By Maitland Cook
For the first time since 1968 the Le Mans 24 Hour Race was run in September, and for the first time ever (since 1923) there were no spectators! A very unusual experience, but in fact the race was eventful, interesting, and extremely competitive.
The works Toyota’s in the prototype class were expected to cruise but the Swiss Rebellion team were very much on the pace in qualifying, and the fastest race lap was set by Bruno Senna in the lead car. LMP2 for the junior prototypes has always been super competitive and this year was no exception with the leading cars qualifying within seconds of each other, the class of this group appeared to be the United Autosports team headed by Zak Brown, the Mclaren team principle. In the GT classes for both the professional and amateur teams the battle appeared to be between Ferrari and Porsche, although Aston Martin Racing had strong team entries.
September creates additional stress for all the teams because the night is so much longer, and even in these days of technical efficiency the electrics are stretched, and of course at Le Mans the darkness and rain can be a lethal mix at 200+mph, especially through the very fast corners.
The race itself was very exciting although the leading class Toyota was the fastest car in the race and slowly built a lead over the two Rebellion cars and ended 5 laps ahead after the 24 Hours, the sister car had exhaust manifold problems and finished in 4th place.
LMP2 was a constantly changing situation with the lead changing throughout the whole race, and real pressure on all the leading cars. The safety car deployment towards the end ensured that the last part of the race was more like a 10 lap sprint than the end of a 24 hour endurance run. With a little help from running through a corner instead of the track the United Autosports car beat the Jota to take the narrowest of class wins by 30 seconds after the 24 hours..
However for the British fans the highlight was the GT class. In the PRO (professional) class after qualifying it appeared the battle would be Ferrari versus Porsche but in the race itself the Prodrive-entered Aston Martins were very competitive and the three manufacturers traded the lead throughout. Accidents and the safety car helped but the Aston performed strongly, winning the class by 1 minute and 30 seconds. In the AM section (amateur) Aston Martin also triumphed albeit by only 49 seconds…pretty close after effectively a day of racing. As a result of this victory Aston Martin have become the world champions again.
Hopefully we will be back for a June race with spectators in 2021, the atmosphere just did not exist this year, although the exhausting week’s work for the teams never changes whether behind closed doors or not.