Porsche is running four factory-backed cars at Le Mans next weekend (2 in LMP1 and 2 in LMGTE-Pro), and they'll be joined by five additional privateer-run efforts(1 in LMGTE-Pro and 4 LMGTE-Am). Porsche fans like you or I should be excited at the prospects Porsche has this year to win the whole shooting match once again. Coming off one of the most dominant seasons of sportscar racing I've ever seen, Porsche is in a great position to repeat last year's strong victory at the endurance race in 2016. The draw of the 24 Hours of Le Mans is mega, and if you have the opportunity, you need to make sure you're there when Porsche crosses the finish line, this could be a good one.
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 every year the racing keeps getting better.
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Porsche in the LMP1 Category
Porsche proved they had what it took to win when they crossed the finish line first in 2015. The 919 Hybrid is a stunning machine, and continues to set record after record. However, during the first two races of this season, Porsche saw increased competition from Audi and Toyota, and they've struggled with the reliability concerns that come with dancing on the knife edge of performance.
I would argue that Porsche still has the best driver lineup of any of the LMP teams, and they've proven to have more outright one-lap pace than the Toyotas and are on par with the Audis. If they have a lot of luck on their side and keep the car's nose clean, they could win it all over again. Unfortunately, with budget cuts in effect, the team has been scaled back from a 3-car effort in 2015 to just 2 cars in 2016, so they have fewer bullets in the proverbial gun to work with. That said, Audi and Toyota have scaled back to just 2 cars for this year, too.
#1 and #2 - Porsche Team
2014 was a learning year for Porsche, and 2015 a winning year. They've started off 2016 getting beat at their own game, only winning Silverstone on a technicality (though a win is a win) while suffering a massive shunt, and having a double car failure at Spa. Those two rounds were only 6-hours long, and they managed to only have one car finish in the first round, and both cars severely hampered in the second round. If they want any chance of winning Le Mans again this year, they have to have reliability figured out, be it driver, car or crew. Le Mans takes a full package with no mistakes allowed. They've shown they can do it, it's just a matter of execution.
Each of the two cars will be running the same set of drivers they ran with last year, so they should be well familiar with each other, at least. The #1 car houses Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, and Brendan Hartley. The #2 car will be driven by Romain Dumas, Neel Jani, and Marc Lieb. Like I said before, that's a stout driver lineup.
At the official Le Mans test last weekend, Porsche wasn't the outright fastest, but they did manage the second and third quickest laps. Something tricky has been going on with their transponder setup, however, so a few of their laps didn't get logged, and they didn't have any trap speeds displayed. Some people have been calling foul, saying Porsche is trying to cover something up. I'm inclined to believe that Porsche knows how to set up a transponder, and the lack of trap speeds was potentially intentional. Are they hiding some massive top speed advantage? I guess we'll see in qualifying next week.
Porsche in the GTE Pro Category
Porsche's GTE Pro class cars have a lot of promise, and the driving talent aboard is pretty stellar. As with all of the other major endurance races this year, they face competition in the form of a brand new Ford GT and Ferrari 488, as well as revised versions of the Corvette and Aston Martin. The Corvettes turned the fastest times in pre-race testing, and the Astons had the highest top speeds. The Ferraris are also fast, and with Ford bringing four GTs they aren't going to sit back and watch. Porsche has the potential to win this one, but against some really stiff competition. The reliability of not having a brand new car is helpful, though. GTE Pro times are already some 5-seconds a lap faster than last year, so the new updates have certainly made a difference.
#77 Dempsey Proton Racing
While Patrick Dempsey has taken 2016 as a sabbatical year away from racing to focus on promoting his next feature film, his team hasn't gone anywhere. They've come to Le Mans looking almost like a defacto factory-supported effort. Driver talent in the form of Michael Christensen, Philipp Eng, and Richard Lietz helps reinforce that appearance. They'll run strong for sure, and they certainly have the car under them to perform well.
#91 and #92 Porsche AG Team Manthey
The pair of Manthey-run full-fledged factory effort GTE Pro cars also has a stellar driver lineup, each of whom are intimately familiar with their Porsches, the circuit, and the team. Both cars are insanely well outfitted in the driver department, and you'd be better served flipping a coin to decide which of the two cars will finish higher in the standings. The #91 car includes the venerable Patrick Pilet, Nick Tandy, and Kevin Estre, while the #92 car runs with Jörg Bergmeister, Earl Bamber, and Fred Mako 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 four GTE Amateur Porsche entrants at Le Mans this year, and they are all quite capable of doing well. In GTE Am racing, the gentleman drivers can be as fast as a lot of pros, so the gap between Porsche and the competition will probably come down to how well the amateur drivers work in their respective cars. 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. Being that the GTE Am class has to run to last year's regulations, the Ford GTs and Ferrari 488s are not eligible for this category, and the Aston/Corvette/Ferrari competition are not allowed to run the updated aero and higher horsepower engines that the GTE Pro class cars have this year. Porsche's RSR was plagued by suspension issues at Spa this year, so we'll have to hope that this problem has been fixed.
#78 - KC MotorGroup Racing
The KCMG Porsche is blessed with factory ace Wolf Henzler, who is one of only 10 GTE Am drivers to complete the lap in under 4-minutes. There are a number of cars that have faster averages between their three drivers, but Wolf helps lower the average lap time of this car significantly, and will likely do his maximum allowed driving time in the car, so with some luck, they could place quite well. Joel Camathias and Christian Reid will be the wild cards here, as long as they can keep the car in one piece and near the front, Wolfy can work his magic.
#88 and #89 - Proton Competition
The #88 Abu Dhabi-Proton Porsche has Pat Long at the wheel, sharing duties with Khaled Al Qubaisi and David Heinemier-Hansson. This is a good trio, and they should work well together, as DHH is pretty darn good, and Khaled is no slouch in the Am department.
The #89 car has everyone's favorite WeatherTech team aboard in the form of Leh Keen, Cooper MacNeil, and my personal favorite Bronze driver Marc Miller. Marc doesn't have much Le Mans experience, but Keen and Cooper have plenty, so it should be a decent showing.
During the pre-race test, the Proton cars were both running near the 4:02 mark for most of the day, so they didn't have the outright pace of the other competitors, but then again it was just a test, and they could have been running race pace or simply testing out new components. I'd wager there is more speed in both cars, but again we won't know for sure until qualifying.
#86 - Gulf Racing UK
The UK-assembled team of Ben Barker, Adam Carroll, and Michael Wainwright should be another good Porsche to look out for. Aside from the pretty Gulf livery, this was the only other GTE Am Porsche under the 4-minute mark, with Barker at the wheel. That said, the best time Wainwright could muster during the test was a 4:08, so unless he finds some consistent speed, he could be the anchor that drags down the team.
Who is Porsche's Competition?
In the LMP1 category
Porsche's competition comes in the form of two Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro cars and a pair of Toyota TS050 LMPs. As you probably know, the Nissan program that showed up last year is now dead. The Audis and Toyotas both bring some serious speed this year. Audi came home first during the Silverstone round of WEC (though were later stripped of their win due to a technical infraction), and won the Spa round fair-and-square. Porsche has pace on the field, but they really need to work on reliability and keeping the driving tidy, as a crash took the leading Porsche out of contention at Silverstone, and hybrid issues and repeat tire failures cost them the win at Spa. Without solid one-to-one comparison data, it's hard to tell how long the Porsches can go on a stint of fuel or tires in comparison with the competition. We'll find out real quick at Le Mans.
In the GTE Pro category
This is possibly the most hotly contended category at the race this year, as Ford has four GTs, Ferrari has three 488 GTEs, Aston has a pair of V8 Vantages, and Corvette is bringing a pair of C7Rs. The Ford is the biggest unknown, as it's still a brand new car. That said, they managed to win the IMSA round at Laguna Seca and placed on the podium at Spa. On top of that, some people are concerned that Ford is severely sandbagging, and won't show their true hand until after the race starts. Aston Martin was the only car running over 300 KPH in the speed traps, however Ford, like Porsche LMP1, had their transponders malfunction as well (Conspiracy? You decide.) Everything in this class is super competitive, too.
In GTE AM
Two Corvettes (AAI and Larbre Competition), two factory-run Aston Martins, and a whopping FIVE Ferrari 458s fill this class, and will do everything they can to stop Porsche from winning. The car I'd really look out for in this race is the #83 AF Corse Ferrari, as they have Francois Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard, and Rui Aguas on board for the race, and they're all insanely quick in that car. At the test, all three drivers were turning laps below the 4-minute mark. The #98 Aston Martin will also be quite quick. Another thing to keep in mind is that Aston has moved to Dunlop tires this year, so it will be interesting to see how they fare on Aston's typical triple stints.
Race Resources for Porsche Fans
- The 24 Hours of Le Mans on Twitter for Porsche Fans
- 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.
- How To Watch The Entire 24 Hours of Le Mans
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.
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*.
June 18-19 – 24 Hours of Le Mans (all times ET and subject to change):
- FS1: 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- FS2: 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
- FS2: 6 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
- FS2: 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
- FS2: 10:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. (June 19)
- FS1: 2:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. (June 19)
*The entire race will be streamed live on FOX Sports GO