After a decade and a half of Audi dominance at Circuit de la Sarthe, Porsche has scored a convincing 1-2 victory in this year's Le Mans 24 hour. The #19 Porsche 919 Hybrid with its unorthodox turbocharged V4 engine proved too reliable for the Audi R18 e-tron, which set a new in-race lap record but couldn't recover laps lost to mechanical problems.
Porsche looked strong throughout the race with Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley's 919 Hybrid fighting for the lead early in the race, before a one-minute penalty for overtaking under yellow flag cost them the lead. Their car finished in second place, unable to make up the time lost serving the penalty. After missing out on the top step of the podium, Mark Webber was impressed by the pace the race winners showed.
"The guys in the number 19 car did a great job. All three of them were exceptional for 24 hours. Especially at night, the number 19 was quick," Webber said. "It is a big day for Porsche. We have had a smooth race, but in the end weren’t quick enough. Brendon and Timo did a great job. We are very proud for Porsche. If we can’t win we obviously want it to be within the team.”
While Audi's Le Mans entrants have taken out the past five Le Mans 24 Hour races by combining solid in-race pace with unshakable reliability, the 2015 R18 e-tron struggled with a number of mechanical issues. Third-placed finishers Andre Lotterer, Marcel Fassler and Benoît Tréluyer's R18 was battling for the lead when a large section of the bonnet flew off, costing 6 minutes 56 seconds, while Lucas di Grassi, Loïc Duval and Oliver Jarvis, who finished in fourth, lost four minutes after hitting the wall trying to avoid slow traffic in Indianapolis.
It was the R18's complex hybrid system that caused problems for Filipe Albuquerque, Marco Bonanomi and rookie René Rast – the car's front-left driveshaft needed to be replaced with three hours left in the race, ultimately consigning the car to seventh place.
Audi's Head of Motorsports, Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, was pleased with the competitive effort his cars put in, but was left ruing the mechanical troubles that ultimately stopped the team pushing for a win.
“Unfortunately, each of our three cars had at least one crucial incident," Ullrich said after the race. "And when you’re pitted against a strong rival like Porsche you can’t afford that. Obviously, we’re disappointed but in sports you’ve got to accept defeats as well. It simply wasn’t our race."
After claiming the 2014 World Endurance Championship, Toyota failed to deliver on its lofty goals for Le Mans. Despite making success at Ciruit de la Sarthe a focus the TS040 Hybrids never showed the pace necessary to challenge the race leaders, although both entries proved reliable, finishing in sixth and eighth overall.
For Nissan's oddball GT-R LM NISMO LM P1, the race result was a mixed bag. After a slow showing in qualifying, only one car made the finish, with the #21 car of Tsugio Matsuda, Lucas Ordonez and Mark Shulzhitisky losing a wheel just before the ten hour mark of the race. Nissan's second casualty came painfully close to finishing – falling foul of a suspension failure with just one hour remaining.
The team's #22 car managed to complete the race in its first attempt, although the Japanese brand will be hoping to improve on its 2015 result if it returns next year.