At 18:30 on Saturday evening the Le Mans 24-Hours looked over for the Porsche 919 Hybrid of Earl Bamber (NZ), Timo Bernhard (DE) and Brendon Hartley (NZ). Their car had no front axle drive anymore, was repaired for 1.05 hours and rejoined the race 18 laps behind. But the 85th running of the endurance classic in Le Mans produced such dramatic changes that the impossible ultimately came true: After an enormous effort, the trio sliced through the field from 56th position to overall victory. For Le Mans record holder Porsche, it is the 19th overall win in the world’s toughest race and the third in a row meaning the German manufacturer can now keep the famous trophy.
For Earl Bamber it is his second Le Mans overall win at the wheel of the Porsche 919 Hybrid after 2015. Timo Bernhard also scores his second Le Mans overall win. Following on from his maiden win in 2010 when he was loaned to Audi, he had dreamed to repeat it one day with Porsche. Brendon Hartley was arguably the hungriest of this year’s six Porsche LMP works driver squad as his name had yet to be engraved onto the big trophy.
How the final phase went for car number 2:
When the number 1 sister car stops on track soon after 11am after having led the race for more than ten hours, the time for the hunters had arrived. Hartley continuously improves during a multiple stint. After 312 laps, he comes in for his final refuelling stop then after 325 laps he hands over the car in fourth position to Bernhard. At 12:50pm, the 919 Hybrid is back on the same lap as the leading car – it is race lap 330. After all LMP1 hybrid works cars have either retired or been delayed, an LMP2 leads outright. After 338 laps Bernhard comes in for fuel and on lap 347 he takes the lead. His penultimate refuelling stop is after 351 laps before a final splash & dash after 360 laps. After 367 laps in total Bernhard takes the chequered flag to fulfil a dream.
Quotes after the race:
Michael Steiner, Board Member Research and Development, Porsche AG: “The ‘triple’ in Le Mans is a dream come true for Porsche and the way this third consecutive win happened is very special. I’m proud of the Porsche Team that kept fighting despite the long stop for repairs. This success also came about thanks to strong E performance and innovative hybrid technology.”
Fritz Enzinger, Vice President LMP1: “One of our ambitious targets for the 2017 season was to achieve a hat-trick at Le Mans. But what we have gone through over the past 24 hours, you could not imagine in your wildest dreams. This 24-hour race just pushed everything and everyone to the limit. It is unbelievable what you can achieve in a focussed team effort. Sometimes it is not the fastest car but the best team performance that makes the difference. This team is the best of all and made today’s success possible. The reaction from everywhere is overwhelming – from Porsche employees and also around the world. Personally I can only say thank you to Porsche for putting me in the position to set up such a great programme and thanks to every single team member for the total support and the great team spirit.”
Andreas Seidl, Team Principal: “It’s hard to find words for what happened. The drivers and the entire team have done an amazing job. We can put two tough weeks behind us that provided some highs and lows but we fought with typical Porsche spirit. It will take some time for what we have achieved today to sink in. We’ve now won Le Mans three times in a row which is just sensational. The team worked relentlessly for this over the past twelve months. Toyota was a very strong competitor. They pushed us to the limits and beyond and we both paid the price. It is a sad that Neel Jani, André Lotterer and Nick Tandy retired from the race because they controlled it for a long time. But Earl Bamber, Brendon Hartley and especially Timo Bernhard deserved to take the race win. Timo was the development driver right from the beginning of the programme. After the long repairs, the three of them kept fighting and were ultimately rewarded.”
Drivers Porsche 919 Hybrid car number 2
Earl Bamber (26, New Zealand): “I can’t believe we’ve managed to pull this one off having been at the back of the field after an hour in the pit-box. Both Brendon and Timo have been part of the Porsche LMP programme from the beginning while this victory is as much down to the guys in the pits. Without their hard work we wouldn’t have got back racing again so this win is down to them.”
Timo Bernhard (36, Germany): “It feels surreal. When I joined Porsche as a junior driver back in 1999, I carefully developed the dream to perhaps one day get the chance to fight for overall victory at Le Mans. I hoped I would be good enough to really do this one day. Now, 18 years later, we have achieved it together. The final lap was very emotional for me. It will take some time before I realize what has happened.”
Brendon Hartley (27, New Zealand): "Le Mans is one crazy race. The mechanics worked incredibly hard on Saturday evening to get our car repaired in super fast time and since that moment Timo, Earl and myself, together with our engineers, have been pushing hard, 100% every second, and desperately hoped that our efforts would somehow pay off.”
With an admirable debut at the Le Mans 24 Hours witnessed by 258,000 fans, the new Porsche 911 RSR demonstrated its potential and reliability. The race car led the field over long distances and was on course for a podium result until shortly before the flag. However, after 340 laps full of thrills and drama on the legendary 13.629-kilometre Circuit des 24 Heures, Richard Lietz (Austria) and his French teammates Frédéric Makowiecki and Patrick Pilet had to settle for fourth place in the fiercely cutthroat GTE-Pro class. An additional pit stop due to tyre damage an hour before the finish robbed them of all hopes in achieving a podium spot at the toughest automobile race in the world.
In glorious summer weather and temperatures of around 30 degrees Celsius, 60 vehicles were sent on their way at 15.00 hours on Saturday in the 24-hour chase in the department of Sarthe in western France. The two new 911 RSR, which were fielded for the first time at Le Mans by the Porsche GT Team, completed the first third of the race with any major problems. The only incident on the Circuit des 24 Heures, which throws very special challenges at drivers with its combination of a permanent racetrack and normal national roads, was when the #92 Porsche 911 RSR became entangled in a collision. In the ultra-fast corner 1, it was hit by a competitor and had to return to the pits. Prior to this, Michael Christensen (Denmark), Kévin Estre (France) and Dirk Werner (Germany) had at times been running in second place. Thanks to a perfect race strategy and fast pit stops, the time that was lost was virtually recovered. Their charge, however, was finally halted during the night: After 179 laps and the occasional stint in the lead, Michael Christensen (Denmark) lost control of his 911 RSR while kerb-hopping in the Ford chicane and crashed into the barriers with the rear of his car.
Shortly before the end of the race, Frédéric Makowiecki was running in third place
In the second half of the race, however, their teammates in the #91 Porsche 911 RSR took up the leadership role. On Sunday morning, Patrick Pilet moved into the top position of the very strong GT field for the first time, with Richard Lietz and Frédéric Makowiecki also turning laps at the lead over long distances. In the final stages of the race, all signs looked promising for at least a podium result. With one-and-a-half hours to go before the flag, Frédéric Makowiecki was running in third place. And this is how the race might have ended had a puncture one hour before the end not forced the vehicle back into the pits for an unscheduled pit stop. The fight for the podium was lost.
In the GTE-Am class, Porsche customer teams fielded four 2015-spec 911 RSR. The best result was secured by the 911 campaigned by Dempsey Proton Racing in sixth. Sharing the cockpit of the #77 car was Porsche Young Professional Matteo Cairoli (Italy) with the German racing drivers Christian Ried and Marvin Dienst.
Comments on the race
Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser, Vice President Motorsport and GT Cars: “This was our first time at Le Mans with our new 911 RSR and I think we delivered a good performance. It’s a shame that we lost our #92 car in the night due to an accident. It’s also a pity that our #91 vehicle only managed fourth place at the end, although the drivers and team had done everything and the vehicle had even led over long distances. But then tyre damage hit and on top of that we were a little unlucky with a slow zone. That cost us the chance of a better placing, but we’ll be back next year.”
Drivers 911 RSR #91
Richard Lietz: “It’s tough when you give your best and to stand there empty-handed in the end. Our 911 RSR performed well in the corners as expected, but in the high temperatures we lost time to our rivals on the straights. The whole team deserves a huge thank you, because the preparation for Le Mans was extremely hard. Our mechanics really did everything they could. It was an exciting race and I hope we’ll be able to compete for a podium spot next year. Fourth place this year is okay, it gives us important points towards the championship and things are looking good for us in this respect.”
Patrick Pilet: “It was a hard, difficult race. We all did our very best and we can’t blame ourselves. From our side it was a perfect race. The drivers didn’t make any mistakes out on the racetrack and the team gave us tremendous support. Our 911 RSR ran well on this demanding circuit. Over the entire race we only came in to the pits to refuel and change the tyres. A podium spot would have been a great result for the team, but it wasn’t to be. We’ll return next year even stronger.”
Frédéric Makowiecki: “It was a good race. The whole team worked brilliantly. We tried literally everything to reach the podium. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite enough. Still, the Le Mans 24-hour race was once again an unforgettable experience.”
Drivers 911 RSR #92
Michael Christensen: “That was an unbelievably tough race. We were driving at the limit the entire time and you had to take big risks to keep up with the opposition. In the chicane I risked a little too much. It’s a shame because our 911 RSR was running well and we were up with the frontrunners. I’m sorry for the whole team who gave us such great support.”
Kévin Estre: “Le Mans is the world’s toughest automobile race. We saw it again this year. It always hurts when you don’t reach the finish line. But at Le Mans it’s particularly painful.”
Dirk Werner: “We really picked up the pace over the course of the race. At times we were even in the lead. It’s a shame we didn’t make it to the flag. But as a racing driver you simply have to accept retirements. However, we’ll work hard so that we can come back next year even stronger.”
Customer team drivers
Patrick Long (911 RSR #93, Proton Competition): “The handling of the 911 RSR was very good over the entire race. The only place we couldn’t match the pace of our opponents was on the straights. We put pressure on right to the end and the team gave their utmost. We can be proud of our effort. We’ve all enjoyed the unique atmosphere of this race.”
Matteo Cairoli (911 RSR #77, Dempsey Proton Racing): “I was determined to finish on the podium at my first Le Mans attempt. In the beginning everything was going well for us, but in the night we had a technical problem that threw us back. Still, we were able to finish the race and earn important points towards the championship. And I fulfilled my dream to race at Le Mans. I hope we come back in 2018.”