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Relentless Rookies. Bamber, Tandy & Hulkenberg star in debut LMP1 drives at La Sarthe as Porsche win record 17th Le Mans

Earl Bamber, Nick Tandy, Nico Hulkenberg.
Three names etched in history as the chequered flag fell on the 83rd running of Le Mans.
At 24, 30 & 27 they became the youngest (average age 27) winning team.
Nico Hulkenberg (Who stole all the headlines as he took the chequered flag) became the first current F1 driver to win at Le Mans since Herbert & Gachot in 1991. (Lotus and Jordan drivers respectively)
Bamber and Hulkenberg also became members of an illustrious group to win on their debut. Joining a list that includes Tom Kristensen (Mr Le Mans) and Alex Wurz (The youngest driver to ever win Le Mans)

They were many other records set this year:

  • Neel Jani in the #18 Porsche 919 set the fastest lap (Since 1989) to take pole – 3:16:89
  • Andre Lotterer in the #7 Audi R18 set the fastest race lap (Lap Record) – 3:17:475
  • Porsche became the first Hybrid/Petrol to win Le Mans.

And maybe more significantly when looking at motorsport in general:

  • 2015 saw a record attendance of 263,500

Le Mans is a genuine festival of speed, a weekend celebration where music is replaced with the roar of engines, and it very much feels like a sport experiencing a golden age. That is not an attempt to dismiss it as temporary but to say that it feels like WEC is the sport that has genuinely embraced a new age of how motorsport is run and experienced.

This race had everything- A titanic battle between the Porsche and Audi LMP1s. The 919s set a relentless pace and as they battled it out it looked like a fight that would punish any error made by the top crews. It was six phenomenal machines flat out trading blows for 24 hours, and it took its toll.

  • Webber, in the #17 Porsche, had a stop go penalty for a yellow flag infringement.
  • Dumas, in the pole sitting #18 Porsche, seemed to have brake problems leading to a crash at Mulsanne corner.
  • The #7 Audi suffered a puncture and then received a drive through for not respecting the slow zone.
  • Duval, in the #8 Audi, suffered a heavy shunt in the barriers when he got caught out by suddenly slowing cars at a slow zone.

While others made mistakes the rookies seemed flawless.

Yet if you weren’t satisfied with that there were battles everywhere else.

murphylemans04Irish fans had two reasons to pay attention to the LMP2 class. KCMG with John O’Hara, and Murphy Prototypes. KCMG took the spoils for LMP2 with a commanding victory, becoming the first ever Hong Kong team to do so. Yet a team that were fastest in testing for Le Mans showed the other side of the race. Murphy Prototypes looked to be the team to beat after testing, but as is often the case nothing is ever simple at La Sarthe. A crash at the Porsche Curves when qualifying was at its quickest frustrated the team and left them in 8th on the grid. Given the inherent pace in the car the target was still a podium in LMP2.

The team worked hard to get into contention for a podium, but two impacts in the closing stages would highlight something else, something special. Live on Periscope we got to witness what a racing team is all about. They hadn’t got that far to give up and they fought like hell to get the car fixed and out on track to make the finish. Here was something you wouldn’t see in many other top level motorsports, as we saw live streaming change the way we could view the sport. Warts and all access to a team as it refused to be beaten, and as many watched the Porsche 1-2 cross the line it was Murphy Prototypes that followed them to the finish to take a hard earned 5th in class.

Need more?
How about the GT classes.

DH9Aston Martin, Ferrari, Porsche and Corvette battled as if they were in a sprint race never mind a 24 hour race at Le Mans. Aston Martin looked to have the ultimate pace and started as fastest GT with the #99. Le Mans was to have no happy ending for Aston Martin though. Battling with the sole Corvette #64 (The sister car had a massive crash in qualifying after the throttle stuck open) the #99 (Pro) and the #98 (Am) would both crash. The #98 crashing out of the race completely on its out-lap with 45 minutes to go. Devastating for Aston Martin Racing and leaving them with only the hope that next year will be better. The #55 AF Corse Ferrari was one of the fastest GTAm cars on the track with Matt Griffin behind the wheel, but coming up to the 18hr mark disaster struck and the #55 ran out of fuel.

Corvette Racing claimed the GTPro win, while SMP Racing, the Russian team run with AF Corse, took the GTAm win from Dempsey Proton Porsche. 2nd place moving actor and massive racing nut Patrick Dempsey to tears.

This race gave us many things. It was refreshing to see such honesty and respect at the top level of Endurance racing.

  • Honesty from NISMO’s Darren Cox as he saw two cars fail to finish in the LMP1 class and the surviving #22 car not classified for failing to complete 70% of the winner’s race distance. It seems cruel but he was adamant that they would learn from this and come back stronger with an 8MJ hybrid in 2015. In effect they were building the plane while flying it this year. They should also be commended for live streaming all their cars on-board footage on NISMO.TV. Where else would you see top level motorsport like this for free? NISMO also made sure they brought fun to the paddock with a Live Music Stage and a large slide in their HQ.
  • Respect from Audi’s Dr Wolfgang Ullrich as, with 8 minutes left on the clock, he walked in to DH3congratulate and embrace members of the Porsche team. Where else would you see a team that has dominated the sport in such a way be the first to congratulate the team that has taken the title away from them.

The headlines will say Nico Hulkenberg, current F1 driver, rocked up and took the glory at Le Mans. The cynics will claim irony of 2nd place man Mark Webber who left F1 to get away from Germans taking victory away from him. Those that experienced Le Mans 2015 will have seen something else. A sport that has embraced technology both on and off the track. That has allowed diversity and engineering to shine, while giving unprecedented fan access to the action and it has become all the richer for it.

David Hall.

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