Sunday, 19 June 2016

The 24 Hours of Le Mans 2016 - Expect the unexpected!

After the support races, the 'start procedure' began of the 24 hours. This includes flag waving and national anthems and the cars lined up in echelon formation along pit straight. The 'grid girls' this year were accompanied by a smattering of 'grid boys' which is a win for sexual equality. During the grid shenanigans there was a huge crowd of people milling about on the track and it looked like almost as many on the grid as in the grandstands. At 2pm the grid was cleared of the 'throng' and the teams lined up for the official team photo and French national anthem.

Among the celebs attending are Jackie Chan, Jason Statham, Patrick Dempsey and Brad Pitt who would later hold the starting flag. Just as the 're-installation' of the 24 hours trophy was performed, a few spots of rain started to fall and the race director announced a 'wet race' which means free tyre choice. The starting flag itself was delivered by Armée de l’Air rappelling from a helicopter. 

Final grid clearance was at 2:21pm and all drivers aboard for installation lap at 2:22pm. The heavens then opened and deluged the circuit just as the celebs were being ushered indoors. The race was started under safety car conditions due to standing water (1st time since 1992 says Tony). The #67 Ford GT was pushed into pit garage with gearbox problems just 5 minutes before the start in a worrying development for Ford. The ByKolles #4 was also in pit box at the start of the race but joined after lap 1 to the back of the 'train' of cars. The #67 finally left the pits two laps down. The #12 Rebellion entered pits and was pushed into pit garage at 3:25pm with water in the engine air-box.

The rain eased off at 3:30pm but the safety cars remained out until 3:55. Conway in #6 Toyota made his way past Jani in #2 Porsche on the one hour mark. Lotterer in Audi #7 briefly got by Bernhard in #1 Porsche on the next lap. At 4:06 it was Toyota - Porsche - Audi at the top of the field and #36 Signatech Alpine leading LMP2. By 4:10 the pitlane was bathed in sunshine and the track drying quickly. 

#7 Audi arrived in its pit box with problems at 4:20 and Duval in #8 Audi then passed Hartley in #1 Porsche for the lead. The rain returned at 4:35 and Hartley soon made his way around Duval and set fastest lap (thus far) on lap 21 with a time of 3:25.775. At 5:30 Treluyer was making a valiant fight back with several fastest laps in quick succession. Mike Conway in Toyota #6 had made his way right up behind the leading #1 Porsche with Hartley at the wheel and was challenging for the lead.

Just before 6pm and the 3 hour mark, back in GTE Pro, Fisichella in Ferrari #82 was chasing on the tail of the class leading #69 Ford GT. At the head of the field Hartley in #1 Porsche led Conway in Toyota #6 from Duval in the #8 Audi. Close also at the top of GTE Am with the KCMG Porsche #78 battling for the lead with the Porsche #88 of Abu Dhabi Proton Racing. In LMP2 the #47 KCMG Oreca led the #44 Manor Oreca.

By 6:15pm the GTE Pro lead had changed after pit stops with Vilander in #82 Ferrari ahead of Briscoe in #69 Ford GT. In LMP2 the Manor #44 had also passed the #47 KCMG for the class lead. Out at the front the Toyotas were running extra laps on each stop and staying longer in the lead as the Porsches did their pit stops. With the #7 Audi setback earlier, the #8 Audi remained alone in contention for overall lead. Things appeared to be going well for Toyota until Davidson in #5 returned to the pits just one lap after making his scheduled stop for a tyre change, dropping the car to 5th place.

Mechanical troubles for #44 Manor Oreca and #91 Porsche changed the order of the timing screens in LMP2 and GTE Pro just before 7pm. Between 7:30 and 7:45 the Ford GT #68 (Hand) and #69 (Briscoe) passed the #82 (Vilander) Ferrari on-track putting Ford 1-2 in GTE Pro. The #12 Rebellion and #7 Audi continued carving slowly through the LMP2 field. They were 14th and 18th respectively at 7:50pm. There was another setback for Audi, this time for #8 that had a new door fitted. By 8pm after a round of pit stops, Ford were 1-2-3 in GTE Pro. The #82 Ferrari didn't seem to have the pace to hold them off.

At 10pm Toyota #6 with Sarrazin at the wheel was leading, but chased closely by Bernhard in #1 Porsche 12 seconds behind. In LMP2 the #46 Thiriet Oreca led #36 Alpine and #47 Oreca. Ford were still in charge of GTE Pro with #68 and #69 ahead of Ferrari #82. Franchitti in the delayed #67 Ford GT had a misadventure at Mulsanne corner (locked-up and nosed into tyres) which lost the car a little more time. At 10:20 the former LMP2 leader, the KCMG #47 Oreca conked out between Mulsanne and Indianapolis which initiated a slow zone to recover it. At 10:40 Pedro Lamy in the #98 Aston Martin took lead of GTE Am from Patrick Long in the #88 Porsche.

At 10:15 the Porsche #1 made a routine pit stop and Brendon Hartley took over from Timo Bernhard. Brendon was out for 1 lap then back in pitlane and into garage. The #98 Aston Martin (Dalla Lana) hit the barriers in Porsche curves and the #83 Ferrari (Perrodo) went straight on at Mulsanne corner. Safety car deployed at 11:30pm while #1 was still in pit garage. #44 Manor came into pits with rear end damage just after the SC deployment. After a routine stop Conway in #6 Toyota came out just in front of Jani in #2 Porsche then Jani made the pass for the lead at 11:57. Meanwhile #1 Porsche dropped to 8th place while sitting in garage. By 12:30am the #1 Porsche finally rejoined but just did one lap and returned to pit garage. The problems surrounded overheating and eventually a new water pump was fitted. By 2am the Toyotas were leading with two cars in contention but Porsche (#2) and Audi (#8) one car in touch and the other cars for the German manufacturers (#7 and #1) still going but many laps behind.

There were problems for #7 Audi at half way mark when it had to do most of a lap at slow speed, finally getting to pitlane. At 6am #6 Toyota, #2 Porsche and #5 Toyota were still on the same lap. Both Rebellions had fallen out of contention. At 6:45 the Corvette #64 with Tommy Milner aboard had a big hit on the tyre wall on the entry to the Dunlop chicane. The barrier required repair and the stricken car needed to be recovered so a slow zone was initiated. Milner thankfully unharmed despite his spectacular accident.

Retirements at 8:19am 46,64,4,51,71,92,91,47,89

At 9am with 6 hours remaining, top 3 in LMP1 (#5 #6 #2) were running close together, as were the top 2 in GTE Pro (#82 and #68) and GTE Am (#62 and #88). At 10am with 5 hours remaining the #36 Alpine was still leading P2 , #82 Ferrari GTE Pro and #62 Ferrari GTE Am. At the head of the field, the two Toyotas and the Porsche #2 still very close.

At 10:30am it looked like we might have the first Japanese manufacturer to win since Mazda in 1991, but at each stop the #2 Porsche popped up into the lead, showing that a win was still uncertain. In GTE Pro, the #82 still in the lead but three Ford GTs were still in contention with the #67 Ford a few laps adrift. Finally at 10:32am Hand in #68 Ford GT muscled past Malucelli in the #82 Ferrari to lead the class. In GTE Am the #62 Ferrari continued to lead the #88 Porsche a lap behind. Status quo also maintained in LMP2 with #36 Alpine nearly a lap ahead of the #26 G-Drive Oreca.

Just before 11:00am, the #8 Audi was pushed into the pit box for some intense activity around the front right corner. At the same time, Davidson in the #5 Toyota made an 'on track' pass on Lieb in the #2 Porsche on the approach to Mulsanne corner. There was a worrying moment for Kobayashi in #6 Toyota with a spin into the gravel at the Porsche curves at 11:20 but he managed to escape without the aid of snatch tractor. Meanwhile the #8 Audi finally emerged from its pit garage and rejoined ahead of the #7 Audi, also Webber in #1 Porsche had lifted the car to the first page of the timing screen.

At 11:30am there was an odd incident for the #44 Manor Oreca with Matt Rao at the wheel, which had a minor off at Indy then when limping back through the Porsche curves the nose collapsed and went under the front wheels precipitating the car into the barrier more comprehensively. By this time all the leading cars in LMP1 were showing battle scars, particularly the #2 Porsche with tyre marks all down the left side and the #6 Toyota with flapping bodywork, again on driver's left. At 11:45 Vilander in the (2nd in class) #82 Ferrari had a spin at Porsche curves and went straight into the pits for a full service.

The #6 Toyota was taken into pit garage at 12:10pm for a new nose and other repairs. The chasing #8 Audi was safely a few laps behind so no need for Toyota to take risks. The car stayed in for 10 minutes but retained position when Sarrazin took the car back on the circuit. The #2 Porsche was therefore at least reasonably safe from being monstered from behind by the #6. At this time the GTE Pro leading Ford GT #68 was a not very safe looking 40 seconds ahead of the #82 Ferrari.

With 2 hours remaining, the top 3 order in all classes remained fairly stable with #5 #2 #6 in P1 / #36 #26 #37 in P2 / #68 #82 #69 GTE Pro / #62 #83 #88 GTE Am but nothing was safe from a minor misfortune or penalty. There was a little excitement at 13:40 when a small fire broke out on the #28 Pegasus Morgan after Inès Taittinger had tried to nurse a flat tyre back to the pits. That car had made rather a lot of trips to the gravel and escape road at Mulsanne corner and after it's final excursion in the same place, it appeared to have a puncture. Slow zone procedure was applied to rescue the car.

Nobody could have predicted Nakajima slowing dramatically in the #5 Toyota and then stopping just over the finish line on the penultimate lap in a heart stopping last minute mechanical failure. They had looked so secure and confident right up to that moment. The Toyota team could hardly believe their eyes. The Porsche #2 worked hard to put themselves in a position to take advantage of any weakness at Toyota, but it was a cruel twist of fate for the Japanese manufacturer.

In the end the Porsche #2 won overall from Toyota #6 and Audi #8. In LMP2 it was the #36 Signatech Alpine from #26 G-drive Oreca and #37 SMP Racing BR01. In GTE Pro the Ford GT #68 finished first from #82 Risi Ferrari and #69 Ford GT but the Ferrari had ignored a black and orange flag that it was shown in the last few minutes of the race, so there is the possibility of a post-race time penalty. In GTE Am the #62 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 Italia finished ahead of the #83 AF Corse Ferrari and #88 Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing Porsche.

For those curious as to why the Toyota #5 was unclassified, it fell foul of Article 10.15 of the Regulations; 
section e) Cars must finish the last lap in under 6 minutes except in case of "force majeure" at Stewards discretion.

#5 had a final lap of 11 minutes 53 seconds

The 24 Hours of Le Mans 2016: Race day, the build-up.

The 'advance party' of the CA team left our lair at the crack of dawn on Saturday and arrived well in time for the warm up. It seems that the right time to arrive ahead of the traffic is 7am!

The 45 minute warm-up for the 84th 24 hours of Le Mans started just 15 seconds after 9am. The track was bone dry but there remained some standing water inside curbs which caught out a few drivers. Griffin in #99 Aston Martin was first spinner, followed by Chatin in #23 Ligier who ended up beached in the gravel at the Porsche Curves bringing out the red flag. A few minutes after the session was resumed the red flag came out for the second time as David Cheng in the #35 Alpine rode the wet curbs at the entry of Indianapolis and gave the tyre wall a good clout. With only six minutes left, the session was not resumed.  Lotterer set fastest warm-up time in Audi #7 with a time of 3 minutes 25.886 seconds.


The Ferrari Challenge support race was never likely to be incident-free and on the first lap Belgian driver Florian Merckx in the #88 had a misadventure at the 1st chicane on the Mulsanne straight, bringing out the safety car. At the front of the field, Baron in #91 and Grossman in #1 had a disagreement on the first lap of the restart at the Dunlop chicane but escaped major damage. The #91 gained a drive through penalty for his over-optimistic passing manoeuvre.  A batch of clashes and spins for #59 #37 #116 #173 and #48 which became stuck in gravel brought out the safety car for a second time. The #91 appeared to take his drive through penalty under SC conditions which I don't think was entirely kosher. Back to green again and there was a spin at Indy for #27 and a Ford Chicane for #86. In a hard fight in the last lap for the top 4 places #1 went up from 4th to 3rd. At the chequered flag is was Puglisi in #9 1st Smeeth #92 second and Grossmann #1 3rd.

© 2016 Gabi Tomescu /

In the one hour 'Road to Le Mans' support race, Fuster in #11 Ligier spun on the pit straight on the formation lap but survived with only hurt pride.  Charlie Robertson led from lap 1 in Ginetta #32 but after mid-race pit stops, a spin by Tomlinson and extended pit stop they fell out of contention. Robertson's 3:54.679 on lap 4 was nearly a consolation prize but it was beaten by Cosmo in #3 Ligier on very last lap 3:53.491 (lap13).  3rd place overall was hotly contested on last lap between #18 and #77 but finally #77 made the position. Tyre problems on the last lap dropped out #26 from 3rd place in GT3.  The overall winner was the #85 Ligier of Laurent and Cougnaud and #57 Ferrari of Basov and Shaitar won the GT3 class.

Dave Davies.

Friday, 17 June 2016

24 Hours of Le Mans 2016 - Porsche on pole after weather struck qualifying

Neel Jani secured pole position for Porsche in the 84th running of the 24 hours Le Mans. With rain pouring down in the final two qualifying sessions yesterday evening, the times set on Wednesday decided about tomorrow's starting grid.

Track conditions were mostly dry on Wednesday, except for the first practice session which saw some heavy downpours about one hour into the session. A few red flags and incidents in the first practice session, but non with heavy damage although Bruno Senna, Inez Taittinger and Stéphane Sarrazin hit the barriers and got some bodywork on their cars.

Drama struck for the byKolles team on Wednesday when their CLM P1/01 caught fire on the approach of the first chicane during the first session. It took the team about 48 hours of hard work to get the car back on track, but they managed to get it running early in the first Thursday session. A huge asset by the team, let's hope they'll have more luck in the race.

The first night qualifying session on Wednesday was run in dry conditions, the only session not suffering from (heavy) rainfall over both practice and qualifying days. Little did we know by then that this would be the session which would determine the startgrid for the 24 hours. At the end of the session, Neel Jani put in a 3.19.733 in his #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid, just under half a second faster than Timo Bernhard in the #1 sister car. Both Toyota's set the pace early in the session, and took the second row of the startgrid. The #6 TS050 a second faster that the #5 Toyota.

Lucas Di Grassi was the fastest Audi driver, but had to give in 3 seconds to the pole sitting Porsche. The Audi's never really showed their true pace over the week, so it will be interesting to see if they can match both Porsche and Toyota's pace during the race. In the privateer LMP1 class Rebellion took a logical 1-2 after the tragic incident with the byKolles car. Dominik Kraihamer putting the #13 R-One AER ahead of the #12.

We all expected defending champions KCMG, Alpine, G-Drive and Manor at the top in LMP2 and they all delivered in what was a striking qualifying session. Ultimately Rene Rast scored pole in the class with the orange #26 G-Drive Oreca 05/Nissan, beating Nelson Panciatici in the #35 Baxi Alpine with 0.570 seconds. Nicolas Lapierre was third fastest in the Signatech Alpine A 460, ahead of the #44 Manor Oreca. Laurens Vanthoor had a strong run in the Honda powered Ligier JS P2 of Michael Shank Racing, completing the top 5 on the grid. The KCMG Oreca ultimately dropped back to ninth in class, a bit of a disappointing result.

So far the Oreca05 is dominating the Ligier JSP2's in the LMP2 class in what is announcing itself as a very intense battle over 24 hours. It won't only be Oreca vs Ligier, but don't count out the "good old" Gibson 015S which already showed some good pace and over the years presented itself as very reliable.

Ford - surprisingly - dominated qualifying in GTE-Pro, improving their times from the testday last week with over 5 seconds. After 2 hours, only Dirk Müller was outright fastest in his #68 Ford GT, his 3.51.185 being 0.312 seconds ahead of Ryan Briscoe in the #69.  Gianmaria Bruni was able to squeeze his # 51 Ferrari 488 GTE inbetween the Fords, preventing them from scoring a clean sheet during qualifying. Ford still occupied first, second, fourth and fifth though. The second AF Corse Ferrari #71 was sixth overall. Behind Ford and Ferrari, it was a struggle for Porsche, Aston Martin and Corvette to keep up with the pace of the turbo engined Italian and American cars. Makowiecki was "best of the rest" but an impressive 1.9 seconds behind the seventh placed Risi Competizione Ferrari. Corvette, who have set the pace at Le Mans in many past years came in dead last this year, a huge disappoinment for the ambitious Americans.

Signapore based Clearwater racing surprisingly took pole in the GTE-Am class, Rob Bell being fastest of the pack in a 3.56.827. The speed difference between Bell and the other drivers of the #61 Ferrari was however pretty big, which might have some effect on their chances to defend pole position in the race. All kudo's to Bell though, who at some point even managed to lap faster than some of the Pro entry cars. Aston Martin was up to pace in the Am class, Pedro Lamy qualifying the #98 Vantage in second place, 0.371 behind Rob Bell. The #98 crew is out on a mission this year after losing a certain win last year when Dalla Lana got off at the Ford chicane and crashed into the tyre wall. The #88 Abu Dhabi Porsche of Patrick Long was third fastest, outpacing both AF Corse Ferrari's.

After the times set by the Ford GT's, the paddock was buzzin' with rumours about "sandbagging" by the blue oval team. After the test day Ford got an extra Balance of Performance, resulting in the domination they showed on Wednesday. Today the ACO's technical commission announced there will be a new BoP adjustment before the race. The Ford GT's will get a weight adjustment of 10 kg and have their boost pressure removed from 4200 to 7000 rpm. The Ferrari's also get "penalized" for their performance in practice, receiving an extra 25 kg (but 4 litres extra fuel capacity). Aston Martin, Porsche and Corvette got also a new BoP, mainly consisting of less restricted air collectors and a larger fuel capacity.

The countdown to the race now really has started, the green flag being waved at 15.00h tomorrow afternoon. With the unpredictable weather conditions, several teams who didn't have their desired running time in practice and qualifying and technical gremlins showing up everywhere, we will be in for a classic edition. This won't be a succession of 24 hour-long sprintraces as we saw in the past years, but a survival of the fittest. There will be fierce competition in all classes, expect a thrilling 24 hours where nothing will be taken for granted ... and maybe we'll see a few surprises on the podium on Sunday ... 

Kristof Vermeulen. 

The Lure of Le Mans

Annually in the month of June, race fans from Europe and around the world converge upon a town in the middle of France. In most ways it's a relatively unremarkable place that would have probably remained unknown in global terms except for one thing. Its name resonates with a history of human endeavour, triumph and tragedy. People who have no other knowledge of motor racing have usually heard of Le Mans. If you are reading this as seasoned veteran, I'm preaching to the choir, but if you have alighted upon Club Arnage with a general interest in motor sport and are wondering why this 24 hour race is so important and why so many people are hooked on it, then read on...

 Racing twice around the clock and taking the chequered flag as a classified finisher is, in its own right, an achievement to be proud of. There are countless things that can go wrong. Going fast is not enough. To win you need to be consistently fast and error-free for hour upon hour in daylight and darkness in sunshine and torrential rain. The diversity of cars on the grid and the difference in pace between classes means passing and being passed is something that happens not just once in a while but every lap and usually several times each lap. The leaders will need to successfully complete literally thousands of overtaking manoeuvres during the 24 hours. The challenge for the drivers of the road car derived GT classes is arguably harder than that of the prototypes. They are simultaneously racing for class position and vigilantly checking their mirrors. There are three drivers per car so that they can get rest between stints, but there is no rest for the cars which have to run reliably for the duration. Engineers must design, build, develop and prepare cars that can endure the punishment of racing for extended periods, doing track time long enough to be comparable with an entire F1 season in just one weekend. 

In 1923, a three-year event was conceived and named the 'Rudge-Whitworth Triennial Cup', to be contested over three consecutive 24 Hour races held on public roads at Le Mans and the winner would be the car that had travelled furthest over the three annual events. This format was retained until 1925, after which a winner was declared each year. With the exception of a hiatus for WW2 and one year hit by a national strike, the race has continued each summer ever since. From the outset the race was intended as a test of new technology, and that is as true now as it has ever been. The link between the technology seen on the circuit and what appears later on road cars seems much stronger here than in F1. There are currently two GT classes for road-derived sportscars (GTE Am and GTE Pro) and three prototype classes for thoroughbred racers (LMP2, LMP1, LMP1H). This rich variety and diversity is one of the most interesting aspects of endurance racing. There are several races within the race for class honours as well as for overall victory.

I'm often asked what draws people to endurance racing and to Le Mans in particular. It isn't a question that has a definitive answer because there are probably as many reasons as there are race fans. For some it is a regular event, inscribed on the calendar as soon as the date is announced, for others a once in a lifetime pilgrimage.  Racegoers are usually well informed and follow the track action assiduously but many come as much for the boisterous camaraderie and atmosphere as for the racing. On the face of it, sitting in a grandstand watching cars go past for 24 hours might not be an attractive proposition and if that was all there was to it then I'm inclined to agree. There are only a dedicated few who watch the entire race, most will take a break from trackside interludes to make the most of the vast number of alternative activities such as concerts, fun-fair, exhibitions, bars and restaurants.

It is true that Le Mans is a bit of a 'Marmite' race, you either love it or hate it, but if you DO get hooked its a habit that is very hard to break!