In all honesty, the chance of getting Hartley on the top spot was going to be a big ask in a car that had only been in a few races prior to the Grand Prix of endurance or efficiency. However, with two-and-ahalf hours to go, there was a palpable sense of hope and expectation in the Porsche camp, as Hartley and company were in front — then reality set in. The car rolled to a stop with a disappointed Webber gripping the steering wheel in immense frustration, having failed to finish yet another 24 Hours of Le Mans race.
At this point, I would like to quote something I said in last year’s piece on the race: “Porsche will be back next year. There’s no doubt about that, and probably with a third car. They have a determination to get back to their previous winning ways. And, with another year of development and testing of the 919, who’s to say trophy number 17 won’t be winging its way back to Stuttgart in 2015.” Well, there you go.
This year was a completely different kettle of fish on a number of levels. Audi, Toyota, and Porsche had three cars apiece. Nissan had rejoined the LMP1 fray with a odd-looking front-wheel drive thing, and New Zealand had four — that’s right, four — drivers in the 83rd running of the oldest and most spectacular long- distance race in the world.
Joining Hartley in a third 919 Hybrid was Earl Bamber (24), who had also been locked into the Porsche family as a works racer. His main focus is campaigning a 911 RSR in the American United Sportscar Championship, but he was called upon to take part in the Le Mans race, joining German Formula One pilot, Nico Hülkenberg, and British racer, Nick Tandy.
If that wasn’t good enough, Aston Martin Racing decided to run Richie Stanaway (for a full World Endurance Championship season) in the LM GTE Pro class, alongside Alex Macdowell and Fernando Rees. Finally, GP2 combatant Mitch Evans featured in the Jota Sport’s — the defending champion — LMP2 car with Brits Simon Dolan and Oliver Turvey.
As anyone with even a passing interest in motorsport will be well aware by now, three of the four Kiwis in the field stood on the podium 24 hours after the starting lights went out. Rookie Bamber won from Hartley, Evans finished second, and Stanaway was robbed of a win by his co-driver Rees, who T-boned an LMP2 car in the morning of the second day’s racing.
It’s fantastic that after 49 years, two Kiwis have emulated the exploits of Chris Amon and Bruce
Mclaren, who won from fellow Kiwi Denny Hulme in that historic Ford GT40 MK.II one–two finish.
For me, though, the best part of the weekend was being able to sit next to Sir Colin Giltrap with less than two hours to go on Sunday afternoon, and see two New Zealand names at the top of the leaderboard. Bamber, Hartley, and Evans are all protégés of Sir Colin, and his investment of faith, time, and money came to fruition at 3pm French time.
To see Sir Colin smile — let alone display much more emotion — is an extraordinarily rare thing. His evident joy lit the pavilion up, and he looked like a small boy who’d just been given the keys to a sweet shop.
“Isn’t that great seeing those names at the top of the board,” said Sir Colin, “It’s very good to see young talented New Zealanders doing well here at the 24 Hour.”