Le Mans 2016: Instant Reaction
It may be a 24 hours race, but Le Mans 2016 will only really be remembered for the last five minutes. It is incredible that a round the clock endurance race can come down to such small moments in time, but Le Mans 2016 is the absolute proof of the old saying that “to finish first, you first have to finish”.
The start of this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours was memorable for all the wrong reasons, as the torrential rain that had made the campsites so muddy over race week, continued for the first hour. This meant that, for the first time, the race began behind the safety car. The cars paraded around the track in the wet for 50 minutes before the safety car came in and the real racing began.
Porsche were on pole and avoiding the spray were able to build a small lead, but Toyota were keeping them honest, as were Audi who were able to move up from starting 5th & 6th on the grid. It will be forgotten now, but each of the 6 factory LMP1 hybrid prototypes were leading the race at some point over the next few hours. It was quite a race.
Elsewhere, the superior power of the Ford GTs returning to Le Mans in the GTE Pro class was clear. With 4 cars entered, their superior numbers were also an advantage. Only the Ferraris could keep pace. Many would argue that the Balance of Performance gave Ford an unfair advantage, but that was not their choice and they could only race the teams around them.
The LMP2 class saw some exceptional battles. With the majority of cars powered by Nissan engines, this was always going to be close, but retirements and accidents throughout the 24 hours whittled the numbers down until Signatech Alpine, G-Drive Racing and SMP Racing were left to fight for the win.
Despite all the great racing, none of it will probably be remembered, because the headlines will be all about the finish. For more than the last hour, it had become a straight fight for the win between the Number 5 Toyota, and the No. 2 Porsche. The Toyota had a small advantage of about 30 seconds that ebbed and flowed with pit stops. The result seemed to be guaranteed when the chasing Porsche was called in to the pit lane with 5 minutes to go for fuel & tyres. There wasn’t enough time for them to catch the Toyota even if they wanted to.
With 3 minutes left on the clock and the crowds all gathered to anoint a new winner in Toyota, disaster struck for the Japanese team. Initially the number 5 car slowed, almost as if waiting for the clock to tick around to 24 hours. But time seemed to slow down. It became apparent that as the Toyota came through Indianapolis, Arnage and then the Porsche Curves that something wasn’t right. The car was slowing all the time. The car was crawling through the Ford Chicane and barely made it across the start-finish line for what would have been the final lap, when it lost power and came to a complete halt.
Shock went through the pit lane. The No. 2 Porsche was more than half a lap back, but was closing rapidly as it scythed through the traffic. One can only imagine what was going through the mind of Toyota driver Kazuki Nakajima as he tried in vain to restart the Toyota hybrid. His efforts were in vain, as everyone watched the Porsche 919 Hybrid enter the straight and pass the stricken Toyota in front of the main stands. Joy turned to despair and despair turned to joy in that second. Everyone at Toyota was heartbroken. Everyone at Porsche was elated.
Just over three minutes later the No. 2 Porsche of Neel Jani, Roman Dumas & Marc Lieb completed the final lap & were crowned the winners of the Le Mans 24 hours 2016. The number 5 Toyota Nakajima, Ant Davidson & Sebastien Buemi, was only able to complete the final lap under hybrid power, and as they took more than 6 minutes to do so, were cruelly unclassified from the overall result.
The Number 6 Toyota did pick up a consolation 2nd place, and the Audi Number 8, finished an embarrassed third, clearly not feeling they deserved to be on the podium at all.
In the LMP2 class, the Number 36 Signatech Alpine car was able to cruise to the win, whilst the Number 68 Ford GT of Chip Ganassi, were victorious in the GTE Pro class. In GT Am the Ferrari of Scuderia Corsa took the trophy having driven a brilliant race.
The result is already in the record books, but the emotional ending will be talked about by many. Especially those who were there and witness what was a quite unbelievable ending to the 2016 Le Mans 24 Hours.
Written by Richard Webb
Photography by Dailysportscar
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