24 Hours of Le Mans: Porsche endure to win for 19th time, Karun Chandhok books top 10 in LMP2 class

German manufacturer Porsche reigned at the iconic Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France during the 2017 edition of one of the world’s toughest race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

It wasn’t the easiest of wins for the No 2 Porsche crew after it made a comeback from early issues, as only two LMP1 cars could cross the finish line after the 24 hours of hectic racing. The Toyotas had a disastrous run after showing much promise in the sessions before the race start.

A total of 60 cars entered for the 85th edition of the race, with six in the lead LMP1 category, 25 in the LMP2 class, 13 in the LMGTE Pro (Professional) and 16 in the LMGTE Am (Amateur).

 24 Hours of Le Mans: Porsche endure to win for 19th time, Karun Chandhok books top 10 in LMP2 class

Drivers of the Porsche 919 Hybrid No 2, from left to right, Brendon Hartley Earl Bamber and Timo Bernhard after winning the race. AP

Japanese manufacturer Toyota led the way in the practice session, already showing signs of things to come for the weekend to challenge the formidable LMP1 entrant Porsche — after longtime rival Audi withdrawn from the FIA World Endurance Championship at the start of the 2017 season.

Toyota had a heartbreaking 2016 event when the No 7 lost power on the final lap from the lead, which cost them their first Le Mans victory in the LMP1 category. The manufacturer has been chasing a LMP1 win since 2012. They have won in the LMGTP class in 1999.

With renewed aim in this year’s edition, the team’s No 7 entry of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Stephane Sarrazin extended Toyota’s dominance from practice, taking a record-breaking pole with a time of 3:14:791. The ex-Formula 1 driver Kobayashi set the best time in the second qualifying session which no other team could better, even in the final leg.

They were joined by sister team, the No 8 of Kazuki Nakajima, Sebastien Buemi and Anthony Davidson in the front-row after Nakajima’s lap of 3:17:128, as both the Toyotas were ahead of their main rivals No 1 Porsche of Neel Jani, Andre Lotterer and Nick Tandy and No 2 of Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartely and Earl Bamber.

Toyota’s planned attack to get their hands on the prestigious Le Mans winner’s trophy seemed on track after their performance at the start of the race weekend and also in the race when the No 7 car held on to the lead from the fighting duo of No 8 Toyota and No 1 Porsche.

The Toyotas stayed in front of the Porsches for the first half of the race with all three entries of No 7, No 8 and No 9 of Nicolas Lapierre, Jose Maria Lopez and Yuji Kunimoto. But not for long, as the first Toyota to hit with hybrid issues was the No 8. Also, the No 2 Porsche had to pit when the car lost front-axle drive.

But the 10th hour saw a dramatic change in fortunes when the Toyotas encountered with reliability issues which pretty much ended its win bid. The No 7 Toyota faced clutch problems, while the No 9 had fuel cut issues and was subsequently hit by the Manor’s LMP2 car, which led to both the cars retiring from the race after running for 154 and 160 laps respectively.

Toyota’s self-destruction allowed the No 1 Porsche to take over a commanding lead from the other LMP1 entries, who were trying to make a comeback in the second half of the race. At the same time with the LMP1 cars facing troubles, the LMP2 prototypes were placed well in the fight for second place overall involving No 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca of Oliver Jarvis, Ho-Pin Tung and Thomas Laurent and No 13 Rebellion of Nelson Piquet Jr, David Hansson and Mathias Beche.

With less than four hours remaining, there was further drama when the leading No 1 Porsche were forced to limp back to the pits and retire for loss of oil pressure handing the lead to the No 38 Oreca LMP2 car, but their lead was short-lived as the No 2 Porsche chased it down in the last two hours of the race to claim the German manufacturer’s 19th Le Mans win, their third successive since 2015.

The No 2 crew fought back from early race issues, with Bernhard and Bamber taking their second Le Mans victory and the first for Hartely in a race where only two LMP1 cars crossed the finish line. The sole remaining No 8 Toyota ended up only eighth overall.

Porsche LMP1 Vice President, Fritz Enzinger commented: “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 focused 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 [Sunday] 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.”

Behind, it was a monumental result for the LMP2 cars of No 38 and No 37 claiming an overall Le Mans podium, with the No 38 also taking the LMP2 class win. The No 13 crew originally took third, but a post-race disqualification for technical irregularities meant they not only lost the LMP1 podium, but also in the LMP2.

Thus, the No 37 DC Racing Car of David Cheng, Alex Brundle and Tristan Gommendy had the results turn to their favour, with No 35 Signatech Alpine of Nelson Panciatici, Pierre Ragues and Andre Negrao inheriting the final place on the podium.

Elsewhere, India’s Karun Chandhok in the No 34 Tockwith Motorsports Ligier with Phil Hanson and Nigel Moore finished 11th overall and ninth in class after post-race disqualification — the Indian taking his fourth Le Mans finish in five attempts. The crew faced electrical issues in qualifying (finishing 27th overall and 21st in class), but fought through the 24 hours to complete 351 laps, 16 down on the lead car.

The LMGTE Pro class saw the No 97 Aston Martin Vantage take victory after late drama for the No 63 Chevrolet Corvette, which dropped them to third behind No 19 Ford GT of Pipo Derani, Harry Tincknell and Andy Priaulx.

In the LMGTE Am class, the Ferraris took all the top three podium positions with the No 84 of Will Stevens, Robert Smith and Dries Vanthoor claim class win from No 55 of Duncan Cameron, Marco Cioci and Aaron Scott and No 62 of Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler and Cooper MacNeil.

Updated Date: Jun 20, 2017 19:46:10 IST