While Porsche didn't quite get the victory that they were hoping for in either GTE Pro or GTE Am, the sports car maker managed to secure all four of the FIA WEC GTE class championships. This season, unlike any before it, held a pair of Le Mans 24 hour events, last June and the weekend past. Porsche won last year, but only managed to take three podium positions from the two classes this event, not the top step mind you, but anyhow. Porsche had a good and bad Le Mans, some minor failures cropped up, but the team persevered to make everything work out in the end. They may have lost this particular battle, but they won the season-long war.
Porsche factory drivers Michael Christensen and Kévin Estre have secured the GTE drivers' championship, and Porsche as a GTE manufacturer had already won the manufacturer's championship at the prior round. In fact, their car wore a gold-accented livery to commemorate that crown. In the GTE Am category, Porsche also secured the drivers' and teams' championships, but that's a bit of a longer story that we'll cover a little later.
Comments on the race
Dr Michael Steiner (Porsche R&D Board Member): “It was a dream season that could not have been more successful. Everyone at Porsche can be very proud of what has been achieved in the Super Season of the FIA WEC. Our successes have shown very clearly that the Porsche 911 is still the measure of all things in the sports car world.”
Fritz Enzinger (Vice President Porsche Motorsport): “To win all titles at the last race of the season and to witness three driver crews on the podium is an incredible story. We’ve concluded the FIA WEC Super Season with the greatest possible success. Now we aim to secure more titles in the North American IMSA series. This is already one of the most successful seasons in the history of Porsche Motorsport. My thanks go to all the team members at the racetrack and to all the employees in Zuffenhausen and Weissach as well as all other locations who’ve made these successes possible.”
Pascal Zurlinden (Director GT Factory Motorsport): “We were determined to win this race. Unfortunately, bad luck and minor mistakes prevented this. Still, we have two cars on the podium in the GTE-Pro class and one in the GTE-Am category. Porsche has won all four GT titles in the FIA WEC Super Season. What more do you want? I can only thank everyone in the team. It was a season I’ll remember for a very long time.”
Porsche in the GTE Pro Class
This, the 87th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans saw four Porsche 911 RSRs start in the GTE Pro category. The newly crowned world champions Christensen, Estre, and their teammate Laurens Vanthoor, ran quite well in the first half of the race, and ran up at the front until the wee hours of the morning. At exactly 3:47 AM local time, the #92's exhaust manifold cracked, and the engine was down significantly on power. The team called the car into the pits and rolled it back into the garage to affect repairs. The repairs took exactly 20 minutes, which is impressive in itself, but that 20 minute repair was a lifetime of sitting stationary, costing the leading Porsche 6 laps to the leaders of the class. The car ultimately finished in 10th position in class, just enough to net them the championship they so desperately hoped for.
The #91 of Gianmaria Bruni, Richard Lietz, and Fred Makowiecki ran without flaw to second place in class behind the winning Ferrari of AF Corse. The #93 car of Earl Bamber, Patrick Pilet, and Nick Tandy joined them on the podium to make it a Porsche double. Both of the 911 RSRs on the podium finished about 1 minute and 10 seconds behind the leading Ferrari, which won a decisive lead with some good luck with safety car positioning. It doesn't do well to dwell on the bad, so we'll celebrate the double podium in good spirits.
Gianmaria Bruni (Porsche 911 RSR #91): “Like last year, we were very unlucky with the safety car phases. Because of these, we lost more than a minute to the top on two occasions – much more than our gap to the winners at the flag. This shows that we could’ve won. We’ve made the most out of the conditions and achieved second place. Hopefully it’ll be our turn next year to win the race.”
Michael Christensen (Porsche 911 RSR #92): “What a rollercoaster ride! We were on track for victory, everything was perfect, but then we had to pit during the night for repairs to the exhaust. You feel as if the world has fallen out from under your feet. Still, we won the world championship and that’s what counted for us; that was our aim. So we have very good reason to celebrate.”
Earl Bamber (Porsche 911 RSR #93): “We tried everything, but even though we had a very fast car, we couldn’t do more. That’s Le Mans, you simply have to have luck on your side. We’re pleased with the podium finish and now we look ahead. Our focus is now on extending our points’ lead in the IMSA series and to win more titles for Porsche.”
Mathieu Jaminet (Porsche 911 RSR #94): “We delivered a clean and strong performance. There were factors beyond our control that hampered us. That simply belongs to Le Mans. I thoroughly enjoyed my debut at this sensational race and I very much want to return next year.”
Porsche in the GTE Am Class
With Porsche down to 5 bullets in the GTE Am class gun after Tracy Krohn crashed one of them in pre-qualifying practice, the game was on from the drop of the flag. The various Porsche flagged teams knew it would be a tough old fight, and they gave it everything.
The pole-winning number 88 Dempsey Proton entry was retired after just 79 laps when Am driver Satoshi Hoshino had been involved in multiple accidents and allegedly declared he was unwilling to go back out on track. Teammates Porsche driver Matteo Cairoli and Giorgio Roda could do no more. Without Hoshino finishing his minimum drive time, the team saw no purpose in continuing to battle and retired the battered car instead. The other Dempsey Proton car, #77 of Matt Campbell, Julien Andlauer, and Christian Ried ran quite well early on, even leading the class for long stretches, but ultimately fell down the field with a carbon under tray issue that cost them several long minutes in the pits.
Ultimately it was down to the brand new for 2019 Project 1 Racing team of Joerg Bergmeister, Patrick Lindsey, and Egidio Perfetti to bring home the Porsche laurels in second place for the GTE Am field. The team looked good for the win as the class leading Ford of Ben Keating was handed a 30 second stop-and-hold penalty for wheel spin leaving his pit box. Keating came in, served his penalty, and returned to the track just a handful of seconds in front of a hard-charging Joerg Bergmeister. Unfortunately the Ford had the legs on the Porsche and Bergmeister could not close on the bright purple Keating car. The gap at the finish was still well under a minute. Because the Keating car is an American one-off entry for Le Mans, it was not eligible for season long points, and Project 1 was awarded the season points for the victory.
With this Le Mans podium, the Project 1 Racing team clinched both the drivers' and teams' championships in GTE Am. Porsche very nearly swept the 8-event super season in GTE Am, grabbing seven class wins, failing only at Spa-Francorchamps some 13 months ago. The Dempsey Proton #77 team actually won five of the races, including Le Mans 2018, Silverstone, Shanghai, Sebring, and Spa 2019, but following an excellent race at Fuji the team was found to have not followed the regulation for minimum fueling time during pit stops. After an investigation, it was found that the data loggers for that car's fuel rig were found to have been tampered with for the prior three races. The team was disqualified from the Fuji round, and all of its points prior to that were nullified. Even still, the Dempsey Proton team finished second in points on 110 to Team Project 1's championship winning 151 points.
Jörg Bergmeister (Porsche 911 RSR #56): “We won both titles in our maiden season. You don’t get better than that – sensational. Towards the end, it may have looked from the outside as if we could still win the race, but unfortunately we had to come into the pits once more to refuel. The Ford deserved to win. With our podium result and after winning the title, we have plenty of reason to celebrate.”
Matt Campbell (Porsche 911 RSR #77): “We wanted to win and we came fifth. It’s not ideal, but that’s just the way it is at Le Mans. The competition is intense, the rivals are incredibly strong and the race is very demanding. The effort in making it to the finish under such circumstances definitely deserves high respect.”
Louis Prette (Porsche 911 RSR #78): “We came here as greenhorns. My dad and I and our teammate Vincent tackled this mighty race as rookies. We didn’t care about where we placed, we just wanted to reach the finish line. But in the end we finished on seventh – crazy! One thing is certain: We definitely want to return to Le Mans in 2020, because there’s nothing better!”
1. Pier Guidi/Calado/Serra (I/GB/BRA), Ferrari 488 GTE, 342 laps
2. Lietz/Bruni/Makowiecki (A/I/F), Porsche 911 RSR, 342 laps
3. Pilet/Bamber/Tandy (F/NZ/GB), Porsche 911 RSR, 342 laps
8. Müller/Jaminet/Olsen (D/F/N), Porsche 911 RSR, 339 laps
10. Christensen/Estre/Vanthoor (DK/F/B), Porsche 911 RSR, 337 laps
1. Keating/Bleekemolen/Fraga (USA/NL/BRA), Ford GT, 334 laps
2. Bergmeister/Lindsey/Perfetti (D/USA/N), Porsche 911 RSR, 334 laps
3. Segal/Baptista/Lu (USA/BRA/CAN), Ferrari 488 GTE, 334 laps
5. Campbell/Ried/Andlauer (AUS/D/F), Porsche 911 RSR, 332 laps
7. Prette/Prette/Abril (I/I/F), Porsche 911 RSR, 332 laps
9. Wainwright/Barker/Preining (GB/GB/A), Porsche 911 RSR, 331 laps
DNF. Hoshino/Roda/Cairoli (J/I/I), Porsche 911 RSR, 79 laps