Wednesday, July 22, 2015

THE FINEST SPORTSCAR SUPREMACY - 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans recap (part 1)

(Image: Auto Express)

The Sportscar battle of supremacy has come again! 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans has delivered some of the notable actions, which included crazy overtakes, some get togethers, and other kinds of miracles. This year marks the French classic's 83rd edition, and is the first time we see the absence of an innovative machine in the Garage 56 and Tom Kristensen. Also for this year, the crop of talents include the three NISMO GT-R LMs, SMP BR01s, Gibson 015Ss, Oreca 05s, and a Riley Viper as some of the new names, and for the drivers, we have quite a crop of F1 drivers, active and former, including Nico Hulkenberg, who drove the #19 Porsche 919 Hybrid alongside Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy. There were so many headliners for this year's race, which includes Audi's bid to strengthen its Le Mans dominance amidst Porsche's threatening FIA WEC performance, Toyota's awakening, and the eventual victor of both GTE categories, Pro and Am.

This post is my most special post for the past three years in writing this stuff. The first year was kind of trainwreck even though it was posted right after the race ended, and the second was really long overdue due to final test affairs despite the article being a proper recap. This year, unfortunately, was also long overdue due to finals, but fret not though, it's not a total trainwreck time-wise like the second though. Also, this doesn't hide the fact that this year is the first year I live and breathe Le Mans without watching it via cable as I lost my subscription to all sports channels, though in exchange I have Radio Le Mans, some live video streams, FIA WEC Official Live Timing,'s live text feed and of course Twitter so nothing is lost even though I have to face the fact that my internet doesn't stream live videos very well with lags a plenty. This is also the first time I spent ALMOST my whole life listening to RLM, either using my main internet or my smartphone internet, sans the net café visit where I spent the last 30 minutes of the race. And then I realized that my cable no longer has Eurosport so cue the Carrie Mathison cry face, NOT!

Due to how TL;DR this recap is, I split this into two parts: this part will cover the race start to the sixteenth hour, while the rest will be covered in part two, along with some "extra spice" at the end of the part 2 post.

In case you readers have turned into a goldfish courtesy of either The Evil Queen or Zelena The Wicked Witch of the West or that the Men In Black neuralyzed you to forget the last post, The Porsche trio grabbed the first three starting positions, with Neel Jani clocking in 3:16.887 in the #18 Porsche, the one with the black livery. The defending LM24 winner Audi gave a fight to the Stuttgart-based team but ended up filling the next three places right behind the Porsches, which also superglued the two Toyotas once more to seventh and eighth. Nissan LMP1s were so slow they had to be put at the back of the LMP grid alongside the #45 Ibañez Racing, while #47 KCMG Oreca took the LMP2 pole. Aston Martin entries #99 and #98 starting in pole of GTE Pro and GTE Am categories respectively, and of course you cannot just forget Jan Magnussen's Corvette's heavy crash that cost the car its Le Mans race entry. This was because he had a stuck throttle there...


The race started as Bill Ford waved the flag for the start of the French classic as the grid took off from the start/finish line. From here on, the fight between Audi and Porsche trios began in the first lap, with #8 Audi driven by Loic Duval broke Porsche's top 3 dominance as the first lap ended by overtaking Nico Hulkenberg-driven #19 Porsche. The Evil Queen's curse continued its reign to the Nissans, with #23 sitting duck due to clutch problems and later returned with a seven-lap deficit, and Toyotas, as expected, left behind by the über powers of the two German marques. Meanwhile the GTE Pro became a hotly-contested race between #51 AF Corse and #95 Aston Martin, jostling for the early lead, but as three different leaders of GTE Pro converged after almost 30 minutes elapsed, #26 G-Drive tried to break KCMG's lead in the LMP2 category while in the same category #29 Pegasus Racing beat themselves up with a two-minute stop-and-go due to pitlane speeding and #38 Jota pushed into the garage with a problem, which was later revealed to be a gearbox failure. Not even 40 minutes to the race, LMP1 cars have lapped the LMP2 traffic, and more woes for Nissan, this time for its retro-liveried #21 car with a door issue. I was pretty sure this thing wasn't the first time to happen in the sportscar racing history.

Katniss Everdeen by technical means - #92 GTE-Pro Porsche caught fire in the middle of Mulsanne straight (Image: YouTube excerpt / GTSPIRIT)

Entering the first hour mark, #92 GTE-Pro Porsche pulled a District 12 and made us wonder if Katniss Everdeen was driving or not. This also took its toll to #13 Rebellion and #42 Strakka Dome as the #92 car spilled some oil, hence the obligatory District 12. This meant not only both LMPs head to the pit for repairs but also triggered the safety car. Rebellion pilot Alexandre Imperatori said that "there were no oil flags because it happened right in front of us" and both LMPs had "no time to react". #46 Thiriet Oreca took the restart well as Tristan Gommendy bopped his way to the then-leading KCMG car and eventually overtook it. In the same category, Krohn Racing and later #31 Rolling Stone-sponsored Extreme Speed Motorsports did a ballet and eventually hit each other at the closing minutes of the second hour. Things got heated more in GTE Pro with Gavin's Corvette, Stanaway's AMR and Calado's Ferrari went three-way which increased popcorn eating rate to 30%, and in GTE Am #72 SMP Racing continued sitting in first with two Protons of Team Dempsey and Abu Dhabi trailing in second and third respectively. Take note that earlier also Lotterer's Audi took both Porsches in a single lap and finally took their lead.

As far as obligatory montage of spinning Ligiers are concerned, the Riley Viper has crept up into the GTE-Am lead while Aston maintained their control over the Pro counterpart as Lotterer brought the race-leading Audi back in the pits and invoked a NORIKAE CHANGE!!! with Tréluyer, with later on other LMP1s follow suit. Audi gave up its lead after taking fresh tires just three laps after its last pit stop to Porsche, and that was due to the puncture. In the closing minutes of the third hour, fracas ensued as #8 Audi driven by Loïc Duval had a bad luck of being caught in a "slow zone" GTE traffic jam, hitting a barrier and losing its nose in process. While it was pain in the buns for the #8 indeed, the mechanics did an absolute job in repairing the car, netting in 4 minutes and 12 seconds for a garage repair, not to mention Lucas Di Grassi was now on the wheel. This was because marshals were waving green flags, but the electronic system was still showing yellow in that zone, which Duval pointed out later that some drivers didn't listen to the briefing, ish.

At earlier hours, this amazing GTE Pro battle was what glued you to your very seats. The Corvette and Aston Martin continued to fight for the category lead in later hours. (Image: Apex Racing PR on Twitter)

Fifth hour, more Katniss Everdeen for Porsche, this time for the #88, yellow flag, oil clean up, barrier repairs, but yet another GTE Pro battle Tommy Milner's Corvette and Fernando Rees's Aston Martin superglued the audiences as Rees took a prototype draft, but it was Milner who fought him back, making up a spectacular race yet in this year's race. Meanwhile, the #18 black-liveried Porsche LMP1 almost hit #77 Team Dempsey, almost "killing" McDreamy Dempsey for the second time this year, with the first being in Grey's Anatomy earlier on before 6 Hours of Silverstone starts. The Alburquerque-driven Audi also hunted #17 Porsche driven by Brendon Hartley at that time as the latter went to the pit for fuel, and there was a GTE Am lead change as well as #98 Aston Martin went past the SMP Ferrari, with #21 Nissan and the ByKolles LMP1s back on track. However, I took sleep at that time...

(Admins) I have been trying to fix the car for 50 minutes unsuccessfully. Spirit of Le Mans is in our blood and all the team deserves it. We will continue fighting.
Posted by Gary Hirsch on Saturday, June 13, 2015

Despite my sleep, 24 Hours of Le Mans proven to be a race with all its non-stop action glory, as everything became even naughtier than Fifty Shades of Grey.  In the sixth hour mark, for example, ByKolles's shortage of exposition time after suffering more engine problems several times at this mark, #41 Greaves Gibson's battery problems, Tréluyer's quadruple stint (Or should I say, #QuadrupleStint), Toyota's aggressive pace in an attempt to keeping up with the faster guys, and more Ligier spins. The #8 Audi also made a good recovery pace as well at this mark courtesy of Lucas Di Grassi. At the same time, Gary Hirsch made his presence known to pull an Adam Christodoulou (but this time with electrics) though unsuccessful, which marked #41 Greaves's retirement at the seventh hour. As night went on and on-track lights were lit, #18 Porsche had an off, and #40 Krohn Racing lost power yet was able to soldier on within a short time. The eight hour mark ended with third Safety Car period courtesy of #36 Signatech Alpine's visit to the gravel and rear damage.


"They told Tsugio Matsuda to stop. Tsugio Matsuda took off. Even when you have no shot at the win, everyone wants to finish the #LM24" -Nick DeGroot (Image: Streaming screengrab)

All the remaining warriors of the race have become the warriors of the night entering the night phase of the race. As the green flag waved five minutes within the ninth hour mark, the battle ensued five minutes later as the top three were two seconds between each other, yet as #9 Audi, driven by René Rast, entered the pit, the lead went back to the two Porsches #19 and #17, only to be penalized later on due to overtaking under yellow. Apparently, LMP2 leader KCMG was this too though since it had a big advantage the penalty didn't bother the team anyway. Meanwhile in GTE-verse the #50 Larbre Corvette retired three minutes away from the ninth hour and #97 GTE-Pro Aston Martin retired after a stop at Mulsanne Corner, which the car sit in second in the category. At the same category, #99 Aston took advantage of the sole GTE-Pro Corvette's pit stop as the red and yellow Aston now took the lead.

And as midnight approached, it was a cat-and-mouse for Rast as he chased Hulkenberg, and minutes later Race Control warned an oil hazard occurring in Indianapolis. The Nissan trio however had some woes for the nth time with different causes: #22 went into an animal cruelty and lost its engine cover, some unknown problem for #23 and a right-front failure for #21, stopped in Arnage yet soldiering on to pits despite marshals' disapproval as the driver Tsugio Matsuda refused to retire on-track. This means the slow zone was effective in the section and advantaged the #19 Porsche as #7 Audi caught by the zone, but it didn't last long as the former pitted in. Moments later the #18 Porsche driven by Neel Jani went straight to the Mulsanne corner's barrier yet didn't sustain a heavy impact compared to its earlier incident, which at that time was driven by Dumas, though he was then removed from the gravel trap and sped off. By the time the race reached the halfway, #19 Porsche and #9 Audi were fighting for the outright lead, while KCMG still superglued in LMP2 lead. In GTE-Pro, Aston Martin, Corvette and Porsche were battling for the lead while in GTE-Am an Aston Martin team kept its lead from the SMP Ferrari. Seven retirements were made after 12 hours: #36 Signatech-Alpine, #88 Porsche, #92 Porsche, #41 Gibson, #50 Larbre Corvette, #97 GTE-Pro Aston Martin and #21 Nissan.

Another car on fire - #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari was engulfed in flames as they pit. Later on, #61 AF Corse also follow suit, making it two flaming Ferraris. (Image: Riccardo Turcato on Twitter)

At the start of the second half of the race, another District 12 was pulled off, this time courtesy of #66 JMW Motorsport, a GTE-Am competitor. The fact that it caught fire as they pit in eventually made it a Le Mans Games: Catching Fire, no longer a Porsche-only affair. Fortunately, it returned to the race roughly eighteen minutes later, but nine minutes earlier #51 GTE-Pro AF Corse scored a good news for Ferrari first as they took the advantage of #91's long stop, placing them in the category's top three. Though in LMP1, things seemed to not being smooth for Audi as somehow its last stops were a little longer than usual as they decided to change wheel nuts. It seems that the Audis were not quite as comfortable as Porsche in lower temps, who had an edge in the night hours. Moments later, there was another District 12 montage in pits, Ferrari once more, this time it was the #61 AF Corse, with one crew member engulfed, making it two Ferraris to be under fire and calling it a draw on Porsche's fires (unless if you count Team AAI's fire in the qualifying session). Still in the pits, one crew that worked on the #2 Toyota denied the second time the Active Downforce System "activated" in the race. An eagle eye he had there.

Almost reaching the fourteenth hour, inter-class dramas ensued, starting from #35 OAK Ligier's spin due to its vain attempt at overtaking a GTE Ferrari at the Ford Chicane, to the #99 red and yellow AMR driven by none other than Fernando Rees spinning the #46 Thiriet Ligier which the latter got stranded. Eventually, this cost both the Ligier and the Aston the race (which confirmed minutes later) and a now fluid-emitting radiator (which spelt a visit to pit garage) respectively, while the Aston's rival the Corvette took even more time for a brake change immediately after hearing its rival's coming together. This however also meant that #51 Ferrari has been promoted to the GTE-Pro class lead as the dawn drew near, and at the same time the #7 Audi and #19 Porsche were still bopping each other's lap time; at one time, Tréluyer would score a fast lap time only to be "responded" by the "Bambi" (Earl Bamber) moments later. Yet, the leading Porsche later pitted and later followed by the Audi (but not without a little interruption by the Krohn Ligier), but amidst their pitting the #13 Rebellion was given another life as it rejoined the race in fifteenth place outright. By now, the margin between the two German LMP1s was less than a minute, and there was a light rain developing from Mulsanne to Indianapolis.

As the race reached hour sixteen, the sun began to rise and the #99 AMR has finally returned on track. At the same time, two Porsches and Audis were on the lead lap, increasing the chance of a close battle despite unlikely realized due to how far they were, and later on pitted in with both #7 and #19 exchanged Tréluyer for Fässler and the Bambi for the Hulk respectively. In other classes, the gap of LMP2 guys from P1 to P6 in category were all 1 laps, a GTE-Pro AF Corse was on the run for its second consecutive victory with a one lap gap against the Corvette, and Pedro Lamy was leading the #98 GTE-Am Aston Martin in category from the SMP Ferrari as the Viper sat 5th and Team Dempsey still gunning for the podium, with rain continuing to haunt everyone's way. Half an hour before my midnight internet quota ended, the #12 Rebellion went straight to the Indianapolis barrier, triggering a slow zone in process until the car broke free thanks to the safety vehicles. Minutes later, another slow zone was placed, this time at Porsche Curves as the #7 Audi lost its right rear bodywork causing it to slow down. To add, Fässler was also having a capital S somewhere "shitty traffic at the moment" before it happened. And you thought Angela DeAngelis and Vic the Dick were the only ones having a "shitty" stuff...

The first part ends here. Watch this space for the second part of the post!


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