Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans - The Beginning of a New Le Mans Era (Warning: TL;DR)

11 to 15 June 2014, at the famed, legendary, Circuit de la Sarthe in France. 55 racers vying for the supremacy of Endurance racing, whose legacy dates back to 90 years and now has reached its 82nd year...

WELCOME TO THE 2014 LE MANS 24 HOURS, where this year has undergone one of the craziest yet the best Le Mans years ever, with the return of the legendary manufacturer Porsche in the LMP1 field, the star-studded appearances of F1 star Mark Webber, the doctor Dr. Derek "McDreamy" Shepherd Patrick Dempsey, the former footballer/soccer player Fabien Barthez, and the former Stig Ben Collins, plus the Garage 56 entry of NISMO - the ZEOD RC, the all-electric effort of NISMO's with Lucas Ordóñez, Wolfgang Reip, and Satoshi Motoyama, not to forget this year we had a young driver in a form of Matt McMurry, the 16 year-old American driving for Caterham Racing Zytek, one of LMP2's entries, and #79 Prospeed Competition Porsche forced to move to the GTE Pro category from its initial category of GTE Am due to Bret Curtis, its third driver, sustained a concussion after an accident during qualifying and was not cleared for the race. The team nominated Sebastien Crubilé as a replacement, but the ACO did not allow him to participate due to a lack of laps driven at night, leaving only Cooper MacNeil and Jeroen Bleekemolen as its drivers. The Le Mans race has never been complete with all the drama, all the trainwreck and all the effort put by both teams and stewards to make it yet another successful Le Mans year, although that most invited teams didn't take their entry invitations, like Muscle Milk Pickett Racing from the American Le Mans fame as one of the names.

The track, compared to the last year, also underwent circuit changes post Allan Simonsen's death. ACO announced improvements to several sections of the circuit, most prominently Tertre Rouge's reprofile and additions of new barriers and new tire walls at its exit. This year also sees the "Code 60" dubbed as the Slow Zone where, like Code 60, requires car to run at no more than 60 kmh (37 mph) speed in a certain zone(s), this also means that GPS systems are installed on every car and so does the onboard marshalling system that simultaneously warns all drivers of the slow zones' locations. Finally, what was in Dubai 24 Hours race is finally implemented in the blue-riband endurance racing event...

#WelcomeChallenges; Audi doing burnouts at Porsche's base, where welcomed Porsche's return to the 24-hour race with its video montage found here. Porsche returned to Le Mans with its 919 Hybrid LMP1 car and vowed to spell the end to Audi's winning streak. You may also check out another of its "Welcome Challenges" video here.

The 2014 Le Mans race may have been over, but that doesn't mean the race loses its charm since the race's finish. This post recaps both qualifying and race sessions due to... well, their sensational series of events. Also, be warned that this is a recap on TL;DR level...


The biggest Ouch! in Le Mans history; #1 Audi crashed in the Porsche Curve, destroying the car in process

Early in the session, the #1 Audi of Belgian Loïc Duval spun and became airborne in the Porsche Curve, impacting catch fencing above the barriers and destroying the car. But credits were given to someone who made the car so safe to even sustain such accident, Duval was able to walk out of his car with only scratches and injuries, but this also meant that Duval was excused from his #1 Audi drive and was replaced by Marc Gené, the Spaniard who were to drive the #38 Jota Sport Zytek before being called up to replace him, which Jota replaced him with the Brit Oliver Turvey in return.

Also in the Porsche Curves, the late-night Wednesday qualifying was where Regina Mills put her curse to one of the GTE Am Aston Martin entries driven by Fernando Rees*, in which he crashed in the said section and not only forced the session to be ended half an hour earlier than expected in favor of the reparation of barriers but also forced the entry's withdrawal from the race due to damage. More crashes abound in the Thursday qualifying with James Calado's AF Corse crashed in the (unsurprisingly, once again) Porsche Curves, the #1 Audi's spin-off in Indianapolis,  Bret Curtis's #79 Prospeed Porsche's spin-off at the Dunlop entrance in which he was knocked unconscious, and Frankie Montecalvo's 8 Star Ferrari's spin into the Porsche's gravel

* = While we know that putting a Once Upon A Time reference in Le Mans a good idea for a witty humor in a recap, the serious side is that Fernando Rees really was crashed on his own and that Grey's Anatomy is the only fandom to reach the Sarthe circuit. Even better fandoms like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doctor Who, Harry Potter and Hunger Games "cannot into Le Mans". But if they were to enter Le Mans... Ah forget it.


Toyota Slayed; Toyota TS040 finally managed to get pole once again after fifteen years. Driven by Kazuki Nakajima in qualifying, it set 3:21.789 fastest. (image: Ausmotive)

Although the qualifying sessions were full of massive trainwrecks that triggered red flags and slow zones to play, the third session's expansion proved to give chances and even advantages to most, if not all, teams. Fifteen minutes into the session Nakajima set a new fastest time of 3:21.789 and would hold the top of the time charts to take Toyota's first pole position at Le Mans since 1999 24 Hours of Le Mans, even being the first Japanese to take the pole of the 24-hour race. Porsche's entries both tail Toyota's entries by one position, while all of the Audis were unfortunate after scoring positions 5th to 7th, and Rebellion Racing's LMP1-L entries completed the LMP1 grid.

The debuting chassis Ligier JS P2 also proved to be a success in the qualifying, with Thiriet by TDS Racing entry claimed the 10th place, tailed by #38 Jota (using Zytek chassis) and #35 G-Drive by OAK Racing (a.k.a the GT Academy guys - Jann Mardenborough, Mark Shulzhitskiy and Alex Brundle) by seconds. GTE categories also saw both AF Corse entries taking pole in both their Pro and Am ventures, with #73 Corvette and #94 Aston Martin tailing the Pro car and two Aston Martins tailing the Am car way behind within six positions. The Dempsey team qualified seventh in the GTE Am category and 41st overall out of 54 cars (not counting the withdrawn #99 Aston Martin and the ZEOD RC).

Electric Energy; ZEOD RC (Zero Emission On-Demand Race Car) of Nissan winding down the Mulsanne. It finally set a fastest time of 3:50.185 out of three qualifying sessions after an endless wave of woes and was driven by Lucas Ordóñez, Wolfgang Reip and Satoshi Motoyama. (Image: Build Race Party)

Also note that the ZEOD RC has also completed its full-electric lap of Sarthe and also reached the 300 kmh (186 mph) barrier down the Mulsanne, despite the earlier problems that suffered it. NISMO's determination to make this Ridge Racer-ish car run the race's full distance made it clear that ZEOD RC had what it takes to make another set of all-electric laps at the Sarthe. Video available here.


Flag of Honor; Fernando Alonso took the honor of waving the French flag. The French flag itself is Le Mans 24 Hours's language of "boogity, boogity, boogity!" (Image credit visible)

The race started with F1 driver Fernando Alonso taking the honor of waving the French flag, and with the Toyota LMP getting the holeshot out of all LMPs, and Audi and Porsche battled just behind the Toyota. Unfortunately after five laps of racing, ZEOD RC, the Garage 56 entry of this year must walk out from the race after suffering a transmission failure. I rooted them to stay longer in a race but unfortunately the car that's driven by Satoshi Motoyama, Lucas Ordonez and Wolfgang Reip (the latter actually took the wheel) with a big prospect of being the all-electric racer had to end its run... AARGH!

More first hour drama follows as the #8 Toyota driven by Nicolas Lapierre spun out at the Mulsanne chicane exit and later #14 Porsche that unexpectedly slowed down because its pit lane speed limiter switched on unexpectedly and Neel Jani, the driver at that time, had issues in trying to turn it off. The second hour of the race saw raining conditions and that some cars pitted in for tire changes. Unfortunately in Mulsanne section things went awry for #3 Audi, #8 Toyota and the GTE Am AF Corse Ferrari driven by Sam Bird as they were involved in a crash with the Toyota aquaplaning under braking. Beforehand, the rain also caught the victim in a form of hydroplaned KCMG Oreca which battled against the Jota Zytek as it bumped the tire barriers in the first Mulsanne chicane. Fortunately in the LMP1 accident, the Toyota was still alive while it was all goodbye for the Audi and the GTE Am AF Corse as they were the next retirees of the race.

First hours in a picture; Above is Neel Jani, Swiss driver of #14 Porsche putting his WTF face due to its pit lane speed limiter switched on, below is the KCMG Oreca 03 spinning out, costing it its stay on the race after the car crashed beforehand.

Shortly after the green, the rain returned and more chaos ensued, this time for Murphy Prototypes and Greaves Motorsport where both collected one another while spinning as they exit Tertre Rouge, bringing the Safety Car once more. As the rain tapered off and racing resumed once more, the remaining Toyota and pursuing Porsches were now on different pit stop sequences, allowing Timo Bernhard and later Brendon Hartley to briefly take the overall race lead before #7 Toyota took the lead for the remainder of the race. From this point on, the battle ensued in certain categories where Audi and Porsche fought for position in LMP1 and Porsche and Corvette in GTE Pro class. As the sun set, the former Red Bull F1 team star Mark Webber had his hand dirty hours later to drive the #20 Porsche, with Toyota continuing the lead and two Audis tailing.

The LMP2 battle was also spiced up with Race Performance and Signatech Alpine fighting for category lead before joined by the #35 OAK Racing Ligier which drivers consist of GT Academy graduates Jann Mardenborough and Mark Shulzhitskiy plus Mark Brundle at the fourth hour, following the retirement of KCMG Oreca, and the competition in GTE Pro was no different with four different makers fighting for the lead that was up for grabs. Yet again, the #14 Porsche LMP1 was cursed by Regina Mills experienced fuel pressure problems and went to the garage before going back to the race.

One of the perks of driving in any 24-hour races, especially Le Mans 24 Hours, is that you race in the midnight where there's less to none lightning at certain parts of the track, greatly requiring your focus.

A variety of things happen during the night, like how #7 Toyota extending its category lead over its adversaries Audi and Porsche, how #35 Ligier took its lead after battling Race Performance and Signatech, how the GTE Pro fight for the lead was played out with #51 AF Corse, #97 Gulf Aston Martin and #74 Works Corvette playing cat and mouse with each other until the Corvette suffered problems that the cat and mouse game was left with AF Corse and Gulf Aston Martin playing, and how two GTE Am Aston Martins extend their lead, except that the #98 had its power steering failed and had to give its lead to the #95 that was behind it. Sadly for Team Dempsey, their spinning tires when exiting the pits granted them nothing but penalty that costed them their race, to which the black Porsche somehow not sponsored by Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital ( :v ) had to drop to seventh.

#7 Toyota had a comfortable lead for approximately nine hours, until its wiring loom melted and lost drive after Arnage before it went for a full stop alongside the barriers. At that time, the pit crew also lost contact to the car and, there you go, Regina Mills mechanical failures brought the game-changer, and #2 was the new leader at the time the Toyota retired. Yet, the leader also suffered a problem in which its turbocharger was failed and had to be replaced on the pit garage, causing them to drop to third, but Audi still took the lead, this time the #1 car did, with #20 Porsche tailing behind a lap. The #74 Corvette also had to abandon its "cat and mouse" game between GTE Pro top placers #51 AF Corse and #97 Aston Martin due to the failed alternator belt, and that it costed the car three laps and later the Aston Martin with power steering failures, ending the "cat and mouse" victory to the GTE Pro AF Corse and allowed them to put on their trollface expression to both and the #92 Porsche which enjoyed the second place in the class.

As the daylight came, #72 GTE Am entry of SMP Racing crashed in the Porsche Curves, damaging the barriers in process and forced not only the entry's retirement but also a lengthy yellow flag, which included safety cars and a safety zone rule as the barriers underwent reparations post-crash, with more woes to LMP1 where the #1 Audi forced to perform its lengthy second turbocharger replacement, giving the lead to the #20 Porsche in process, and, in LMP2, both Ligiers from OAK Racing (GT Academy guys :D) and Thiriet by TDS Racing were forced to perform repairs of their engine, brake, and suspension respectively (the former had two mentioned parts repaired). Team Dempsey also gave its all to maintain its sixth place in class from the JMW Ferrari.

#58 GTE Am Sofrev ASP Ferrari stuck in the gravel of Ford Chicane after spinning out. The car is driven by three Frenchmen Anthony Pons, Soheil Ayari, and Fabien Barthez. The last name mentioned is France soccer national team's goalkeeper who puts his interest to motorsports and joined the ranks of "star" drivers like former F1 racer Mark Webber in Porsche LMP1, former The Stig Ben Collins in GTE Am Krohn Ferrari and "Dr. McDreamy" Patrick Dempsey in GTE Am Dempsey-Proton Porsche.

#20 Porsche's overall lead didn't last for long as it suffered from a broken anti-roll bar and was forced to the garage, with the #14 also forced to go to the garage after it suffered mechanical failures, abruptly ending Porsche's Le Mans run even though that the #20 car did drove the final lap. This meant #2 Audi's lead, followed by #1 Audi and the last Toyota standing; the #8 Toyota. The sole LMP1-L entry of Rebellion Racing snuggled to fourth, with the #12 being the remaining Lola-Toyota-powered Rebellion. Thiriet Ligier and Jota Zytek were also met head-on and eventually met the LMP2 leader G-Drive/OAK Racing/GT Academy (whatever you see fit -_-) Ligier, making it a three-way battle of Harry Tincknell, Tristan Gommendy, and Alex Brundle. Was it just me or I felt that the battle was a... sandwich, driver-wise?

By the time the GT Academy Ligier slowed down, the sandwich broke and two cars behind it taken its place, with Thiriet leading the LMP2 and the #35 underwent engine repairs, drawing themselves out of the contention. The top two LMP2 cars finally changed their drivers for the final time, which can be described in the following ToQGer fashion:

Get it? (Image:



Say what you want, but the battle in the LMP2 has taken lots of attention, with profits on popcorns, sodas, and other snacks around the world increasing just to see the battle between the Zytek and the Ligier, two of which are powered by Nissan. Finally, Zytek has made the Ligier hand down the lead and Olivier Turvey took the class lead in the closing minutes of the race.


Sweet Victory; Audi started the race behind Toyotas and got overtaken by Porsche due to its in-race woes, yet they managed to take their victory once again (Image: Motor Authority)

And after a series of hot mess qualifying session dramas and the grueling battle in the 24-hour race, Audi has once again taken the victory of the 82nd edition of the race. Swiss Marcel Fässler, German André Lotterer, and Frenchman Benoît Tréluyer has claimed their victory with its teammate, the #1 Audi of Dane Tom Kristensen, Spaniard Marc Gené and Brazillian Lucas di Grassi tailing behind albeit its three-lap gap to the lead, and the last Toyota standing of Brit Anthony Davidson, Swiss Sébastien Buemi and Frenchman Nicolas Lapierre being LMP1 podium's cherry topping in third.

Face of the Rebellion; Rebellion ran the 24-hour race without any problems compared to LMP1-H cars (Image: Rebellion Racing's official site)

Rebellion Racing's #12 guaranteed fourth, while even though that they are the sole LMP1-L entry due to Lotus's exit, Rebellion's attrition-free clean race made them this far and is deserved to be saluted. I just wish that there were more LMP1-L entries this year because having just Rebellion Racing's Rebellion R-One seemed like that LMP1-L isn't enough. The other Rebellion, the #13, retired after 73 laps. The only underlying question now is "was the #13's retirement another case of '#13 car always have bad luck' or not?"

True Victor; Jota Sports ran a tight race against Thiriet by TDS Racing and G-Drive by OAK Racing throughout the race, fighting for LMP2 lead (Image:

The LMP2 is won by Jota Sport's Zytek driven by Brits Simon Dolan, Harry Tincknell and Olivier Turvey with Thiriet by TDS Racing's Ligier of Frenchmen Pierre Thiriet, Ludovic Badey and Tristan Gommendy in second, and completing the class's podium is Signatech Alpine of Frenchmen Paul-Loup Chatin and Nelson Panciatici plus Brit Oliver Webb. Three different chassi, one engine dominance: Nissan. It's sad to see the GT Academy guys ended their Le Mans story in fifth due to the last-hour attritions, including the tire puncture, but having these guys racing, even leading the whole night is a bless. I demand a victorious revenge next year in LMP1 with a rotation of these three drivers plus Lucas Lucas Ordóñez and Wolfgang Reip knowing that Nissan will be there with its LMP1 attire next year, but even with that bombshell, the bottom line doesn't change: LMP2 finishers 1-5 are powered by Nissan, ha! :D

Winning it was Red; #51 AF Corse, at the hands of Gianmaria Bruni, won the GTE Pro class after a midnight game of "cat and mouse" with Corvette, Aston Martin, and Porsche. (Image: Timezone Forums)

In GTE Pro class, the #51 AF Corse Ferrari that took the race's pole position in class won the race all thanks to the solid teamwork of Italians Gianmaria Bruni and Giancarlo Fisichella and Finn Toni Vilander with the remaining two places filled by #73 Corvette of Jan Magnussen, Antonio García and Jordan Taylor and #92 Team Manthey Porsche of Marco Holzer, Frédéric Makowiecki and Richard Lietz. Despite this ending, the cat-and-mouse game of the three plus the Aston Martin that went overnight was breathtaking, and this kind of game lived up the midnight of La Sarthe. The Corvette C7.R race car is also the one to be also saluted for its great results.

Dedicated Victory; #95 Aston Martin won the GTE Am class with its all-Dane lineup of Heinemeier Hansson, Poulsen and Thiim, all dedicated to the late Allan Simonsen (Image: Aston Martin's official site)

Finally in the GTE Am class, the All-Dane #95 Aston Martin Racing car driven by David Heinemeier Hansson, Kristian Poulsen, and Nicki Thiim took the well-deserved victory dedicated to the late Allan Simonsen, with the #88 Porsche of Christian Ried, Klaus Bachler and Khalid Al Qubaisi, and the #61 AF Corse Ferrari of Luis Perez Companc, Marco Cioci and Mirko Venturi completed the podium. If only Team Dempsey didn't get a penalty, they would likely be in the podium finish, but nevertheless they have done a great job, even though their finish isn't better than last year's fourth place.

Overall, this year's Le Mans race has been declared one of the most interesting years yet, with the return of the legend, the infinite number of trainwrecks, and the battle for positions in all categories. With the new era of Le Mans, I hope that the next year's race will have more drama, especially with Lotus finished its T129 LMP1-L car that denied this year's race due to development and Nissan announced its LMP1 competitor for next year.

I would also apologize for the maximum lateness of this post to the end of this year's Le Mans. My college life has been brutal to the point that I couldn't succeed at making an application for one of the modules. Well, better late than never, right? In the end, I'd like to conclude this post with a "Thank you" video from Audi, honoring its LMP1 competitors...

See you at next year's Le Mans 24 Hours!


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