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Thoughts on the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans

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I won’t try to recap or tell the story of the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans, journalists will do a far better job than I will; I’m just going to offer my thoughts on the race structured around what I tweeted during the race. This year’s race wasn’t the epic race we thought it might be, but it still turned out to be a great one. Audi was able to battle Porsche for the overall win for awhile, but ultimately Porsche won with authority. No one class saw fights at the front for the duration of the race, but there always seemed to be a fight for the podium in at least one of the classes; at no time could you say you were bored watching this race.

The #19 was indeed fast throughout the race and somewhat unexpected for a third car, they made very few mistakes. Of the three Porsche LMP1s, the #19’s driver lineup was the least experienced in both prototype cars and in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Despite that, they put it in a very strong performance; Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber showed that they’re worthy of more than just GT drives and Nico Hulkenburg proved that he’s deserved better drive in his F1 career.

The #64 Corvette (#4 in TUSCC) has had nothing but bad luck for the last season and a half. If something bad was going to happen to a Corvette, it was going to happen to a the #64/#4. When the #63 was damaged beyond repair in a qualifying crash, the team’s race chances fell on the #64’s shoulders. They apparently used it as motivation instead of seeing it as a burden. They were fast all race long and traded the lead with both Aston Martin and Ferrari throughout until Aston Martin and then Ferrari fell to attrition. Throwing the monkey off of their back, they suffered no mechanical issues, didn’t crash, and made no mistakes on their way to the GTE-Pro class win!

Two of the teams I was following, Dempsey-Proton and Scuderia Corsa, weren’t the fastest teams and both had their problems throughout the race but along with SMP, the key was that they were still on the track. There were faster cars in GTE-Am but they either suffered mechanical problems or crashed out. This doesn’t take away from SMP’s, Dempsey-Proton’s, or Scuderia Corsa’s performances – in order to finish first, first you must finish and they did it when the faster cars didn’t.

There were still a few laps left to go in the race when Dr. Ulrich, the head of Audi Motorsport, made his way from the Audi garage to the Porsche garage to congratulate them on their win. It didn’t seem to be a put on for PR purposes either, it seemed to be honest congratulations based on genuine respect for the accomplishment. This is something that you rarely see in motor sports, much less sports in general these days and it seems be found frequently at Le Mans and in sports car racing in general.   

A lot was made of Nismo’s 24 Hours of Le Mans effort. After their announcement during the Super Bowl,  for whatever reason, things immediately seemed to start going wrong and they had to begin reducing the scope of their plans. By the time they got to Le Mans, the car was reduced from an all wheel drive, 1000+ horsepower, dual hybrid system behemoth to a front wheel drive, half the planned horsepower, no hybrid system car. I waffled on how I felt about their effort, but during the race I came to the conclusion that they really should have changed their plans considerably. When they lost their hybrid system, they should have waited to race until next year, spending their time developing their new systems and testing in preparation for racing with the full car. They’re trying to bring something radically different to the sport and wish they would waited and done it right instead of half stepping this year.

Last year, one of the Porsche 919’s problems was the battery that stored the hybrid energy. Their batteries didn’t seem to be up to the task of holding up to repeated charge/discharge cycles and heat that the length of the races subjected them to. It was noticeable during the 6 hour races and very noticeable during the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This year, they turned up the power of the hybrid power system and maintained their pace throughout this years 24 hour race. It was quite an accomplishment – an overall improvement in their system – and what the sport of prototype racing is supposed to be about – the advancement of automotive technology. Advances like these are we can hope racing hybrid race cars will bring to road cars!

 


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