It was very early this morning for us when Porsche crossed the finish line in France to take their 19th overall Le Mans victory, and after less than the minimum required sleep for human function, we're still looking back on what a weird race it was. Beyond weird. It was, without doubt, the strangest 24 hours of Le Mans race we've ever seen, with some of the most ridiculous machinations and storylines that you couldn't dream up for a novel. There were six LMP1 classed cars, and all six of them suffered failures. An LMP2 classed car held the lead of the race for about three hours. Porsche, at one point, held a 13 lap lead, which dissolved into a 5 lap deficit instantaneously. At the end of the day, the history books won't really remember how this race went down, or the various storylines, they'll just see "Porsche 919 Hybrd - Earl Bamber, Timo Bernhard, & Brendon Hartley" marked as the victors next to the year 2017. It doesn't really matter how it happened, but Porsche pulled off the hat trick. Three in a row, in just four years of the 919 Hybrid program. If they are going to leave the sport, that's one hell of a high note to go out on.
If you want to know more about how the race progressed, check out our live-update blog roll from the event, and make sure you read up on what exactly went wrong for the ultra fast Toyota TS050 squad that allowed Porsche the victory.
After all three of the Toyotas suffered failures or serious delays, Porsche's #1 car was running a faultless race at the front of the field. They had miles up on the competition and really only had to worry about the LMP2 cars behind. They were running only as fast as they needed to in order to maintain the gap to second position, taking no risks, making no mistakes. At just after the 20-hours mark, Andre Lotterer radioed into the pit lane that the car had suddenly gone to zero oil pressure as he crossed the start-finish line. If it had happened a few hundred feet earlier, he could have made it into the pits, but the car then needed to continue for the full 8-mile lap to get back to the pits. With no internal combustion engine available, and not enough electric power to push the car all the way back around, Lotterer was forced to retire from the lead, after he inherited the lead from a Toyota whose clutch disc exploded and was forced to retire in a very similar manner.
The #2 Porsche had suffered a hybrid system failure very early on in the race at the three-hour mark that cost the car a full hour in repairs. That team was resigned to just trundling around and trying to get some points. Nobody can win Le Mans after an hour in the garage. Right? The car spent hours trying to make up ground after being kicked down the order to 56th overall. When the #1 car failed, Porsche knew that their only hope was to push like hell to try to get the #2 back into contention for the overall lead, and they began taking risks again, pushing like it was qualifying. They were in 5th overall behind a bunch of LMP2 cars and had to make their way through them. With one hour to go, Timo Bernhard regained the lead for Porsche and held it to the finish. It was properly nail-biting stuff. Some of the best racing we've ever witnessed.
Well done Porsche. You earned this one. Le Mans tried to kick your ass, but you didn't let it keep you down and out.
Michael Steiner, Board Member Research and Development, Porsche AG:
“The ‘triple’ in Le Mans is a dream come true for Porsche and the way this third consecutive win happened is very special. I’m proud of the Porsche Team that kept fighting despite the long stop for repairs. This success also came about thanks to strong E performance and innovative hybrid technology.”
Fritz Enzinger, Vice President LMP1:
“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 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 program and thanks to every single team member for the total support and the great team spirit.”
Andreas Seidl, Team Principal:
“It’s hard to find words for what happened. The drivers and the entire team have done an amazing job. We can put two tough weeks behind us that provided some highs and lows but we fought with typical Porsche spirit. It will take some time for what we have achieved today to sink in. We’ve now won Le Mans three times in a row which is just sensational. The team worked relentlessly for this over the past twelve months. Toyota was a very strong competitor. They pushed us to the limits and beyond and we both paid the price. It is sad that Neel Jani, André Lotterer, and Nick Tandy retired from the race because they controlled it for a long time. But Earl Bamber, Brendon Hartley and especially Timo Bernhard deserved to take the race win. Timo was the development driver right from the beginning of the program. After the long repairs, the three of them kept fighting and were ultimately rewarded.”
Earl Bamber, Driver, Porsche 919 Hybrid LMP1 #2:
“I can’t believe we’ve managed to pull this one off having been at the back of the field after an hour in the pit-box. Both Brendon and Timo have been part of the Porsche LMP program from the beginning while this victory is as much down to the guys in the pits. Without their hard work, we wouldn’t have got back racing again so this win is down to them.”
Timo Bernhard, Driver, Porsche 919 Hybrid LMP1 #2:
“It feels surreal. 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.”
Brendon Hartley, Driver, Porsche 919 Hybrid LMP1 #2:
"Le Mans is one crazy race. The mechanics worked incredibly hard on Saturday evening to get our car repaired in super fast time and since that moment Timo, Earl and myself, together with our engineers, have been pushing hard, 100% every second, and desperately hoped that our efforts would somehow pay off.”