Flying Kiwis guide Porsche to Le Mans 24-hr triumphPOSTED BY Nigel Andretti ON 15 June 2015
IT WILL be hard to say who will be celebrating hardest and the longest — Porsche or New Zealand motorsport.
Porsche recaptured the treasured Le Mans 24-hour sportscar endurance overall title yesterday after a 17-year gap in a one-two finish.
It was a dominating performance by Porsche who last won the title in 1998 and New Zealand drivers Earl Bamber and Brendon Hartley stood first and second on the podium.
Bamber teamed with fellow Le Mans first-timer Nico Hulkenberg and Briton Nick Tandy to become the third New Zealander to win Le Mans. The first two were Formula One drivers Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon in 1966 — in the Ford GT40. Hulkenberg was the first active F1 driver to win the race in 24 years since Briton Johnny Herbert in 1991.
Hartley’s Porsche in second was co-driven by Australian former Formula One driver Mark Webber and Germany’s Timo Bernhard.
Audi’s defending champions Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Faessler completed the podium places in the 83rd edition of the endurance race.
“I’m speechless right now, to be honest,” said Hulkenberg before lifting the heavy trophy with the help of his team-mates.
“It’s amazing to come here, first attempt. Super happy…we wrote history today,” added the 27-year-old. “We couldn’t expect such a thing,” said the German, who arrived in Le Mans straight from the Canadian Grand Prix and will be heading to Austria for next weekend’s race after a few days off.
The winning trio were the least experienced of the three Porsche works crews, with Hulkenberg completely unfamiliar with Le Mans until testing two weeks ago.
Tandy, the only one of the three with prior Le Mans experience, became the 30th British winner of the event.
“I couldn’t think of two guys I’d rather share the car with,” said the Englishman.
“I could retire from racing tomorrow and look back on today and I am sure I would be happy for the rest of my life.”
Audi had won 13 of the last 15 editions, but Porsche, who returned with a full factory effort last year, had looked dangerous from the moment they swept the top three grid places in qualifying.
There had been little to separate the two Volkswagen stable mates going into the night but things started to unwind for Audi after daybreak.
Fassler had to pit when a large part of bodywork flew off without warning, costing seven minutes for repairs. The number nine and eight Audis also suffered mechanical problems.
Webber led at the quarter distance but the car fell back when Hartley collected a one minute ‘stop and go’ penalty for overtaking through a slow zone imposed around the Mulsanne corner during the third safety car interlude.
“Wow, what a day,” said an ecstatic Webber (below). “It’s sensational to have Nico and Earl win, it’s a brilliant day for Porsche. I can’t put it into words: one-two!”
Last year Porsche didn’t even make the top 10 finishers, and Webber’s car conked out two hours from the finish, after leading several times earlier in the race.
The average speed of the winners in this year’s 83rd running of the endurance race since 1923 was 247.1km/h, covering 395 laps and a total distance of 5383.5km — the equivalent of driving from Sydney to Perth in just one day, except the road isn’t as straight as the highway across the Nullarbor Plain.
The Le Mans race cars eclipse 300km/h five times on each 13.6km lap, and top 340km/h on the longest straight.
Unlike Formula One which has strict rules, the Le Mans event allows manufacturers to use whatever engine they desire — but limit how much energy they can use per lap.
It makes the race more of an engineering challenge and, ultimately, more relevant to road cars as some of the technology eventually makes it way into showrooms in the years ahead.
Audi matched a V6 turbo diesel engine to a hybrid system, Toyota a V8 petrol engine mated to a hybrid system while Porsche used a small turbo four-cylinder engine matched to an even bigger hybrid system than its rivals.