Monday, June 16, 2014

My report of the 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans

This year's 24 Hours of Le Mans is now behind. For me this was the second Le Mans I really followed. I followed as much of last year's race as possible and enjoyed it, and this time I wanted to see the entire race, and it was a truly great race.

This year marked the return of the works Porsche team to Le Mans. I was happy to see Porsche going to Le Mans; they are such an iconic brand in racing and one of my favourite car brands. I really hope they will have success at Le Mans, yet this year I was actually hoping them not to win. I didn't want them to humiliate Audi and Toyota in the first year after their comeback, especially as Audi is another of my favourite brands.

Audi has dominated Le Mans since 2000 winning all but two races, 2003 and 2009. That's why it is understandable many people wanted to have a new winner. Still, my sympathies were on Audi's side, partly because of their difficult week. The #1 Audi R18 driven by Loic Duval crashed badly in Wednesday's practice session. Duval didn't injure himself badly in the accident but was he had to miss the race and was replaced by Marc Gene. The #1 Audi also couldn't participate the first qualifying session on Wednesday. The qualifying wasn't too good for other Audis, too. The three R18s occupied the starting positions 5 to 7, behind the Toyotas and the Porsches.

Early in the race, #14 Porsche had some fuel system problems that forced it to pits being repaired. Then, with just under two hours of racing, it started to rain heavily and we had some drama. The #8 Toyota driven by Nicolas Lapierre seemed to spin by itself to barriers on the wet track, and at the same a GT Ferrari, driven by Sam Bird hit the #3 Audi driven by Marco Bonanomi. The Audi had to retire whereas the Toyota was able to continue the race but lost lots of time being repaired.

At night, the #1 Audi had to pit to get the fuel injector changed. Also the #14 Porsche faced again problems, being forced to have again a long pit stop. Meanwhile the #7 Toyota was racing with a comfortable lead of almost two minutes to the second-placed #2 Audi. Then, in early morning we had the most dramatic moment of the race. The leading #7 Toyota had been reported to have stopped at Arnage and the #2 Audi took the lead. An electrical problem had forced the Toyota to retire from the lead.

Now, despite all the struggles of the week, the Audi team found themselves having a one-two lead in the race with #2 in the lead and #1 second. The #20 Porsche was on the third place in front of the #8 Toyota and #14 Porsche who had lost lots of time in pits during the race. But the race was far from over, there was still more than the duration of a regular WEC race to finish. And it wasn't a comfortable finish for Audi. The #2 R18 dropped to third position because its turbocharger had to be changed. Now the #1 Audi was leading the race, after being heavily crashed on Wednesday's practice. One of its drivers was the record-winner of Le Mans, Tom Kristensen, aiming for his tenth win.

But nothing was predictable in this race. The #1 Audi also had to get its turbocharger changed, which dropped it to the 3rd place. Now the #20 Porsche was leading the comeback race of the manufacturer in Le Mans. But the #2 Audi was coming fast from behind and it got past during the pit stops. Eventually, the #20 Porsche couldn't even make the podium as technical issues forced it to retire. Also the #14 Porsche had to pit because of technical problems but it was sent back to track at the end of the race to cross the finish line.

In the end, the race was won by the #2 Audi R18 driven by Marcel Fässler, Andre Lotterer, and Benoit Treluyer. The #1 Audi R18 driven by Tom Kristensen, Marc Gene, and Lucas Di Grassi finished second and the #8 Toyota TS040 driven by Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi, and Nicolas Lapierre finished third.

Many people must have found yet another Audi win boring but I was happy for them after all the difficulties they had this week. In some ways, I can understand the joy of Rafael Nadal's fans after his maybe the worst French Open-winning performance. In both cases, the old winner was vulnerable but nobody else had what it takes to win.

At the same time, I feel gutted for Toyota. They did everything right in the race but to win a 24-hour race, you must have the reliability and they didn't have. They were the fastest car this year and I hope they can win Le Mans soon, even though Toyota doesn't raise the same passion in me as Porsche or Audi.

Porsche had an excellent comeback race even though technical issues ended it. Before those issues, they had even one car racing for the win. I hope and believe they can have success in the next years and have tight battles for wins against other teams. While I was happy that Audi could win after the difficult week, I hope to get a new winning manufacturer as soon as possible. Despite Audi's win, at least this year the battle for the win involved three teams, so you can't say Audi winning was inevitable.

Besides the LMP1 class, I enjoyed the GTE classes. Especially the battle for the win of GTE Pro was exciting with wheel-to-wheel racing. The #51 Ferrari of AF Corse, #97 Aston Martin, and #74 Chevrolet Corvette were battling for the win of GTE Pro. Unfortunately first the #74 Corvette and then the #97 Aston Martin faced technical problems, ending the battle for the win before the race ended. I wanted Aston Martin to have a good result as their last Le Mans was a sad race because of Allan Simonsen's death in the GTE Am class. That's why I was really gutted about the power steering issue that took them off from battling for the GTE Pro class win. Every cloud has a silver lining, though. My countryman Toni Vilander was driving the winning AF Corse #51 Ferrari with Gianmaria Bruni and Giancarlo Fisichella. And Aston Martin could win the GTE Am class with the #95 V8 Vantage GTE; the same number that Simonsen had at last year's Le Mans. Unfortunately their #98 V8 Vantage GTE faced some technical issues while leading the GTE Am class; otherwise they could have had one-two in the class.

I really enjoyed the race, 24 hours of great racing and drama, and no artificial gimmicks like DRS or tyres designed to degrade like in F1. Le Mans and other WEC races aren't so hard to follow for an F1 fan, as there are many F1 drivers there. My motorsport interest is definitely moving from F1 to Le Mans and the WEC.

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