Corvette win, Ferrari lead in GTE Pro and Am
Corvette Wins but Ferrari open up title chase
Until the final two hours of the Le Mans 24 Hours, a race which had witnessed an amazing battle between all four manufacturers represented in the LMGTE Pro and Am classes, it looked as though 2014 victors AF Corse and Aston Martin Racing would each be repeating their visit to the top step of the podium. But, Le Mans can be a cruel mistress and the twice-round-the-clock classic was not kind to either team.
Instead, a well-deserved victory went in GTE Pro to the No.64 Corvette Racing entry of Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Jordan Taylor. Led by Briton Gavin, who celebrated his 5th Le Mans class victory, the trio battled with current GTE World Champions, AF Corse Ferrari, throughout the race. With less than two hours to run the No.51 Ferrari 458 Italia of Gianmaria Bruni, Toni Vilander and Giancarlo Fisichella lost 30 minutes in the pits due to a gearbox problem and in the end they were forced to settle for third place behind their AF Corse team mates in the No.71 – Davide Rigon, James Calado and Olivier Beretta. The double points on offer were enough to ensure that Ferrari, AF Corse and its drivers remain at the top of the GT title chase – for the moment!
Fourth in the LMGTE Pro category was the No.95 Aston Martin of Marco Sorensen, Nicki Thiim and Christoffer Nygaard which had fought back after losing time early in the race to a power steering leak. Also delayed due to a mechanical issue was the 5th placed No.91 Porsche Team Manthey 911 RSR of Richard Lietz, Michael Christensen and Jörg Bergmeister – a stubborn right rear wheel which would not come off its hub lost the Porsche enough time to drop it down the order.
The final finisher in the Pro class was the No.99 Aston Martin Vantage of Fernando Rees, Alex MacDowall and Richie Stanaway which had been a challenger for victory until the 14th hour. Rees was in the lead of the LMGTE Pro class when he made heavy contact with an LMP2 car. He made it back to the pits but lost considerable time for repairs.
One of the big stories of the first quarter of the race was the fiery demise of the No.92 Porsche Team Manthey 911 RSR. Patrick Pilet was forced to pull the LMGTE Pro car over to the side of the track at the first chicane along the Hunaudières as his Porsche first lost oil and then erupted in flames. Pilet made a speedy exit and the car was an instant retirement. Unfortunately the same fate befell another Porsche two hours and 25 minutes into the race, with Christian Ried’s Le Mans 24 Hours in the No.88 Abu Dhabi Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR coming to a smoky end while under the second safety car.
Ferrari profit while Aston Martin falls at the last hurdle
Pedro Lamy, just recovering from chicken pox, and his team mates Paul Dalla Lana and Mathias Lauda, were winners in class of the first two rounds of the 2015 WEC and they utterly dominated LMGTE Am…until 47 minutes before the chequered flag when Canadian Dalla Lana crashed the No.98 Aston Martin Vantage heavily at Raccordement and immediately exited the race.
SMP Racing’s No.72 Ferrari 458 of Andrea Bertolini, Victor Shaytar and Aleksei Basov were in exactly the right place to benefit from the heartache that befell the Aston Martin. They had been right on its heels and took the class victory a lap ahead of the No.77 Dempsey Proton Porsche 911 RSR of Patrick Dempsey, Patrick Long and Marco Seefried, the latter making his debut at the 24 Hours. The Scuderia Corse Ferrari of Segal, Bell and Sweedler was third – all three Americans making their debut at Le Mans in 2015.
Other cars to run into trouble included the No.96 Aston Martin Vantage V8 which made very contact with the wall at the exit of the Porsche Curves at 07h40 on Sunday morning. The German was transported to the medical centre with complaints of back pain, and the car was retired on the spot. Also a retirement was the No.50 Larbre Competition Corvette C7R of Roda, Ruberti and Poulsen which had terminal gearbox trouble.
The ceremonial start for the race had been given at 15h00 in front of a record crowd of 263,500 spectators by Bill Ford, Executive Chairman of Ford Motor Company. On Friday the company revealed its LMGTE car which will join the Aston Martin, Ferrari and Porsche entries in the LMGTE Pro category in the 2016 WEC. Seeing three of its competitors going three abreast down the Hunaudières can only have whetted the appetite of Ford!
The results absolutely throw into play once again the potential outcome of the World Endurance Championship and other title chases, as the WEC moves towards its midway point. Round 4, the 6 Hours of Nürburgring on 30th August, promises to be even more exciting than the previous three…if that’s possible!
All results can be found HERE
Photos: CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES (LE MANS, FRANCE), LE MANS 24 HOURS 2015, SUNDAY 14 JUNE. 1) LMGTE Pro podium (l-r) Batti Pregliasco, Team Manager AF Corse, Oliver Beretta, James Calado, Davide Rigon; Corvette Racing's Jordan Taylor, Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner; AF Corse's Gianmaria Bruni, Toni Vilander, Giancarlo Fisichella. 2) SMP Racing's Aleksei Basov, Andrea Bertolini and Victor Shaytar at the official drivers' parade on Friday evening in Le Mans centre