Endurance racing; a form of motor sport racing which is meant to test the durability of equipment and endurance of participants. Teams of multiple drivers attempt to cover a large distance in a single event.
Normally when you have an endurance race the result is known before the final lap but the battle for GTE Pro honours on Sunday at Le Mans proved that even in a 24 hour race the result can be in the balance till the last lap.
The race between the top GT cars in the world was littered with incidents and high class racing, proven with five different manufacturers taking the top five places (Aston Martin, Chevrolet, Ford, Ferrari and Porsche). Even at the start, with the full 24 hours in front of them the battle started in earnest with the #51 AF Corse Ferrari bursting through to take the lead from the pole sitting #97 Aston Martin. It was a short lived lead lasting only three laps before the sister Aston Martin #95 passed by but the scene had already been set.
The cars went to and fro for hour after hour with the first major calamity be falling the lead #95 at the three hour mark when a rear left punctures occurred due to running over debris at Tertre Rouge. As one Aston crawled back to the pits for repairs the sister car took over the class lead but with the chasing pack just two seconds behind and every car still on the lead lap for the class the result was still wide open.
Come the fifth hour a nicely timed slow zone for a spinning LMP2 car at the Dunlop chicane, helped the race leading #97 Aston Martin to increase its lead from 2 seconds to over a minute as it fell right during the car’s pit stop window. Upon re joining the slow zone was removed and the car could go full speed while the rest of the class done their pit stops.
This is Le Mans however and attrition would eventually take its toll on some of the field either with delays or removing them from the race altogether. One of the quieter entries so far but still fancied to be there come the end was the #82 Risi Competizione Ferrari of Kaffer/Fisichella/Vilander. It had been a relatively trouble free run for the Italian side until the fifth hour when it was put three wide down to he first Mulsanne chicane with a GTE Am car one side and a faster LMP2 the other. The LMP2 car then swung back over to take the braking line but mis judged, side swiping the Ferrari into the guard rail and out of the race altogether.
The Chevrolet Corvette’s had their own issues as well with the #64 car being delayed in the pits in the eighth hour when a wheel nut was not fitted correctly and the car hit the barrier at the Porsche Curves when the wheel finally broke free. It was not a race ending incident for the team but the #64 was out of contention for the win due to it.
During all of this and through the night as well the Ford GT’s were lapping away, no real issues to report on the whole. It was stark contrast to last year when they walked away with the class with with only one Ferrari for company but the side remained professional even though they couldn’t put up much of a fight to defend their crown.
Come the break of dawn it became more clear that there was three potential winners, the #97 Aston, #63 Corvette and the #91 Porsche. The three had been swapping class lead through the night with different strategies due to slow zones, safety car periods and punctures putting them out of sync with with each other. The early morning seen Serra in the Aston break the lap record for GTE Pro twice, making up some earlier lost time during a safety car period. This would prove crucial come the end of the race.
It was disappointment for Ferrari and the AF Corse team however. The team had a chance to be in the winning mix but a visit to the garage for then#51 on Sunday morning after a collision with the #90 GTE Am Aston Martin put paid to that as did a penalty for exceeding track limits coupled with badly timed safety cars for the #71. It was also not long before three way fight for the win became two when the #91 Porsche picked up a puncture and had to make an extra stop. With the #97 Aston and #63 Corvette only needing to splash and dash in the final hour the stage was set for a thrilling finish with Jonny Adam at the wheel of the Aston and Jordan Taylor peddling the Corvette. Aston also had insurance with the #95 in close attendance playing rear gunner to the #97.
The two battled back and forth with the Aston looking the faster car but unable to get past. It was most noticeable through Indianapolis and into Arnage and with three laps to go Adam put the British Racing Green car down the inside, locking up in a desperate attempt to slow down enough. The car ran wide and the yellow and black Corvette sneaked back through, the two touching as the Aston rejoined the track. The chance looked to be gone but it wasn’t long before the Aston was back under the rear wing of the #63.
On the second to last lap Jordan had to go across the second of the Mulsanne chicanes, the brakes or tyres seeming to be crying enough. As they exited the final Ford chicane to start the last lap the Corvette was struggling, running wide and giving the Aston the run to pass as they crossed the line to start the last lap. The roar in the crowd was loud and noticeable even on TV. The #95 even looked to pass the #63 into the Dunlop chicane as it became more and more apparent that it had suffered a front left puncture. Jordan limped the car home but was even passed by the Ford GT with Harry Tincknell, Andy Priaulx and Lusi Derani to steal second with Jordan getting third.
The Aston’s came round in formation, crossing the line to take victory, its first class win in GTE Pro and first class win in any class since 2014 in GTE AM. The win was also Darren Turner’s third with the team across GT1 and GTE Pro while it was a first Le Mans win for Jonathan Adam and Daniel Serra with the Brazilian Serra doing so on his Le Mans Debut.
The main race at the front might have been littered with reliability issues and the possibility of a David style upset with an LMP2 car running for the outright win but the fight in GTE Pro was just a hectic, just as tough and just as enjoyable as the main event up front. The attention of the crews now turns back to either WEC or IMSA duties for the rest of the year, the countdown to next year is already on.
Photo Credit: astonmartin.com