The 24 Hours of Le Mans 2015 was held 13-14 June at the 38-turn, 8.469 mile Circuit de la Sarthe in France.
Every race is special. Every race is different. Just when you think you might have seen it all the 24 Hours of Le Mans pulls another surprise. The 83rd edition packed action, drama and pathos into the daylong race that seems to last a week and for some is a year in the planning. In the end it appeared to be a simple moment of divine providence that made the difference. A chink in otherwise impregnable armour exploited to the full, allowing the #19 driven by Nico Hülkenburg German Formula 1 driver, New Zealander Earl Bamber and Briton Nick Tandy to secure the seventeenth overall victory for Porsche, the manufacturer’s first since 1998.
The celebrations at the end of the race were something extraordinary, as thousands of fans and crew gathered beneath the podium to be sprayed in champagne and covered in confetti. The team were worthy winners, and each of the trio of drivers received a specially engraved Rolex Oyster Cosmograph Daytona, the chronograph created for racing drivers in 1963, along with the magnificent 24 Hour of Le Mans trophy.
The predicted four-way fight for overall victory was in reality a two-way struggle between the incumbents, Audi, and the pretenders (albeit pretenders with some serious pedigree), Porsche. Toyota knew its cars were off the pace before arriving in Le Mans, but had hoped beyond hope that their reliability would keep them in the hunt. That both cars stayed the course was an improvement on last year; the margin of defeat suggested more power is required if the Japanese brand is to challenge in the future. Nissan learned all too harshly that while underpinning the spirit of endurance motorsport, innovation is nothing until proven.
Porsche demonstrated emphatically that it had learnt the lesson of last year. Speed combined with reliability is a potent mix at an endurance race of this stature. The agility its cars had shown in qualifying was no flash in the pan. Audi may have gone on to set the fastest laps in the race, breaking the existing in-race record, and the team may have been in real contention through two-thirds of the course, yet the 1, 2 finish by Porsche is the only stat that truly matters.
All three #19 car drivers were in agreement that their opportunity really came during the hours of darkness.
Tandy explained: “The conditions came to suit the handling of our car. I thought we were doing well but it was clear approaching the early morning that the cooler conditions were suiting us. When the dark came in and the temperatures came down the car just really switched on.”
Just before 07:00 it seemed as though the #7 Audi, which had been merrily trading places with the Porsche, buckled under the pressure exerted. Up until that point, Marcel Fässler, a three-time winner and defending champion, felt he had a car capable of winning despite minor problems early on. Then the chink appeared: “When I was in the car this morning the engine cover flew off and we had to go into the pits for repairs. We lost a lap. If you lose a lap at Le Mans, it becomes really difficult especially when the level of competition is so high.”
All three Porsche drivers were winning the great race for the first time. Two – Hülkenburg and Bamber – were making their debuts. “It has been an incredible twelve months. It is beyond my wildest dreams to come here for the first time and win,” said a shell-shocked Bamber. “I hope I get to race here many more times. It is one of the toughest races on the planet, and it would be a privilege to be here again next year.” Even the more experienced Hülkenburg seemed overwhelmed: “The victory lap is incredible seeing all these thousands and thousands of people who have been there more or less 24 hours. It is an amazing experience for me coming in from the F1 environment to experience this great race. I am happy to have done it and even more so since we won.”
For Kristensen attending his first race since retirement and in the honorary role of Grand Marshal, 2015 had been a special year. Absolute confirmation that this is a race among races: “From my perspective as a driver and Grand Marshal, it has been really good racing in all classes and ran right to the very end. The enormous stress and pressure of the event has shown in some of the incidents on the track, and no one showed any signs of giving up before the end.”
37 of the 55 starters were classified as completing the race, proving once more that finishing the world’s greatest and most renowned endurance race is a challenge in itself. Another record crowd was in attendance – 263,500 – proof of its continuing attraction.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans was founded by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest in 1923. Rolex has been the official timepiece since 2001. The 84th edition takes place over the weekend of 18-19 June 2016.
24 Hours of Le Mans 2015 – Photo Gallery (click image for larger picture)
Number of finishers: 55 started – 37 classified after 24 hours
Fastest lap: 3:17.465/242 km/h in lap 317 by #7 Audi, André Lotterer (the third year in a row for the German driver, and a new race record)
Distance driven by winning LM P1 #19: 395 laps/ 5,383.455 km? (2 laps short of 2010 record of 397/5,410.713 km)
Average speed of winning LM P1 #19: 222.31 km/h
Laps led by winning LM P1 #19: 214
Winning margin in LM P1: 1 lap
Number of leader changes in LM P1: 26
Number of pit stops by #19: 30
Safety Car Periods: 2 hours, 4 minutes
Overall wins by Porsche: 17
Youngest competitor: Léo Roussl (FRA) #29: 19 years
Oldest competitor: Mark Patterson (RSA) #48: 63 years