Porsche managed to salvage one car which was one car enough to win the 2017 version of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Two and half hours into the race the No.2 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Earl Bamber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley sat in the garage with no front axle drive. After more than a hours worth of repairs and 18 laps behind the then leader the No.2 looked to be well out of of the running for an overall win.
Meanwhile, pre-race favorites, Toyota, saw their trio of entries fall one by one. The pole position-winning No.7 TS050 HYBRID of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Stéphane Sarrazin led for the opening 10 hours but it retired at 1:15am following a clutch problem. The No.8 of Sébastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima had also been in contention for the victory for almost eight hours until an issue on the front motor cost it almost two hours in the pits. An accident put the No.9 of Nicolas Lapierre, Yuji Kunimoto and José María López out just minutes after the No.7 stopped when it was hit from behind by an LMP2 car causing a puncture and damaging the hydraulics. That damage left the car unable to shift gear and it retired on track just a few hundred yards from the pits at 1.35am.
Then the No.1 Porsche 919 of Neel Jani, André Lotterer and Nick Tandy was holding the lead when André Lotterer was forced to pull over at the side of the track in the 21st hour with an engine problem.
As the other LMP 1 cars fell Hartley continuously improved the No.2 Porsche's position during a multiple stint. After 325 laps Hartley handed over the car in fourth position to Bernhard for the run to the checker flag. At 12:50 pm, the 919 Hybrid was back on the same lap as the lead car, the LMP2 No.38 Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECA of Ho-Pin Tung, Thomas Laurent and Oliver Jarvi. On lap 347 Bernhard caught and passed the the Chan DC Racing machine to take the lead and after 367 laps, and the win.
“It feels surreal." said Bernhard "When I joined Porsche as a junior driver back in 1999, I carefully developed the dream to perhaps one day get the chance to fight for overall victory at Le Mans. I hoped I would be good enough to really do this one day. Now, 18 years later, we have achieved it together. The final lap was very emotional for me. It will take some time before I realize what has happened.”
Finishing second overall and winning LMP2 was the the Chinese team delivering an almost flawless race taking control of the class at the end of the night. The Jarvis-Laurent-Tung trio even saw itself in first place overall before being caught by the winning Porsche.
GTE Pro came down to the final lap as the Corvette of Jordan Taylor and the Aston Martin of Jonny Adam battled wheel to wheel for the class win. It was that very wheel to wheel action that decided the race as with two laps go Adams dove low under Taylor at the the Mulsanne corner. Taylor in the No.63 Corvette countered going low in the Aston Martin as the two exited the corner. The cars made side by side contact as Taylor retook the lead. That lead was short lived as the left front tire of the Corvette began to go flat due to a leak caused by the contact at Mulsanne corner. Adam's took the lead on the final lap going on to take the win.
“For Daniel and Darren to put me in that mix to battle for the front was testament to how good the car has been all weekend." said Adam "To see how well the guys had driven, we had zero mistakes and we did our best to keep the car out of the pits as often as we could and just try and run a consistent pace throughout. It was an extremely tough last stint, we nearly pipped the Corvette on the pit exit in the last hour and when he did get the jump there he was fast. He managed to pull at one point a six to eight car length gap, but our goal was not to give up. He looked weak in a few corners and I knew I had to capitalize on them and when I got on to his bumper I knew it was now or never if I wanted to win Le Mans. We got it and it was really cool to get him just before the finish line and to see fans in the grandstands and the team on the pit wall celebrating, and it was then just time to bring it home”.
Taylor wrote on Instagram, "Heartbroken. We came so close, but it wasn't our day. I gave it all I had in that last hour. Thanks to everyone at Corvette Racing and my awesome teammates, we had an amazing race. I was proud to be a part of it. Until next time."
In GTE it was a Ferrari clean sweep of the podium as the Ferrari 488 of JMW Motorsport won the class with a lap advantage over everyone. The British team was making its debut with the new berlinetta, driven by Robert Smith, Dries Vanthoor and Will Stevens. Following was Marco Cioci, Duncan Cameron and Aaron Scott finishing second with the 488 GTE No.55 of Spirit of Race, while third place went to the 2016 winners, Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell, along with Cooper MacNeil in the 488 GTE of Scuderia Corsa.
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