– No. 5 Porsche 963 in eighth place after 16 hours
– No. 6 sister car leaves from track while fighting for the podium
– Early retirement for the works team’s third hybrid prototype
– Four Porsche 911 RSR battle for GTE-Am class victory
Two-thirds of the way into the race, Porsche Penske Motorsport was still in the fight for a podium spot, only for the factory squad’s No. 6 car to slide from the track while lapping a slower vehicle. The No. 5 sister car is currently running in eighth place. In the GTE-Am category, the customer teams Iron Dames, Project 1 – AO, GR Racing and Proton Competition are among the contenders for class victory.
The very first hours of racing on the 13.626-kilometre Circuit des 24 Heures on the centenary of the endurance classic were packed with thrills and spills. Heavy, mostly isolated rain showers, caused several incidents on the track, which in turn resulted in the safety car and yellow flags coming out. At first, the Porsche 963 fielded by the Porsche Penske Motorsport works team benefited from this. After four hours, the No. 6 hybrid prototype was in second position, with the No. 75 entry in fifth and the third car in tenth. After starting from the back of the grid, the customer team Hertz Team Jota put in a strong charge to sixth place.
When the race finally returned to green after a long stint behind the safety car, Jota driver Yifei Ye caused a sensation: the selected driver from Porsche Motorsport Asia-Pacific put in a blistering drive on the drying track and swept into the overall lead shortly before 9 pm. A little later, however, the racing driver from China slid off the track at the exit of the Porsche curves and damaged the No. 38 racing car. After another lengthy stop for repairs, the vehicle, which Ye shares with Porsche works driver Antonio Félix da Costa from Portugal and Englishman Will Stevens, ranked 25th at around eight o’clock in the morning.
Porsche Penske Motorsport’s three works cars did not escape unscathed either. At around 9.30 pm, the No. 5 racing car came to a brief halt on the track due to a sensor problem and had to be reset. Meanwhile, the car shared by Frédéric Makowiecki from France, Dane Cameron from the USA and Michael Christensen from Denmark suffered a puncture. At 1:30 am, a leak was detected in the cooling circuit. This required a 23-minute pit stop for repairs, which occurred entirely within a yellow phase. After two-thirds of the race distance, the trio was running in eighth place, five laps behind the leader.
Shortly before 10 pm, the No. 75 Porsche 963 rolled to a stop in the Têrtre Rouge area: The fuel pump could no longer build up sufficient pressure. Mathieu Jaminet’s attempt to get his car back to the pits proved unsuccessful. This signalled the end of the race for the Frenchman and his teammates Nick Tandy from Great Britain and Felipe Nasr from Brazil.
At around 8:30 pm, the No. 6 car suffered a puncture for the second time. This relegated Frenchman Kévin Estre, Laurens Vanthoor from Belgium and André Lotterer one lap down to eleventh place. By dawn, the trio had managed to make up good ground and also profited from rivals’ misfortune. Despite minor problems, by 8 am on Sunday, the hybrid prototype was back and again fighting for third place. However, a problem lapping an LMP2 car resulted in a trip off the track and a 42-minute stop for repairs.
« The night and the morning were all but pleasant for us, » says Urs Kuratle, looking back on the incidents during the second third of the race. The Director of Factory Motorsport LMDh adds: « The number 75 car retired early, we had a defect in the cooling system on the number 5 car and the number 6 lost a lot of time due to incidents. So we’re out of the running for victory. That’s a shame because at times our pace was very strong. Our hopes of success were high at times but unfortunately, this dream has been dashed. Now, we’re concentrating on crossing the finish line without any further trouble if possible. »
In the fiercely contested GTE-Am category, four Porsche customer teams are looking strong in the bid for a Le Mans class victory. After two-thirds of the race distance, the 911 RSR crews from Iron Dames and Project 1 – AO are taking turns with a Ferrari at the front. GR Racing’s Porsche is also still on the lead lap, as is Proton Competition’s No. 911 car shared by Hollywood actor Michael Fassbender from Ireland, Porsche works driver Richard Lietz from Austria and Estonian Martin Rump. For Proton’s No. 88 car, the race was over just after the 15-hour mark when it slid from the track.
Drivers’ comments after two-thirds of the race
Dane Cameron (Porsche 963 #5): « We’ve started the new day a bit behind with our number 5 car – that’s unfortunate, but we’ll keep fighting. My stints during the night went pretty well. There were no further setbacks. We’re no longer at the front of the field in the overall standings, but that certainly doesn’t stop us from giving everything until the end. »
André Lotterer (Porsche 963 #6): « I put in a nice triple stint in the early morning. Our pace was very consistent, and the tyres were fine over the distance. In between, I pushed a little harder because we wanted to return to the same lap as the leaders. We were hoping for another safety car – that would’ve put us right back in the game. »
Mathieu Jaminet (Porsche 963 #75): « Unfortunately, we had to retire early – a huge, huge pity. When I was driving in the rain during the night, the fuel pressure suddenly dropped. I tried everything to get our car going again, but nothing worked. We don’t know the exact cause yet. Sometimes the car can be restarted by resetting the electrical system and using the electric motor to get it back to the garage. Unfortunately, that didn’t work because the distance to the pit lane was much too far. It hurts that we couldn’t drive to the finish. Still, it was a great experience to have competed in this race. »
Yifei Ye (Porsche 963 #38): « Our car is very good and very fast, but unfortunately, we had some issues. An accident and a sensor defect threw us far back. That’s a shame. We still want to learn as much as possible here. The data we generate as the race progresses will help us considerably as the season goes on. »
Michelle Gatting (Porsche 911 RSR #85): « To be honest, the race has been tougher than expected. We’re lacking a bit of pace, especially at the beginning of our stints. After that, it gets a little better, but clearly, we can’t quite catch some of our rivals. Under these conditions, I have the feeling that I don’t know the Porsche well enough yet. Nonetheless, we continue to fight and our team is pushing me hard to occasionally do things with the car that I wouldn’t normally try… »