This week we look back to 2015 and the 83rd running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Two Kiwi drivers were competing with a three-car Porsche assault on the title. It was Porsche’s second year in the FIA World Endurance Championship after returning to the top level since competing with the Porsche 911 GT1 in 1998.
In 2014, Porsche entered the 919 Hybrid and went on to compete through to 2017 in the FIA WEC before abandoning the program to turn its attention on Formula E. Here’s the race report from the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans
Porsche has achieved its 17th overall Le Mans victory at the 83rd running of the famous 24-Hour race in a perfect way with a one-two finish. Drivers Earl Bamber (NZ), Nico Hülkenberg (GER) and Nick Tandy (GB) won the coveted trophy in their innovative Porsche 919 Hybrid exactly 45 years after Porsche’s first overall win at La Sarthe was achieved.
Timo Bernhard (GER), Brendon Hartley (NZ) and Mark Webber (AUS) in the sister car added the icing on the cake when they came home in second. Romain Dumas (FR), Neel Jani (CH) and Marc Lieb (GER) brought home the third Porsche 919 Hybrid in fifth.
No other brand has managed to win the world’s toughest endurance race so many times and is connected that closely to the myth of Le Mans. The previous win was also a one-two – back in 1998 when Allan McNish (GBR), Laurent Aiello (FRA) and Stéphane Ortelli (MC) finished first in their Porsche GT1.
“It feels incredible,” commented Bamber. “I have enjoyed every single stint. It is been a long, long day to drive in the evening and then again in the morning. I just had a very short break. But I am not tired at all – I am pumped up on adrenalin now. I thought I would have heard strange noises in the car. But, of course, you fancy every kind of noise if you are on your way to win Le Mans.”
Matthias Müller, CEO Porsche AG said: “This one-two finish in Le Mans 2015 is such a fabulous result we wouldn’t have dreamed of. The entire team has done a great job over the recent three or four years and well deserve this success.”
Wolfgang Hatz, Member of Board for research and Development Porsche AG, said: “A one-two finish in what is only our second year is an amazing reward for the guts of our engineers regarding the 919 Hybrid’s concept, and the relentless efforts of our 230 team members.”
Porsche only returned last year to the top level of endurance racing, attracted by the new efficiency regulations. In the brand’s Research Center in Weissach the most innovative car of the entire grid was developed. The Porsche 919 Hybrid has a trend-setting downsizing turbo engine and two energy recovery systems, which all together create a powertrain delivering around 1,000 HP. It works as a racing laboratory for the highest efficiency of future road going sports cars.
At the 83rd Le Mans 24-Hours all the systems of this highly complex race car were tested to their limits. Because of the very tight competition, especially between the Porsche 919 Hybrids and the Audi prototypes, the race went on in qualifying mode twice round the clock. In qualifying the three Porsches did not only lock out the front of the grid with a one-two-three, but also set a new qualifying record for the 13.629 kilometre long track. The pinnacle was also the performance of the pit crew, who managed 90 pit stops in total and were significantly faster than the competition.
The winning number 19 prototype had started third on the grid, and for a short time at the beginning even dropped down the order to eighth before settling in sixth for a longer period. Of all things, it is the rookie crew that won the monstrous classic.
Neither Formula One driver Nico Hülkenberg, who had the joy of being in the car at the most emotional moments of the race, being the start and the finish driver, nor Earl Bamber brought Le Mans experience with them.
Nick Tandy, the third driver of the winning trio, had at least done two Le Mans 24-Hours for Porsche in the GT class. By doing super fast laps, staying calm but highly focused, the three of them drove a race with no errors and won it by their own merits.
In the early stages of the men and machine stressing marathon the number 17 Porsche had been leading. However, a one-minute stop-and-go penalty at the end of the first third of the race dropped them back to fourth. Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and Mark Webber kept their heads down and worked hard. With a consistently strong performance they made it up to second place.
“On the final lap I had tears in my eyes,” said Hartley. “We have all been working so hard for this result. Stepping onto the podium was a dream come true. It is unbelievable. I’m very proud that two Porsches have won. I feel happy for every single person here.”
The crew of the third Porsche 919 Hybrid had a rather tricky race. Pole-setter Neel Jani lost the lead right after the start to Timo Bernhard. For some time the drivers were unhappy with the braking stability, and two offs from the track didn’t help either. Given that chronology of events, more than fifth place wasn’t within reach this time for the fast trio with the number 18 car.