Monday, June 15, 2015

Porsche win the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans

Porsche have won the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans. The winning no. 19 car was driven by Earl Bamber, Nico Hülkenberg, and Nick Tandy. Porsche also got the second place with the no. 17 car driven by Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley, and Mark Webber. The third place went to the dominant manufacturer of this century, Audi, with their no. 7 car, driven by the defending winners Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer, and Benoit Tréluyer.

Porsche were the dominant team in the qualifying but so were they also in the previous WEC rounds at Silverstone and Spa with Audi still winning the races. Being able to do quadruple stints with the same tyres was helping Audi but they were also facing some adversity. The #7 lost time early in the race when a slow puncture forced them to pit for full service at the beginning of the fourth stint on the same tyres. The #8 Audi lost lots of time when it damaged its front after losing control in a confusing incident with a GT Ferrari when some cars were obviously slowing down for a yellow zone. The safety car periods in Saturday evening gave the #17 Porsche a lead of over a minute, thanks to it having been in an earlier safety car queue compared to its rivals. Like in the previous WEC rounds of this season, Audi again had great race pace. Filipe Albuquerque in the #9 Audi was setting great lap times in the Saturday evening, breaking the old race lap record.

I think the race got decided in late Saturday evening after a safety car period that packed the leading cars. The #17 Porsche that had long been leading got a one-minute penalty for ignoring yellows. And as the #18 Porsche had a couple of incidents under braking to Mulsanne, it was the #19 Porsche racing against the #9 and #7 Audis in the lead. While being soft on tyres had helped Audi to make their tyres last longer, it was hurting them at night when Porsche got their tyres work better and Nick Tandy in the #19 was building a great gap in his stint.

Of course, Porsche's advantage in colder conditions was going to end after the night but I think the gap the #19 built at night would've been enough for them even if the Audis had a clean finish to the race. But the Audis didn't have. The #7 of the defending winners was again Audi's strongest contender in the Sunday morning but then its engine cover blew off and the time spent repairing it cost it the chance to race for win or even for the second place. And the other Audi in the lead battle, the #9, had issues with its hybrid systems so the win was pretty much decided before the final hours of the race, Porsche just had to bring their cars home for a 1-2 win.

Audi may have had the faster car in the race; its three cars were the only ones to go under 3:18 in lap times. But most of the time Porsche was controlling the race and maybe didn't need to go all-out in the race. Last year's WEC champions Toyota have been disappointing this year and they were far from winning pace at Le Mans, finishing 6th and 8th and couldn't have a lap under 3:20 in the race. Their budget is behind Audi and Porsche and that's why they fielded only two cars at Le Mans and possibly the smaller budget can also be seen from their performance this year. Toyota have already announced they will be switching from 6MJ to 8MJ hybrid system subclass for the next year and replace supercapacitors with batteries like Porsche does. I wonder what Audi will be doing as they are currently in the 4MJ subclass, using a flywheel.

Formula One driver Nico Hülkenberg was one of the winning Porsche drivers. He became the first active F1 driver since 1991 and Bertrand Gachot and Johnny Herbert to win at Le Mans. I think an F1 driver winning is great for the race, even though I have also seen opposite opinions fearing this to make the WEC look weak in comparison to F1. While some of the pay drivers in F1 would never become factory drivers in the WEC, you can't deny most of the world's best drivers are in F1 and it's great for the WEC to get them to do even one race. Hülkenberg winning doesn't mean the WEC drivers are bad drivers but it shows the world's best drivers want to do Le Mans. I like seeing IndyCar drivers like Bourdais or Dixon doing American endurance events and similarly I'd like more F1 and also IndyCar drivers joining WEC regulars for Le Mans. Unfortunately, if an F1 team is representing a manufacturer, it is hard to race for another manufacturer at Le Mans. That obviously prevented McLaren-Honda's Fernando Alonso driving for Porsche at Le Mans.

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