Unbelievable. Dramatic. Exciting. The adjectives and many others could describe easily this year's edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a race where Porsche emerged from the dead with the No. 2 919 Hybrid to an overall win, denying the almost believable triumph of an LMP2 car Jackie Chan DC Racing carried on as much as possible with the No. 38 Oreca. The race also showed an epic scrap in the LMGTE-Pro class, worth remembering of the mid-2000s days of the GT1 monsters.
The race had trouble happening right at the first lap as the No. 4 ByKolles CLM had front end damage due to contact, leading the LMP1 privateer to an unscheduled pit stop. On top, Toyota settled for the lead with the No. 7 TS050 with the No. 1 Porsche, the No. 8 Toyota and the No. 2 Porsche right behind. Also unexpected was a straight off-course trip for the No. 36 Signatech Alpine at Arnage corner, with Gustavo Menezes' car beached in the gravel and facing the barriers while bringing a slow zone in action.
Near the first hour the 7 and 8 took first and second and swapped places while the No. 1 Porsche was still in close pursuit then reverted back to their original positions. While that with and hour and a half the No. 26 G-Drive Oreca rammed the back of the No. 88 Proton Porsche, with both cars crashing at the Porsche corners but with the 88 receiving back and front end heavy damage.
DC Racing and Manor were on the fight for LMP2 honors but eventually fell down and gave place to the Vaillante Rebellion Orecas as the No. 13 was leading the No. 31, while the LMGTE-Pro field was still fighting like crazy while Aston Martin maintained its lead.
On the fourth hour the No. 2 was knocked out of the lead battle due to lost front axle drive, which needed extensive repairs, with the No. 1 car splitting the two Toyotas in the overall standings. This time was also showing some lack of stability and control from the LMP2 and GTE-Pro drivers, with various spins and off-course excursions, such as what happened with Ben Keating in the No. 43 Keating Riley and with David Heinemeier Hänsson in the class leading No. 13 Rebellion Oreca. Such lack of stability continued with more spins, and then with 5 hours of racing the No. 28 TDS Oreca simply moved the No. 82 Risi Ferrari aside, which led to a nose-first crash and spin of heavy proportions, bringing another slow zone.
Once the night time approached the No. 8 Toyota took second position again, only to lose it near the end of the eighth hour as brake overheat brought the No. 8 to the garage. Another car hit by trouble was the No. 64 Corvette a few moments after, as a tire blow sent it to the wall and the crash simply took off the rear wing, and if this wasn't enough, the 64 spun at the entry of the pitlane and got stuck in the gravel.
The whole situation had the unthinkable turn or fortunes when the No. 7 Toyota got stuck into first gear from the start of the lap 154 with 14 hours to go, limping through practically the whole circuit with some moments when the car simply stopped, and after getting into Arnage corner, the No. 7 came to a total halt and retired of the race. While the team was still in disbelief with what happened with the No. 7, the No. 9 Toyota had a fire and a tire blow 20 minutes later, also limping for some time until coming to a stop after the Porsche curves. Nicolas Lapierre still struggled to get the car into the garage but it ran out of battery energy and it couldn't switch gears, retiring near the pit entry. When the green flag returned, the No. 1 Porsche was the reigning overall leader while Vaillante Rebellion had the Nos. 31 and 13 Orecas in second and third.
The GTE scrap epic even at the night time, with the No. 97 Aston Martin losing its long time advantage in the lead after halfway in the race as the sister No. 95 car took the top spot and the No. 92 Porsche took second. A bit ahead the Vaillante Rebellion 1-2 was broken as the No. 31 Oreca was in the garage for quick checks and the No. 13 lost pace and then the class lead to the No. 38 DC Racing Oreca, which quickly opened a good gap to establish itself on top. Behind the Nos. 38 and 13, the No. 31 Vaillante Rebellion Oreca had its problems to hold third place as the No. 35 Signatech Alpine was a constant threat, but once it got up to speed the 31 got its podium position back.
The GTE-Pro had far to be finished business in the morning as the No. 92 Porsche was announced as a retirement and the No. 91 Porsche out of nowhere kicked the No. 95 Aston Martin out of the class lead, although this would change once the pitstops start. Along with the Astons and the remaining Porsche, the No. 63 Corvette was prompt to be a class win contender, reaching a highest of second in class. The AF Corse Ferraris were just outside the top-4 scrap but the No. 51 car practically eliminated itself as James Calado had contact with Rob Bell in the No. 90 TF Sport Aston Martin, which Calado admitted it was “a rookie error”.
With 7 hours to go things started to get complicated at the Vaillante Rebellion garage as the No. 13 Oreca went for a routine stop but found itself not firing up, being towed to garage for quick checks in the back of the car and then getting back to racing, but with No. 38 DC Racing Oreca being 1 lap ahead the damage to Rebellion's race was already done.
With 6 hours and a half to go Ritchie Stanaway lost the brakes of the No. 95 Aston Martin and went to the barriers at the end of the Hanaudières straight, returning to the garage, which opened the class battle really wide, with the No. 97 Aston Martin, the No. 91 Porsche, the No. 63 Corvette and even the No. 67 Ford trading places.
The No. 1 Porsche reduced its pace in 9 seconds to conserve equipment and stay in contention due to its 11 lap advantage to the No. 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca, but still with this the car suffered of oil pressure decrease, limping through half of the lap and stopped at the Hanaudières straight with 21 hours and 15 minutes of racing, only to confirm the retirement of the No. 1 a few minutes later. Who also suffered a big hit was Mathias Beche as the No. 13 Vaillante Rebellion Oreca received a stop & go penalty as pitwork was done when the engine was on.
The last hours saw basically the No. 38 fighting to keep the overall while the No. 2 was reducing a gap of 3 laps. During this time the No. 38 had Thomas Laurent and Ho-Pin Tung at the wheel, which gave the room for the Porsche to take out 9 seconds per lap, overtaking the Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca with an hour to go. The class that still had unfinished matters was GTE-Pro, although the No. 97 Aston Martin was still showing what was capable of, winning the battles against No. 63 Corvette thanks to stellar drives of Daniel Serra, although pitwork left the No. 63 Corvette in the lead in the final hour.
The LMP2 podium looked settle with 40 minutes to go but André Negrão went to the gravel and the No. 35 Signatech Alpine handled the second place in class to the No. 13 Vaillante Rebellion Oreca, which also meant the third place overall.
To the No. 2 Porsche it was just going to the flag to win the 2017 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, 1 lap ahead of the competition. The LMP2 win stayed with the No. 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca along with the second place overall, with the No. 13 Vaillante Rebellion Oreca taking second place in class and completing the overall podium. The LMP2 winning team had also the No. 37 Oreca in the LMP2 podium in third and finishing in fourth overall. After a massive effort to go back to racing and recover places, the No. 8 Toyota was the only Japanese LMP1 to finish, nine laps behind the winner in ninth place overall.
The LMGTE-Pro finish was a Corvette vs. Aston Martin battle as the No. 63 held the No. 97 for as much as possible. Traffic and an unsuccessful attempt at Arnage corner held the No. 97 of Johnny Adam in second for more time than expected in the penultimate lap, but two off-track moments led to a left front puncture that denied the class win to Jordan Taylor and his No. 63 car. The No. 67 Ford took the misfortune moment of the Corvette and got second place in GTE-Pro, with the No. 63 Corvette limping to third. The GTE-Am was a Ferrari show as the No. 84 JMW Motorsport Ferrari dominated almost half of the race, with the No. 55 Spirit of Race Ferrari in second and Scuderia salvaging a third place with the No. 65 Ferrari after a difficult race.
The action now will return at the 6 Hours of Nürburgring on July 16th, time enough for the teams to recover and complete their seasons in FIA WEC.