A hush had befallen the entire eight-and-a-half mile track. Everyone was tired from enduring the long French race, everyone was a little warm sitting out in the summer sun and everyone was resigned to a Toyota victory, the squad's first ever. Through some amazing pit strategy and fuel economy, they'd worked out just over a minute and a half lead over the #2 Porsche. There were only 10 minutes left in the 24 hour race, and yet there remained a pair of cars fighting tooth-and-nail for the overall victory. Were it not for a late race spin, the second Toyota would have been on the lead lap as well. I was standing at the Dunlop curves waiting to sprint to the exit after the flags fell. A few folks had already left the track to catch their TGV back to Paris, knowing that Toyota had it stitched up.
The buzzy megaphones mounted on posts at the track were spitting the call of the race out in French, and while I sometimes understand a bit, I'd mostly filtered it out and wasn't paying attention. At around 3 minutes remaining, it happened. The megaphones lit up with the excitable voice of a tired race reporter shouting 'C'est Impossible' and a gibberish fragment beloved by the french that goes something like 'A la la la la' screamed above the din over and over. From my vantage point, I couldn't see the stopped #5 Toyota on the pit straight. Though I could just barely make out the black and red and white car on a Jumbotron across the track, and my hands migrated to cover my gaping maw. Incredulous and Ecstatic at the same time. The whole crowd went silent for what seemed an eternity. Porsche had won their 18th overall Le Mans victory.
This is why they run the race, as the old adage goes. You can't win Le Mans, it's Le Mans that allows you to win.
Porsche In The LMP1 Category -
Having started the race with a double pole, it was clear that Porsche had the strongest LMP1 car over a one-lap run. When it came to the race, however, Toyota had a few factors working in their favor. From the drop of the green flag (which started under caution for the first hour due to rain), the Toyotas were clearly running a more economical setup, as they were capable of running fourteen laps on a tank of fuel while Porsche was only able to run 13-laps on a green-flag stint. Because of that advantage, the Toyota teams were able to essentially 'delete' a pitstop approximately every 10-hours, give or take. If that doesn't explain just how close this race was, I don't know what will. It was obvious from the start that all of these teams were equally elite, and it became a very interesting race over the next 20-hours. Every time Porsche would pit the Toyotas would take over the lead, and vice versa. They were trading back and forth for the entire race, and I'm ecstatic that I was able to witness it all first hand.
Porsche's race was not without drama, for certain. At about 11 at night on Saturday, just 8-hours into the race, the #1 Porsche was wheeled into the pit garage and work was carried out. Nobody really knows exactly what the problem was, but that 919 Hybrid was nearly completely dismantled and put back together again. Having spent an hour and a half in the pits, it was known that the 1 car was out of contention, and they only had one bullet remaining in their gun. Banking everything on the #2 wasn't all that difficult, as the team knows those guys can pull off something of this magnitude. This was an amazing finish to an amazing race. Thank you Porsche!
And in case you were wondering how Porsche handled their win, just check out this tweet below. Class act, no doubt.
— Porsche (@Porsche) June 19, 2016
When Porsche wins, we all kind of win, knowing what goes into a race like that. I stayed up all night to watch Porsche win their 18th overall, and it was well worth it.
Porsche In The GTE Categories
I'll keep this brief, because it is mostly bad news. First of all, the new regulations in GTE Pro this year have certainly favored the turbocharged cars, including the new Ford GT (which won the GTE Pro class). Not only that, but Porsche is not allowed to take full advantage of the new aerodynamics rules allowing a large diffuser, as they have an engine sitting right there where other teams can install said diffuser. The ACO really gave the advantage to the turbo cars this year, as the Ford finished 1-3-4, and the Ferrari 488 GTE was also fast, finishing second. With those cars running so quickly, Porsche really had to push to keep in touch with them. It didn't take long to find out that the cars weren't up to the task of such hot running all day. Both of the factory GTE cars were forced to pit for lengthy coolant-related problems.
Porsche in the GTE Am category was a little better. At one point early in the running, there were four Porsches at the head of the GTE Am category. So, at least we know they're competitive this time. Unfortunately they were taken out one by one. The WeatherTech car suffered a retirement due to smashing into the wall after spinning on another car's dropped coolant, winning them the ignominious fate of being the first car to retire from the event. The good thing, however, is that Porsche also took home a third-placed GTE Am trophy with the Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing Porsche (Pat Long, Khaled Al-Qubaisi, and David Heinemeier-Hansson sharing driving duties.).
It's time to go catch up on sleep, but I'll make sure to have more Le Mans coverage from the weekend later this week, so be sure to check that out as it becomes available.
[Special thanks to Michelin for inviting us to attend Le Mans as their guest]