KIWI DUO WINS LE MANS
Kiwi Porsche pair Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber and fellow works driver Timo Bernhard were part of a dramatic, last-minute fightback which saw the, win this year’s Le Mans 24 Hour race for Porsche.
Just two hours after the start of the 85th running of the 24 hour French classic on the Circuit de la Sarthe west of Paris over the June 17/18 weekend the race looked like it was over for the trio in the #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid of the trio.
The car lost front axle drive which took an hour and five minutes to repair, leaving Hartley, Bamber and Bernhard 18 laps behind the leading car when they eventually rejoined.
Bit by bit, however, they unlapped themselves and as every other LMP1 class car also had problems the trio sliced through the field from 56th position to first to give Porsche its 19th overall victory – and third in a row – in the great race.
It was a second Le Mans 24 Hour win for both Earl Bamber (his first was in 2015) and Timo Bernhard (2010) but the first for former WEC world champion team member Brendon Hartley.
Hartley set up the unlikely victory with a storming final stint, the focus of the factory team transferring to the #2 car after the # 1 Porsche driven by Neel Jani, André Lotterer and Nick Tandy stopped on track with low oil pressure soon after 11am after leading the race for more than ten hours.
Bernhard re-entered the race in fourth place and soon after was back on the same lap as the leading car, the LMP2 class DC Racing Oreca of Oliver Jarvis, Ho-Pin Tung and Thomas Laurent.
Circulating the 13.629km circuit at least 13 seconds a lap quicker than the LMP2 class car Bernhard took the lead on lap 347 with just over an hour of the race to go.
As Fritz Enzinger, Vice President LMP1, said after the race, “Sometimes it is not the fastest car but the best team performance that makes the difference.”
Meanwhile, having now won one of the world’s most famous races not once but twice, Wanganui’s Earl Bamber, 26, was still pinching himself the day after.
“I can’t believe we managed to pull this one off having been at the back of the field after an hour in the pit box so this victory is as much down to the guys in the pits as us.
“Le Mans is certainly one crazy race,” agreed Palmerston North-born 27-year-old Brendon Hartley. “The mechanics worked incredibly hard on Saturday evening to get our car repaired in superfast time and since that moment Timo, Earl and myself, together with our engineers, pushed 100 percent every second, desperately hoping that our efforts would somehow pay off. And they did!”
LMP1 rival Toyota were quickest in qualifying but like Porsche only managed to get one car to the finish line. That was the TS050 of WEC series points leaders Kazuki Nakajima, Sebastien Buemi and Anthony Davidson who were classified ninth, nine laps down on the winning Porsche after losing two hours in the pits resolving front motor and battery issues.
The Ford GT of Kiwi Scott Dixon, Aussie Ryan Briscoe and Brit Richard Westbrook ended up 24th, the Aston-Martin Vantage of Marco Sorensen, Nicki Thiim and Kiwi Richie Stanaway 26th.
The winning Porsche mobbed by media in pit lane.