An eventful night for the Porsche teams at the Le Mans 24 hour race: While the Porsche 911 GT3 RSR fielded by the IMSA Performance Matmut squad is still on track after 18 hours to bring home a podium result, the two GTE Pro class 911 vehicles run by Flying Lizard Motorsports and Felbermayr-Proton are no longer in the race. The flag drops on the long distance classic on the legendary Circuit des 24 Heures at 15.00 hours.
For Frenchmen Nicolas Armindo, Raymond Narac and Anthony Pons, the most important race of the year is running to schedule. At the wheel of the IMSA Performance Matmut 911 in last year’s specification, they successfully made up several places at the beginning of the race and at times even held the lead. Scheduled pit stops continually saw different competitors snatch the lead in the fiercely-contested class, but the local matadors stayed on track for a podium spot. The trio are just 17 seconds shy of the front-runner in their class.
“We going well and we’re not experiencing any problems,” said Nicolas Armindo, the 2010 champion of the Porsche Carrera Cup Deutschland. “We still have some hours ahead of us, but we’ll hopefully get through these without any incidents. Things are looking good for us.”
In the GTE Pro class, the race was over during the night for the two Porsche 911 GT3 RSR fielded by Flying Lizard Motorsports and Felbermayr-Proton. Patrick Long was the first Porsche works driver to retire. The American, who shared driving duties with his works driver colleagues Joerg Bergmeister (Germany) and Marco Holzer (Germany), slid on gravel, which another vehicle had just spread on the track in the first chicane, and hit the stack of tyres after 114 laps.
“Another car spun into the gravel in front of me, came sideways back onto the track and spread a whole lot of gravel on the circuit,” Patrick Long explained. “I slid on it and landed in the tyre wall. I didn’t have a chance to even get the car back to the pits.” This was not the first problem that the number 80 vehicle had to contend with. Already in the first race hour, the Flying Lizard Porsche fell back in the field with a broken shock absorber, shortly afterwards tyre damage cost even more time. “The race wasn’t going well for us right from the start,” said Joerg Bergmeister. “Still, you never give up. A lot can happen in Le Mans, hardly anyone is exempt from problems here. It’s a shame we couldn’t finish the race though.”
The end of the race for the Felbermayr-Proton Porsche 911 GT3 RSR contesting the GTE Pro class came after 184 laps. Porsche factory pilot Marc Lieb (Germany) rejoined the race action after a pit stop, only to have the gearbox temperature suddenly rise. Two laps later the number 77 Porsche, which was going for double points in the World Endurance Championship, came to a standstill with gearbox damage in the second chicane on the infamous Hunaudières straight.
“I wanted to change up but couldn’t get the gear in,” said Marc LIeb, who at the time was running in fourth place with his works driver colleagues Richard Lietz (Austria) and Wolf Henzler (Germany). The trio had won in Le Mans in 2010. “It’s such a shame we couldn’t take home points, especially at this race. Up until our retirement we were running really well. We experienced a few hiccups along the way, but nothing really major. A podium result would have been possible.” Wolf Henzler said, “We couldn’t match the pace of the fastest but we were going really well. Everyone has problems in Le Mans one way or the other. The main thing is to make it over the distance and reach the finish line. And we were doing this, but it wasn’t quite enough.”
In the GTE Am class, Porsche had another iron in the fire for 17 hours with last year’s 911 run by Felbermayr-Proton. Team owner Christian Ried (Germany) and his Italian teammates Gianluca Roda and Paolo Ruberti, class winners from the season-opening round in Sebring, were running in a promising fourth. But after 222 laps, the Porsche Cup winner Gianluca Roda had to park the 911 trackside without any drive. However, Porsche works driver, Patrick Pilet (France) and Americans Seth Neiman and Spencer Pumpelly moved up into fifth place during the night with the Porsche 911 GT3 RSR fielded by Flying Lizard Motorsports. Taking up the race as pole sitters in their class, they could defend their top position in the early phase of the race, only to be thrown back due to an off by Seth Neimann.
Interim standings after 18 hours
GTE Am class
1. Bornhauser/Canal/Lamy (F/F/P), Chevrolet Corvette, 247 laps
2. Armindo/Narac/Pons (F/F/F), Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, 247
3. Krohn/Jonsson/Rugolo (USA/S/I), Ferrari F458 Italia, 243
5. Neiman/Pilet/Pumpelly (USA/F/USA), Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, 233
6. Daniels/Palttala/Camathias (GB/SF/CH), Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, 231
This is the World Endurance Championship
Sports prototypes and GT vehicles contest the World Endurance Championship, for which double points are awarded in Le Mans. They are divided into four classes that start together but are classified separately:
LMGTE Pro class: This class is reserved for slightly modified standard sports cars with 440 to 500 hp and a minimum weight of 1,245 kilograms (e.g. Porsche 911 GT3 RSR).
LMGTE Am class: Like the LMGTE Pro, but the regulations stipulate that only last year’s cars are eligible and there must be no more than one professional driver per vehicle.
LMP1 class: Sports prototypes with up to 550 hp and a minimum weight of 900 kilograms.
LMP2 class: Sports prototypes with around 440 hp and a 900 kilogram minimum weight.