Porsche and Porsche fans alike are enamored with the powerful draw of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The circuit is a difficult one to tackle, and the race is demanding of both the cars and the fans, yet year after year they keep coming back for more. Porsche is inextricably linked with Le Mans, as they have more overall victories than any other manufacturer, over 100 class wins, and lots of experience and success with the race. A fan favorite, Le Mans is one of the best endurance races in the world, and this year things are getting even better.
Porsche is coming back even stronger in 2015 in an attempt to claim their 17th overall victory at the circuit de la Sarthe. They're bringing a trio of 919 Hybrids to the race in the LMP1-H category, as well as a pair of factory 911 RSRs in the GTE-Pro category. Another small handful of 911 RSRs will compete in the GTE-Am category, one of them even with a Porsche factory driver behind the wheel. If Porsche ever had a chance to win multiple classes, this is the basket in which they've put all of their eggs. 2015 Le Mans will be one to watch!
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Porsche in the LMP1 Category
Porsche's LMP1 program has shown a lot of promise as of late. They've had a victory, they've proven they have the speed with a half dozen pole positions, and they have been in a lot of lead battles this season with the second generation 919 Hybrid. The car is inherently fast, has a lot of mid-corner speed and off-the-corner acceleration in-hand against the competition. The driver lineups are fantastic, and proven. With a full year under their belt, they've learned a lot, and are growing the program to be ever more successful. This just could be their year.
#17, #18, and #19 - Porsche Team
Porsche didn't have the best of luck at Le Mans in 2014, suffering from a double failure after having lead the race for quite a while. The cars have definitely shown they have the performance to lead laps, to qualify well, and to run quickly, but they have not had the luck or longevity necessary to take the LM24 victory. In 2015 they've had some bad luck as well. As Mark Webber said after the Spa race, Porsche needs to stop scoring "own goals" in order to win over the inch-perfect Audi team.
Three cars and 9 drivers should help Porsche over the course of this race, as they'll have an extra bullet in their proverbial gun with which to compete. Each of the three cars will be running a truly epic set of drivers. The #17 car houses Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, and Brendan Hartley. The #18 car will be driven by Romain Dumas, Neel Jani, and Marc Lieb. The third car, #19, is running with F1 ace driver Nico Hulkenburg, Earl Bamber, and Nick Tandy splitting the driving duties. Like I said before, that's a stout driver lineup.
Speaking of showing some speed, Porsche was fastest in the official Le Mans test day, in fact, the 919 Hybrid teams made up three of the top four at that test. Obviously it's entirely possible that the competition is sandbagging, probable even, but it's still pretty impressive. Another thing to note, Porsche was able to stretch their fuel mileage to 14 laps in wet track conditions, while Audi only managed 13 laps and Toyota never ran a full fuel load.
Porsche in the GTE Pro Category
The Porsche GTE Pro class cars have had a history of doing really well on track, but this year hasn't proven to be its best. They have not scored a class victory yet, and they just haven't shown the pace. If there's somewhere that pace is a bit less important than outright reliability, it'll be the Le Mans 24 Hour race. Porsche can bank on being just fast enough to stay on the lead lap or even within a few laps, and then make use their legendary reliability to pick off the top teams as they fall by the wayside. It may not be the best strategy, but it has a history of working.
#91 and #92 Porsche AG Team Manthey
The pair of GTE Pro cars also has a stellar driver lineup, who are all intimately familiar with their Porsches, the circuit, and likely the team. Nothing against the other drivers, but I'm inclined to believe that the #92 car is slightly better in terms of talent, including the venerable Patrick Pilet, Fred Makowiecki, and Wolf Henzler. The #91 car shadows that trio only slightly with Jörg Bergmeister, Richard Lietz, and Michael Christensen at the wheel. This race will come down to keeping out of trouble, and I think this is a great 6-driver lineup for keeping the 911s on the island and within distance of the lead for 24 hours.
Porsche in the GTE Am Category
There are five full-fledged GTE Amateur Porsche entries at Le Mans this year, and most of them are quite capable of doing well. In GTE Am racing, the gentleman drivers these days can be as fast as a lot of professional drivers, and the racing is getting more and more intense. With a lot of stout competition in this class, the Porsche teams will need to fight hard to make a dent, but it's a long race and literally anything could happen.
#77 and #88 - Proton Competition
The most competitive of the Porsche teams seems to be the Proton Competition pair of cars, one run in conjunction with Dempsey Racing. The Dempsey car has Patrick Dempsey himself, Pat Long, and Marco Seefried at the helm. Dempsey has gotten better over the years, but he is still the weak link in that driver lineup. Seefried is a very capable driver, and Pat Long is one of the best Porsche pilots in the field. The primary Proton car has Christian Reid, Klaus Bachler, and Khaled Al Kubaisi sharing driving duties. Kubaisi isn't too bad an amateur driver, if I'm honest. I like their chances.
#67 and #68 - Team AAI
The other two Porsches, entered by Team AAI of Taiwan, are a split team of 991 RSR and 997 GT3 RSR. AAI will unfortunately not be much of a factor, having run much slower than any of the other teams so far, and placing near the bottom of the time tables. Crazy things have happened before, however.
#86 - Gulf Racing UK
A Gulf-livery Porsche might be back at Le Mans for the first time in quite a long time, as Gulf Racing UK is bringing a 991 RSR to La Sarthe with a trio of pretty good Brit drivers. Unfortunately, this team is currently still on the reserve list, so they won't get into the race unless three other teams drop out of the race. It's possible, but not likely at this point. Which is a shame.
Who is Porsche's Competition?
In the LMP1 category
Porsche's competition comes in the form of three Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro cars, a pair of Toyota racers, and three brand new Nissan NISMO GT-R LM front-wheel drive LMPs.The Audis are the real competition here, as they are the defending Le Mans victors, as well as the distant leaders so far this year in the WEC, having won both of the two rounds held thus far. Porsche has pace on the Audis, but at Spa last month, the P-cars proved to not have the tire management that the Audis did. Porsche is faster through the corners and faster accelerating out of the corners than anyone else on the circuit, but their tires seemed to fall off before the end of a single stint, while Audi was able to double-stint their tires without problem.
The Toyotas seem to have fallen back down the order a bit this year, not really being in contention at either Silverstone or Spa this year. They just don't have the pace to stick with the leading pack. It's possible that they maximized the new car for 2015 for Le Mans at the expense of pace at other circuits, but their pre-race test speed has not been fast enough to prove that true. Again, it's entirely possible that they are sandbagging, but who really knows?
So, where does that leave Nissan? Well, Nissan has had some issues with their car this year, and Le Mans will be their first race of the season. Pre-season testing has shown that car to be VERY aero-efficient, turning in the highest trap-speeds of anyone, but they're having trouble pulling ultimate pace out of the car. Whether they will find some pace between now and the race is yet to be seen. They would be wise to simply treat this year as a test session as Porsche did in 2014, and come out of the gates swinging in 2016. Look out for these three cars to be fast down the Mulsanne, though.
In the GTE Pro category
Porsche has less competition than in years past, but none of them are anything less than world class. A pair of Ferrari 458s have been entered by AF Corse, as well as two Corvettes from the factory team, and three Aston Martins as well. Last year the Astons were the quickest, and the Corvettes were well off the pace. This year, both of those teams are looking to be major contenders. Really, all 8 of the cars in this category have a chance at the victory, but the Astons would probably be the ones I would watch out for. They have always been quick, and they have an impressive driver lineup.
In GTE AM
Porsche will again have to contend with a massive group of Ferraris, a few factory-backed Aston Martins, and even a privateer Viper entry from the states. Oh, and Le Mans legends Larbre Competition are back this year with a Corvette C7.R. The killer combination in this race is the #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Matthias Lauda, and Pedro Lamy. Don't discount the Viper, however, as that car has some great straight line speed.
Race Resources for Porsche Fans
- The 24 Hours of Le Mans on Twitter for Porsche Fans (Coming Soon)
- Entry List: Find it here.
- Timing and Scoring: Find it here.
- Andy Blackmore's Annual Spotter Guide: Find it here.
- Streaming Radio: Find it here.
If I were a betting man, I'd guess at least one of the manufacturers in the LMP1 category will have live on-board footage. More than likely it'll be Nissan.
Fox has promised to show the 24-hour race in its entirety on a combination of Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2, and Fox Sports Go, but has not yet released their time table schedule for when the channel changes will occur. Look for that information here soon.
Update: The schedule is out and available below.
- Saturday, June 13 (8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., FOX Sports 2)
- Saturday, June 13 (7 p.m. to 8 p.m., FOX Sports 1)
- Saturday, June 13 (11 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., FOX Sports 2)
- Sunday, June 14 (3:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m., FOX Sports 1)
- Sunday, June 14 (7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m., FOX Sports 2)
- Sunday, June 14 (9 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., FOX Sports 1)
- FOX Sports GO (Saturday, June 13 at 8:30 a.m. to Sunday, June 14 at 9:30 a.m.)*
*Now available to 85 million pay-TV customers, FOX Sports GO app offers live continuous streaming of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, including the non-telecast hours. Customers of participating video providers may access the live streams of the race through FOX Sports GO on iOS, Android, Fire tablets and Fire phones, Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, select Windows devices, and online at FOXSportsGO.com.