and Rodrigo Baptista. Dempsey-Proton had a mixed race, especially as they withdrew the #88 early in the race due to one of their drivers being uncomfortable with driving any further. The #77 car of Julien Andlauer, Matt Campbell and Christian Ried looked like they could challenge for the class win, but in the end, could only manage fifth. More struggles for Aston Martin in GTE Am, as the #98 had to retire due to mechanical issues. The manufacturer’s hopes rested for a while on the #90 TF Sport car. But, a trip into the gravel along the Mulsanne, coupled with a stay in the garage for repairs scuppered those hopes. The blue Vantage eventually finished 12th in class – not a great final race for the previous generation Vantage. The all-female Kessel Racing team ran a good, quiet race and managed to finish in tenth.

And with that, the FIA World Endurance Championship draws to a close. When the dust settles and the results from this race get confirmed, the remaining championship titles will be awarded. The 2019/20 season kicks off at Silverstone on the 31st August/1st of September.

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