The 24 Hours of Le Mans 2017 was held 17-18 June at the 38-turn, 8.469 mile Circuit de la Sarthe in France.
As the curtain fell on the 85th running of the world’s greatest endurance race, motorsport enthusiasts were treated to a sensational edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Following an action-packed race weekend, with raw emotion played out trackside, it was Timo Bernhard in the #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid who took the chequered flag as Porsche secured its 19th victory and third successive triumph at Le Mans. Recognized as the ‘Grand Prix of Endurance’, the 24 Hours of Le Mans demands more from the teams and drivers than any other racing event in the world, testing the limits of man and machine to the extreme.
On Saturday 17 June at 15:00 CET, with soaring track temperatures and a fevered anticipation amongst the crowds at Circuit de la Sarthe, the sixty cars lined up on the grid — their one mission, to travel the furthest distance in 24 hours. Grand Marshal Mark Webber drove the leading car on the formation lap, before pulling away from the field as the French Tricolore dropped to officially start the race. Remarkable scenes unfolded as last year’s rivalry between Toyota and Porsche was reignited in the Le Mans Prototype 1 (LMP1) class. It was also one of the closest races for the LM GTE Pro classification as only minutes separated the top five positions in the category for most of the race, keeping fans, teams and drivers on the edge of their seats from start to finish.
Porsche drivers Timo Bernhard, Earl Bamber and Brendon Hartley claimed a momentous victory in a race where all six LMP1 cars encountered difficulties; two of the three TS050 Hybrids fielded by Toyota were forced to retire in the early hours of Sunday morning. The suspense continued as race leader, André Lotterer, in the #1 Porsche 919 Hybrid, suffered a technical issue and suddenly slowed to a stop on the Mulsanne Straight, retiring from the race with only three hours to go.
In the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) category, the #13 and #31 Oreca 07-Gibson cars fielded by Vaillante Rebellion soon dominated the class. The #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing was a force to be reckoned with as it overtook the #13 in the sixteenth hour. The misfortunes in the LMP1 class also played to their advantage with the three LMP2 cars topping the overall timetable in the final few hours of the race. The pace of the #38 car was never likely to be strong enough to resist the inexorable #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid, which finally claimed the lead in the penultimate hour of the race. It was a proud moment for the Oreca 07-Gibson #38 and #13 cars though as they took 2nd and 3rd place respectively on the podium — the first time for LMP2 cars at Le Mans.
It was the trio of Chevrolet, Aston Martin and Ford who battled for victory in the final laps of the LM GTE Pro class. The #97 Aston Martin Vantage driven by Jonathan Adam, Daniel Serra and Darren Turner claimed victory ahead of the #67 Ford GT Chip Ganassi Team UK driven by Luis-Felipe Derani, Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell in a dramatic finish. In Le Mans GTE Am, a well-balanced class soon turned into a tussle between the Ferrari 488 GTE, Aston Martin and Porsche 911 RSR. As the Rolex clock counted down the final minutes, it was the #84 JMW Motorsport Ferrari driven by Will Stevens, Dries Vanthoor and Robert Smith, which rose from seventh on the class grid to win the race.
Th 24 Hours of Le Mans 2017 proved once again that racing on the limit over the course of 24 hours not only requires a unique combination of precision, skill and awareness, but reliability and performance are also vital to success at the Circuit de la Sarthe. Le Mans is “one of the most demanding yet the most rewarding races in the world”, said nine-time Le Mans winner, Tom Kristensen, and continued, “it is always a balance between triumph and tragedy.” Forty-nine of the sixty race starters crossed the finish line after 24 hours, exemplifying the punishing nature of this 13.629-km circuit and proving once more that crossing the finish line is a challenge in itself.
The podium ceremony was filled with emotion as Rolex Testimonee and Grand Marshal, Mark Webber presented the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans trophies to his former team-mates. As the Official Timepiece of the 24 Hours of Le Mans since 2001, Rolex rewarded the winners with a specially engraved Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona watch.
Timo Bernhard said: “It feels surreal. When I joined Porsche as a junior driver back in 1999, I carefully developed the dream to perhaps one day get the chance to fight for overall victory at Le Mans. I hoped I would be good enough to really do this one day. Now, 18 years later, we have achieved it together. The final lap was very emotional for me. It will take some time before I realize what has happened.”
Earl Bamber said: “I can’t believe we’ve managed to pull this one off having been at the back of the field after an hour in the pit-box. Both Brendon and Timo have been part of the Porsche LMP programme from the beginning while this victory is as much down to the guys in the pits. Without their hard work we wouldn’t have got back racing again so this win is down to them.”
Brendon Hartley said: “Le Mans is one crazy race. The mechanics worked incredibly hard on Saturday evening to get our car repaired in super fast time and since that moment Timo, Earl and myself, together with our engineers, have been pushing hard, 100 percent every second, and desperately hoped that our efforts would somehow pay off.”
24 Hours of Le Mans 2017 – Photo Gallery
24 Hours of Le Mans 2017 – Race Results
24 Hours of Le Mans 2017 – LMP1 Results
1. Bernhard/Bamber/Hartley, Porsche 919 Hybrid, 367 laps
2. Buemi/Davidson/Nakajima, Toyota TSO050 Hybrid, 358 laps
3. Jani/Lotterer/Tandy, Porsche 919 Hybrid, 318 laps
24 Hours of Le Mans 2017 – GTE-Pro Results
1. Turner/Adam/Serra (GB/GB/BRA), Aston Martin, 340 laps
2. Priaulx/Tincknell/Derani (GB/GB/BRA), Ford GT, 340
3. Magnussen/Garcia/Taylor (DK/E/USA), Chevrolet Corvette, 340
4. Lietz/Makowiecki/Pilet (A/F/F), Porsche 911 RSR, 340
5. Rigon/Bird/Molina (I/GB/E), Ferrari 488 GTE, 340
6. Hand/Müller/Kanaan (USA/D/BRA), Ford GT, 339
7. Briscoe/Westbrook/Dixon (AUS/GB/AUS), Ford GT, 337
8. Gavin/Milner/Fässler (GB/USA/CH), Chevrolet Corvette, 335
9. Thiim/Soerensen/Stanaway (DK/DK/NZ), Aston Martin, 334
10. Mücke/Pla/Johnson (D/F/USA), Ford GT, 332
24 Hours of Le Mans 2017 – GTE-Am Results
1. Smith/Stevens/Vanthoor (GB/GB/B), Ferrari 488 GTE, 333 laps
2. Cameron/Scott/Cioci (GB/GB/I), Ferrari 488 GTE, 331
3. Yoluc/Hankey/Bell (TR/IRL/GB), Aston Martin, 331
6. Ried/Cairoli/Dienst (D/I/D), Porsche 911 RSR, 329
9. Long/Al Faisal/Hedlund (USA/KSA/USA), Porsche 911 RSR, 329
10. Wainwright/Barker/Foster (GB/GB/GB), Porsche 911 RSR, 328
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[Source: Rolex Motorsports; photos: Rolex; Porsche; Ferrari; Ford; Aston Martin]