Endurance racing is a seriously brutal game, where one small fault can be the difference between success and failure – and if ever there was a race to put that in focus, it was this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans. Toyota was foiled by poor reliability once again, while Porsche managed to overcome mechanical trouble of its own to secure a memorable win.
The last few Le Mans have been dominated by the hyper hybrids in the LMP1 class, but this year played out a bit differently. Without ever-dominant Audi in the mix, the headline battle was to be fought between Toyota and Porsche. A catastrophic failure left the lead #07 Toyota TS050 stranded by the pit wall with just minutes remaining last year, making this year all about redemption.
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Unfortunately, engine troubles ruined its campaign once again. The #07 car showed good pace early in the race, but a clutch problem forced it to retire in the 10th hour, while the #08 was stranded in the garage as the team tried to fix a problem with its hybrid system. Shortly after the #07 failure, the #09 made contact with a slower car and subsequently caught fire. If ever there was an image to sum up Toyota's luck at Le Mans, the #09 TS050 limping back to the pits was it.
It wasn't all rosy in the Porsche garage, either. The #01 Porsche 919 Hybrid had no real reason to push hard after Toyota dropped out of contention, and instead adopted a more sedate pace to try and avoid damaging the car. But even a softly-softly approach couldn't save the lead Porsche from trouble. An issue with the turbocharged V4 engine forced its retirement with four hours left in the race.
The story was very different in the #02 Porsche 919 Hybrid, which spent around an hour in the garage with a hybrid system failure and rejoined in 56th place. Usually that would spell disaster, but Timo Bernhard, Earl Bamber and Brendon Hartley kept plugging away, passing the race leader – the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing car from the LMP2 class – with just over an hour remaining, and managing to hold on for the race win.
"The car was running very well," says Earl Bamber. "There was an engine problem in a braking zone and I felt something break. There was smoke coming into the cockpit. I thought our race was over. They replaced the entire front shaft and got the car back on the track in 45 minutes. Thanks to the mechanics. We were 18 laps down and ended up battling for first place."
The podium was rounded out by two cars from the LMP2 class, the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing and #13 Vaillante Rebellion. Toyota's lone survivor, the #09 TS050, managed to finish the race back in ninth place. Aston Martin survived an enthralling battle with Corvette Racing to secure a win in the GTE Pro class, and JMW Motorsport took the win in GTE Am.
Source: Le MansView gallery - 6 images