Le Mans 24 Hours

End Of An Era With Audi Departing Departing Sportscar Racing

Nobody would have predicted when Audi first went to Le Mans in June 1999 with their two experimental R8R and R8C cars, that they would leave a legacy that would arguably be the most dominant in the sports history. This era has begrudgingly now come to an end with today’s announcement that Audi are to end their sports car effort  at the end of the season. But just how did the Audi brand become synonymous with Le Mans victory?

Expectations were low despite a huge four car entry comprising both the Audi R8R open cockpit car and the R8C coupe. Third and fourth overall in their first running showed their potential, yet very few people would have predicted what came in store next.

A new millennium came and with it was an era of complete Audi dominance in the sport. Returning with their revised R8 model,  a car that would go down in sports car racing as one of those revolutionary cars that change the sport, such as the Ford GT40 and the Porsche 956/962.

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The Porsche 962 taking its customary place at the front of the field, circa Le Mans 1987. Photo copyright Porsche.

Despite manufactures such as BMW, Mercedes and Nissan all pulling out of the end of 1999, nobody questioned the dominance of their victory. They cruised to a 1-2-3 podium lock out, with a winning margin of 24 four laps over their closest competitors.

The 2001 edition would be a lot tougher victory, with extreme weather conditions and the loss of driver Michele Alboreto only months before the race made it an emotional one for the team. From here it was on wards and upwards, with another victory for the #1 driver line up of Frank Biela, Emmanuele Pirro and Tom Kristensen cementing their place in history as the first driver line up to win the race three years in a row.

The factory team pulled out after 2002, paving the way for sister marque Bentley to win comfortably in 2003. After this small hiccup the R8 returned to the winners circle in 2004 and 2005 in the hands of the privateer Japanese Team Goh and America’s Champion Racing.

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Tom Kristensen celebrating his seventh win and the final victory for the iconic Audi R8, 2005, the end of an era. Photo copyright AudiWorld.

The R8 will not go down in history as simply a fast car, it was designed to make mechanical issues a lot quicker to fix. It was the first sports car to have this design philosophy and therefore it always had a huge advantage over the rest, because of how little time they would spend in the pit lane.

2006 would herald a new chapter in the Audi story, with the factory returning to Le Mans with an brand new diesel powered R10 TDI. It was the first of its type and would become the first ever diesel powered car to win Le Mans. This was a feat they managed to repeat in both 2007 and 2008, despite opposition from a strong Peugeot manufacture presence.

2009 woulds prove that Audi were human when their new R15 TDI proved uncompetitive at Le Mans thanks to issues with it’s radiators. 2010 and 2011 would provide epic battles with Peugeot as Audi introduced first the R15 Plus and then the R18 TDI, their first closed cockpit car since the initial R8C in 1999.

WEC - 24h Le Mans test day 2012

Audi achieving yet another mile stone, becoming the first overall winner with hybrid power. Photo copyright F1fanatic.co.uk

2012-2014 would bring a further string of victories as they introduced hybrid power into their prototypes. The return of sports car legend Porsche in 2014 provided a mouth watering prospect for everyone involved, but unfortunately it would not be able to live up to high expectations.

Both Audi and Porsche would never both be truly competitive over the three years, with Porsche winning the mini-battle 2-1 in terms of Le Mans wins. Audi this season have proved to be fast but fragile, not a usual characteristic of theirs. Rumours have persisted for most of the season questioning whether they would return in 2017, and today we had the answer.

Whilst I’ve looked back at the success of Audi between 1999 and this year, just looking at their 13 Le Mans 24 Hours victories doesn’t accurately judge their dominance. They had an unbroken podium streak every year they competed at Le Mans, but it wasn’t just in La Sarthe where they ruled the roost. Both the Audi factory programme in the American Le Mans Series and with privateers in the European series, they were to prove dominant for over a decade.

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Audi’s final Le Mans challenger went out with a whimper. A fortuitous third place doesn’t represent their era in sports car racing, but for now this is the last we will see a factory Audi at the worlds greatest motor race. Photo copyright Motorsport.com 

They have won every significant prototype race on the planet multiple times, and with success as far as the notorious Sebring 12 Hours in Florida right up to their victory in the ALMS Race of Two Worlds at Adelaide in 2000. To try and put into words the level of dominance Audi have had on sports car racing since 1999 is impossible to put into words.

Looking at simply their results doesn’t do them justice. To speak to everyone past and present in the paddock during their period in the sport, would help to tell you one thing. They would all likely say, quite simply, Audi completely changed sports car racing as we know it. Their level of dominance is one that will live in history and will likely prove unmatched for a very long time.

Thank you Audi for an incredible 17 years in the sport, sports car racing owes a lot to their commitment to the category. Quite simply, Le Mans 2017 will be plain weird without them there.

Any thoughts on Audi’s dominance of sportscar racing? Feel free to share your comments below, I would hugely appreciate it. Thank you for reading.

 

Ben Keating Interview

Ben Keating has become a prominent name in American sportscar racing over the past five years. The businessman has formed a great partnership with the Dutch professional Jeroen Bleekemolen, as they have claimed several wins in both the American Le Mans Series and the more recent WeatherTech Sportscar Championship.

His most notable victory is a class win at the 2015 Rolex 24 blue riband race at Daytona. In the highly competitive GTD class this year, the same have suffered with some problems with their GT3 spec Dodge Viper.

This is something everyone in his ViperExchange team will be hoping they can put behind them going into this weekend’s race around the streets of Long Beach. After sending over a few questions for Ben, here are his responses on everything from how he got started in motorsport to this 2016 season. Enjoy and a huge thank you to Ben for taking the time to answer these questions.

First of all, how did you get into racing?

Literally, my wife bought me a driver education weekend at Texas World Speedway for Christmas 2005. I went in 2006 and fell in love. Started racing in 2007 in the Viper Racing League, which was great club racing.

How has the season gone so far with the new GT3 spec Viper?

So far, not as well as we had hoped.   #93 had a great 3rd place finish at Daytona.   But I was behind the wheel and made a mistake in the #33, which put us behind.    A 9th place was a great finish giving the situation.

Then we had an axle break at Sebring, which put us behind.    We finished 12th.

Luckily there is a lot of racing still to go.

Keating’s Gas Monkey sponsored Viper struggled during last month’s Sebring 12 Hours. He will be hoping for better next time out in Long Beach. Photo copyright Getty Images/Brian Cleary.

You recently announced your plans for Le Mans with the Murphy Prototypes team, how did this come about? 

The ACO chose put  the Viper GTSR as the 7th reserve.    We did not believe that 7 reserves would get in.Therefore, we went looking for an opportunity and there was a great fit between our team and Murphy  Prototypes.

Will you have much time to test the LMP2 car before the race?

I will do several days of testing before the race.   I expect to be up to speed by race time.

Have you ever considered a switch into the ELMS or WEC?

Yes, for sure. However it is more expensive for me. And, my businesses are all US based.    ViperExchange is the #1 volume Viper retailer in the world, and it makes sense to run a Viper in the US.

If I had a sponsor willing to help with a WEC program, then I would definitely consider it.

What has been the most memorable race of your career so far?

Cota(Circuit of the Americas, ed) 2013 was my first win in ALMS and in my home State.

Mosport 2014 – first win for GT3R Viper and  I really felt like my driving contributed a lot to the win.

Daytona 2015 – biggest win for sure

Le Mans 2015 – biggest single race event

Keating and his team celebrate their momentous GTD class victory in last year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona. This was a huge win for everyone associated with the ViperExchange team. Photo copyright Motorsport.com .

Is there much of a difference between the GTD and GT3 spec Viper?

Not huge changes for the Viper. Mostly it meant we had to go back to all of the parts that the car was homologated with, instead of everything we had developed over the previous 2 years. The Viper is really awesome to drive. Easiest race car I’ve ever driven to be fast in.

You’ve been partnered with Jeroen Bleekemolen for a while now, what is it that makes your partnership so successful as team mates?  

Jeroen makes me look good. He is an unbelievable driver. We have a great friendship and a great team.

And finally, what are your hopes for the rest of the WeatherTech season and Le Mans?

To win. Period, end of story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Show”Turning Hardcore Fans Off

“The Show”. This term has become as ubiquitous as “falling off the cliff” and “DRS” in the past few years. Formula One has become obsessed with spicing up the entertainment on track, with the introduction of short life tyres, DRS and now a reformed qualifying session. But the real question remains, have all these changes had the desired effect or are they in fact turning fans off the sport?

Well, if you believe the results from a variety of the extensive fan surveys carried out in the past few years, these new rules to spice up “the show” have had the opposite effect. In a survey compiled last Summer with Autosport, Motorsport News and F1 Racing magazines found from their results that 73.9% of fans were against using artificial methods to tighten up the races.

These findings are supported by a separate GPDA survey also revealed last year. From over 200 000 fans took part, with the findings suggesting fans are against the gimmicks in place within the sport. Many of the fans from these survey’s were long time followers of Formula One, but in recent years an increasing number have been switching off.

The majority of fans suggested their favourite decade of the sport was the 1990’s, and as an obsessed F1 fan I can only agree with their assessment. Growing up in this decade my earliest memories of F1 and motorsport in general came from this decade. It was this era of Formula One, with the sculpted beauty of the cars matched with the shrieking V10 engines got me hooked on the sport, something that continues to this day.

It was the ferocious speed and ear splitting sounds that attracted the majority of fans to the sport, captivated with dare devil drivers peddling the fastest racing cars on earth. In the current era this no longer seems to be the case. With the continuing technological advancement in the sport, some of the old magic has been lost.

Whilst the cars are still the fastest racing machines on the planet, it no longer looks or sounds that way to some of the spectators. With the new 1.6 litre turbo engines a big criticism of the technology is the relative lack of sound made from them. Efforts have been made to address this issue, however thankfully the once tested megaphone exhaust idea never caught on.

paphoto4srl_596075Nico Rosberg testing the megaphone exhaust system at Barcelona during the 2014 season. Thankfully the idea never caught on and didn’t have much of an effect. Photo copyright Crash.net . 

The talk in the paddock currently surrounds making these breed of cars significantly faster, with a paddock held target of increasing the lap times of these cars by three seconds for next season. This is an attainable goal and would likely receive a lot of support from both drivers and fans alike.

The ongoing political side of the sport is something that a lot of fans are simply not interested in, as many teams outside the top five struggle to survive in this highly expensive sport. This creates opportunities for relative “pay drivers” to muscle their way into Formula One. This is not something new and has long played a role in the sport, but as a fan it’s frustrating if you do not feel like the grid is filled with absolutely the best drivers in the sport.

For many years the increasing quest for downforce has had a negative effect on the level of entertainment on track. The level of over taking was slowly decreasing through the 2000’s, and for many purist fans the advent of the new “DRS” drag reduction system has gone too much the other way. The sport has seemingly gone from one extreme to the other, as over taking used to be a very difficult task, it has now become ridiculously easy.

Another big talking point for fans is the Pirelli tyres. They are specifically designed to have a short shelf life, forcing a majority of the races to be run at a controlled pace to save the tyres. Whilst this is not Pirelli’s fault, they are only creating the tyres they were asked to, it has left drivers and fans frustrated with the situation in races.

It’s a cliche example but for many fans they will hold up some famous racing from the past to support their argument. Battles such as the one between the Ferrari of Gilles Villeneuve and Rene Arnoux at Dijon in 1979. Here is a link to a video of their titanic battle Gilles Villeneuve vs Rene Arnoux battle .

The constant fighting and swapping positions shown in that battle are an increasingly rare sight in modern Formula One, and that is exactly why a lot of fans are struggling to remain devoted to the sport. These fans are not simply giving up on F1, they are simply choosing to explore different forms of motorsport.

Sportscars are becoming increasingly attractive for many fans and drivers, along with GT racing, Indycar and the new Formula E championship. Speaking from a personal perspective again, I find myself increasingly following sportscars rather than F1. After catching up with the Rolex 24 at Daytona last month, the non-stop fighting for victory across the majority of the classes kept me hooked for 24 hours in a manner F1 has failed to do for a number of years.

imsa-daytona-24-2016-4-corvette-racing-chevrolet-corvette-c7-r-oliver-gavin-tommy-milner-mThis is the genuine winning margin for the #4 Chevrolet Corvette in the GTLM class of last month’s Rolex 24. To be seperated by only a matter of feet after 24 hours of racing shows how competitive sportscar racing is currently and why it’s having a resurgence of interest. Photo copyright Motorsport.com .

The level of competition and the quality of the field’s in modern series such as the World Endurance Championship, WeatherTech Sportscar Championship and Blancpain Endurance Series are converting a lot of fans to the long distance element of the sport. Right now it feels like modern sportscar racing is like F1 in it’s glory days. There is a lot of high quality drivers, teams and manufacturer’s involved, with flat out racing and constant battles to be found on track. It’s refreshing as a contrast to modern F1.

By all means I still love and enjoy Formula One and always will do. I don’t intend for this piece to be a solid bashing of F1 because it has a lot of positive elements going for it currently and is deservedly the top series in world motorsport. I only wanted to express an opinion from one F1 fan that for even the die hard supporters of the pinnacle of motorsport, the increasing politics and gimmicks in the interest of “The Show” are leaving the purists feeling cold on F1.

If someone who has religiously followed F1 since a very early age can feel like this, the problems with the sport run deeper than many people will think. Without the long term F1 fans the sport is left only with casual fans who will be a lot less likely to sustain the sport in the long run. For now I will still watch F1 as much as possible, it’s just now that sportscar racing takes precedent. That shows the current relative merits of both series within the motorsport fan base.

What are your thoughts on this article? Please feel free to share your opinion and let me know. Also a huge thank you for reading this article.

Nico Hulkenberg: A future World Champion

November 7th 2010. Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace. Interlagos,Brazil. Round eighteen of the 2010 Formula One World Championship. Rookie Nico Hulkenberg has just taken pole position by over a second in the unfancied Williams-Cosworth. At this moment it seemed inevitable Hulkenberg would go on to a highly successful career with poles,wins and several world titles.

December 2015. Nico Hulkenberg is still a highly rated F1 driver. That is the only part of his career that many would have correctly predicted in 2010. Instead of moving on up the F1 grid Hulkenberg has remained trapped in the midfield, bouncing between Sahara-Force India and Sauber. Whilst he is rightly seen as one of the top drivers outside the top three teams, he is now 28 and time seems to be running out for him to get the top F1 seat his talent deserves. So why has he not yet progressed to a top team?

That is a question something plenty of F1 pundits are still trying to answer. Hulkenberg continues to produce giant killing results, yet every year he remains stuck in the midfield. The biggest factor against him is simply his height and weight. In a world where shaving every kilogram is crucial, having a driver like Hulkenberg at 1.84m tall behind the wheel is problematic.

Brazilian Grand PrixNico Hulkenberg in his Williams on the Friday before his giant killing Saturday qualifying performance in Brazil. Photo Credit LAT photographic/Andrew Ferraro.

He also cannot bring a huge sponsorship package to teams, something that is becoming increasingly important as teams continue to struggle in the current financial climate. This is why he was forced to drop out of F1 at the end of his impressive rookie campaign in 2010, being replaced by Pastor Maldonado and his Venezuelan petrol dollars. He was forced to spend a year on the sidelines as the Sahara-Force India reserve driver.

After once again showing his talents after being promoted to a race deal with Sahara-Force India for 2012, he returned to his previous heroics and almost took the midfield Sahara-Force India to victory in the Brazilian Grand Prix, only to collide with leader Lewis Hamilton when trying to overtake him. He was heavily linked with the vacant seat at McLaren for the 2013 season, although he was overlooked for fellow up and coming talent Sergio Perez.

Taking the drive Perez vacated at Sauber produced similar giant killing performances, and the historic close links between Sauber and Ferrari should have put him in the perfect position to join Ferrari, ye inexplicably he was overlooked to replace Felipe Massa for the veteran Kimi Raikkonen.

saub-hulk-melb-2013-4Nico Hulkenberg in his first race for Sauber. 2013 would prove to be a season of two halves for the young German. Photo copyright Sauber F1. Sourced from F1Fanatic.co.uk .

With the progress that the team made in 2015, it would of been very interesting to watch Hulkenberg behind the wheel. Since this snub the closest he came to a top seat was a likely move to Lotus for 2014, although the collapse of a investment package curtailed that move.

Hulkenberg continues to star in the very close F1 midfield battle, although in the second half of this season he appeared to struggle slightly against Mexican team mate Sergio Perez. With his Sahara-Force India team strongly rumored to have signed a partnership deal with Aston Martin, perhaps his fortunes in F1 are about to take a upward turn.

Arguably his biggest achievement in 2015 came outside of Formula One, as he harked back to the past by tackling the prestigious Le Mans 24 Hours alongside his F1 commitments. With the Porsche team he managed to do the impossible and win with an all- rookie line up of himself along with Porsche factory GT drivers Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber.

lemans-24-hours-of-le-mans-2015-lmp1-podium-class-and-overall-winners-porsche-team-nico-huHulkenberg celebrating victory with team mates Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber. Their victory was a deserved but a shock at the highly competitive Le Mans 24 Hours. Photo credit Motorsport.com .

This win was yet another reminder to the F1 paddock that surely Hulkenberg is deserving of a top line seat in the future. With the likes of Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button, Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa coming to the end of their careers, it seems there will be plenty of drives available amongst the big teams. Hulkenberg has been overlooked by the top teams before, surely it won’t happen a second time. The German has too much talent for that to be the case.

What are your thoughts on this article? Please feel free to comment below.

Where Next For Kevin Magnussen?

5th October 2015. Kevin Magnussen was celebrating his 23rd birthday. But a good day very quickly turned into a very bad one when he checked his emails. He noticed one from McLaren team principal Ron Dennis’s personal assistant Justine Bowen. He was being told his services as McLaren F1 reserve driver would not be required in 2016 and his contract would therefore not be renewed. Even for the famously business orientated Dennis this seemed a very harsh move.

Magnussen had grew up and developed with the team since he joined their young driver programme in 2010, reaching the pinnacle with a second place in his debut for the team at the 2014 Australian Grand Prix. Magnussen showed well against experienced former world champion team mate Jenson Button. But then the big names became involved. Honda were partnering with McLaren from 2015 onwards, and very quickly Fernando Alonso fell out of love with Marco Mattiacci and Ferrari, rendering him suddenly on the market for 2015.

This brought about a scenario which seemed impossible in 2008. Fernando Alonso would reunite with Ron Dennis and McLaren. This seemed impossible after their very bitter and public falling out in their first spell together in 2007. But I guess times change and money talks in F1, all of this leaving Magnussen battling Button for the remaining race drive for 2015.

Magnussen racing his way to the Renault World Series title in 2013. The future seemed bright for him at McLaren, but this would soon change. Photo copyright Motorsport.com

What followed was a very drawn out waiting game for both Magnussen and Button as months passed whilst McLaren tried to make their decision. Whilst it’s believed many in the team favoured the younger Magnussen, it appears at the last minute experience won out and the team announced their driver line up of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button in early December.

With very little time to find himself another drive in a competitive series, Magnussen had little other option than to accept the role of McLaren reserve driver for 2015, before finding a race seat for 2016. One thing was clear. Kevin Magnussen still wanted to race in 2015. He was in the advanced stages of securing a Indycar drive for the year so he could continue to race. Then Fernando Alonso got in his way again.

In the later stages of pre-season testing Alonso mysteriously crashed his McLaren-Honda, and whilst the initial assessment was not a serious one, it was quickly discovered Alonso had suffered a concussion and was unlikely to make the opening Australian Grand Prix several weeks later.

Magnussen was forced to end talks of an Indycar drive as he was called into action to replace Alonso in Australia. What followed was a hugely disappointing grand prix weekend where both McLaren drivers were plagued with issues surrounding the new Honda power plant. Magnussen qualified last and didn’t even start the race as his engine failed before the start to complete a miserable weekend for him and the team.

Magnussen in pre-season testing for McLaren this year. His lack of racing would prove a huge frustration to him during the year. Photo copyright McLaren/LAT.

Fast forward nine months and Magnussen is now looking for a race deal in 2016 after largely being sat on the sidelines for 2015. He came close to joining the new Haas F1 team for 2016 but lost out to first choice Romain Grosjean, and has recently tested for World Endurance title winning Porsche 919 for the team.

Magnussen will surely be a driver high in demand for 2016 with his talents, it’s now whether he wishes to try and continue in single seater series such as Indycar/Super Formula or whether he changes tack and moves over to sportscars or GT racing.

Surely Magnussen will get another chance in F1 soon, he’s too talented to only have one season at the pinnacle of motorsport. Only forces beyond his control can stop him. Yet where does the young Dane go from here? He’s looking to bounce back in big way next year after being an after thought at McLaren this year. Add the extra fire surely provided by the process of his dismissal from the team and he will be looking to prove a point next year.

He was close to an Indycar drive this year, so could he cast his eye back to the series for next year. The only top line drive available appears to be the final Chip Ganassi Racing entry, a car he could seriously impress with next year. Should he take up this seat he would surely be a dark horse contender for race victories throughout the year.

For now another possibility that hasn’t been ruled out is joining the Super Formula series in Japan. It’s highly competitive with a top quality grid which would keep Magnussen race sharp as he looks towards a return to F1. Whilst it will make it harder to gain the attention of Formula One in Japan, the series would be every bit as good as Indycar for him right now. Whilst nothing has been mentioned and it seems unlikely, it cannot be ruled out.

Or could he be eyeing sportscars next year? The WEC is building in prestige and popularity every year, with an increasing influx of young single seater drivers making the move to become professional drivers. With the level of technology in the current leading LMP1 these prototypes are arguable more advanced than current F1 cars.

Magnussen posing before testing the WEC title winning Porsche 919 Hybrid at Barcelona. Will he be racing the car in 2016? Photo copyright Porsche AG.

After testing the Porsche 919 Hybrid at Barcelona, he raved about the car calling it “the most advanced race car in the world”. Should the European Grand Prix in Baku remain clashing with the Le Mans 24 Hours, that would leave a seat available in the Porsche team for their warm up events and the 24 Hours itself. Porsche say their considering several drivers, could Magnussen be one of them?

He would make a big impact for the Porsche team and would likely prove very fast in the WEC next year. The series would also be the perfect shop window for him to try find a way back into F1 when he feels the time is right. Porsche won both the championship itself and the marquee Le Mans 24 Hours, an opportunity to make your debut for Porsche contending for victory would be a dream for Magnussen.

From here who knows where Kevin Magnussen will be racing in 2016. The only thing we know is that whatever he’s driving, he’ll be going flat out and racing at the front.

Where do you think Magnussen will be racing next year? Let me know in the comments section and thank you for reading.

Le Mans once again a classic

After catching up on the much needed sleep that was missed during the race, it’s now time to reflect on another magnificent Le Mans 24 Hours, which frenetic action on track and feel good stories throughout the paddock. With initial talk of a titanic battle between the four manufactures Toyota,Audi,Porsche and debutants Nissan, it quickly became clear during the race week that the race for victory would be an all German affair between Audi and Porsche.

Porsche stole the first march by claiming a track record pole, with a scintillating 3m16.887 time, a full three seconds quicker than the fastest Audi could produce. With the reliability and success record of Audi however, they still went into the race as slight favourites. From the moment the lights went out it was a frantic battle between the might of Porsche and Audi, with Audi seemingly taking a slight early advantage in the hotter mid-afternoon conditions. After the first few hours things seemed to change for Audi, with niggly issues which the team was previously avoid began affecting them. Firstly the team’s lead No 7 entry suffered a puncture, before the sister No 8 entry was involved with a collision with some GTE traffic, dropping the car to 8th overall after a few minutes in the pits for repairs. No 8 Audi returning to the pits after it’s crash in the early hours of the race. Thanks to Motorsport.com for this high quality photo. Porsche kept running at the front with metronomic pace from their No 17 and No 19 entries, with their No 18 entry affected by two off’s at Mulsanne corner, putting them laps down from the opening six hours.

Going into the nightfall hours no body was any closer to predicting an eventual winner, such was the unpredictability of the leading fight. The No 17 Porsche was content at the front, until in the very early hours of night time Mark Webber was hit with a 1 minute stop/go penalty after Brendan Hartley overtook under yellow flags, promoting a see-saw battle between the No 7 and No 19 Porsche to the front, as both swapped the lead due to their differing pit schedules.

During the cool of night Porsche came into their own, as they regularly lapped several seconds per lap quicker than Audi could manage. This battle continued all night and into the early hours of daylight running on Sunday morning. It was clear that Porsche had an advantage of roughly 1 minute 30 seconds over the leading No 7 Audi, although as temperatures would rise as the day wore on, Audi were likely to strike back at Porsche.

The leading battle was effectively over the moment the No 7 Audi was forced into the pits on Sunday morning, for repairs that would put the car two laps down on the leading No 19 Porsche. From here the lone Audi left in the hunt was their additional third No 9 entry, although once both this car and the No 8 car also needed repairs in the early hours of Sunday morning, victory was virtually assured for Porsche. The leading No 19 Porsche which ran faultlessly throughout the race. Thanks once again to Motorsport.com for this high quality photo.With only mechanical or driver incidents between Porsche and a 17th victory at Le Mans, both the No 19 and No 17 entry were able to take their foot off the gas slightly, despite a desperate charge by Audi superstar Andre Lotterer in the No 7 Audi, including setting the fastest race lap in his mid-morning charge.

The final few hours were all about brining their cars home to victory, and after 24 hours of racing the No 19 Porsche 919 Hybrid was greeted with the chequered flag. A fairy tale had been created, with a highly coveted victory on their debut for both Earl Bamber and F1 star Nico Hulkenberg, alongside the Brit Nick Tandy. No one could begrudge victory for the trio and Porsche, with a 1-2 showing it had truly returned to Le Mans after 18 months back in the LMP1 category. Whilst the second place crew of Brendan Hartley, Mark Webber and Timo Bernhard may be slightly disappointed with second, they can take a lot of heart from their performance all race. A photo that perfectly encapsulates what it means to win Le Mans for Porsche drivers Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber and Nico Hulkenberg. Thanks to Motorsport.com for this high quality photo.

In the LMP2 class it was a nice class win for the Asian based KCMG team, who took their new Oreca 05 to victory in the hands of a very impressive Richard Bradley and Matt Howson, who were partnered by on-loan former Toyota factory driver Nicolas Lapierre. They fought off the charging Jota sport team, winners last year, and the G-Drive Ligier led by Brit Sam Bird.

For Corvette racing it was a week of both ecstasy and despair, as the team first lost one of it’s two factory Chevrolet Corvette C7.R cars to a qualifying accident in the Porsche curves on Thursday. From this the team rallied behind their No 64 Corvette, which was brilliantly driven to a very hard fought GTE Pro victory in the hands of Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Jordan Taylor. The victorious No 64 Corvette racing C7.R takes the flag after 24 hours fought hours for their GTE Pro victory. Thanks to Motorsport.com for this high quality photo.

In the GTE Am class there was despair for the dominant No 98 Aston Martin racing team, as their Vantage GTE was only just over an hour from a dominant class victory. Sadly for the team their car was shunted by the team’s amateur driver Paul Dalla Lana at the final Ford chicanes, although a mechanical fault looked to have caused the crash. This was of little consolation to the team however, as they were forced to watch the SMP racing No 72 Ferrari F458 Italia, driven admirably by works Ferrari GT driver Andrea Bertolini, supported by Russian drivers Viktor Shaitar and Aleksey Basov.

To even finish at Le Mans is an achievement, therefore everyone deserves applause for their efforts this week, along with a huge round of applause for all the marshals who helped keep the race on track for all 24 hours. Whilst the race was a disappointment for the likes of Nissan and Toyota, they will all be back next year hungry for a better result.

This great race once again showed the very best of the World Endurance Championship, and sportscar racing in general. If you want a glimpse at what Le Mans means to everyone involved, look at the joyous reaction of successful actor and GT racer Patrick Dempsey as his No 77 Porsche 911 RSR finished 2nd in the GTE Am class yesterday.

For me, sportscar racing and the WEC are the most competitive and best form of top line motorsport in the world, with more overtaking between the leaders in the opening hour than an entire half season of F1. As F1 seemingly looks to destroy itself at the moment with cars that don’t appeal to fans, constant on-fighting on all key issues between the teams, and a lack of genuine overtaking which have left plenty wondering whether it’s even worth watching anymore.

I very much look forward to watching the rest of the WEC season, and with many manufactures seriously considering joining Ford in announcing a sportscar programme in the next few years, the series looks to have earned it’s status as the most attractive series in the world right now for manufactures, thanks to the WEC open rule book based on fuel limits, with plenty of technical scope for different engines and hybrid power systems. Roll on the rest of the WEC season and especially Le Mans next year.  A final thanks has to go to Motorsport.com for their amazing high quality photos which can only be found on their site http://www.Motorsport.com A glimpse into the future with a photo of the newly announced Ford GT race programme which will see them return to Le Mans next year in the GTE Pro class. Thanks to Motorsport.com for this high quality photo.

2015 Le Mans 24 Hours GTE Pro Preview Part 2

After part 1 previewing the GTE Pro class at this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours, part 2 looks at the remaining contenders in this fiercely competitive GTE Pro class. With four manufactures and their hord of professional factory drivers set to compete flat out for 24 Hours, their battle for class victory will be scintillating to watch throughout the race.

#92 Porsche Team Manthey Porsche 911 991 RSR: Patrick Pilet/Frederic Makowiecki/Wolf Henzler The second Porsche Team Manthey entry is much like every other GTE Pro car in that it has a great chance at a class victory, with a top line Porsche factory team and a full line up of factory drivers in this car.

This entry has been fighting with Aston Martin and Ferrari all season so far in the World Endurance Championship, and will be looking to continue this fight at Le Mans. On the driving front this entry has one of the best GT drivers in the world in Frenchman Frederic Makowiecki. Partnering him are long time Porsche factory drivers Patrick Pilet and Wolf Henzler, with all three highly professional drivers who will be delivering consistently quick stints throughout the race.

Amongst the very close GTE Pro field, separating a favourite is too hard to predict. Therefore the winner of this class will be the one who can keep out of trouble during the race, as every entry has the potential to be contending for class honours in the final hours of the race. #95 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage GTE: Marco Sorensen/Nicki Thiim/Christoffer Nygaard

The all-Danish “Dane train” Aston Martin which dominated the GTE Am class last year, has this year stepped up to the cut and thrust of the GTE Pro field. So far the team has shown it can handle the step up, with solid top six placings in the opening two WEC rounds.

Nicki Thiim is the only driver who remains from the Danish trio from last year, with new team mates Marco Sorensen and Christoffer Nygaard for this year. Nygaard has moved across from the sister #98 entry for this year, with the young Dane and GP2 racer Marco Sorensen completing the line up.

Thiim and Nygaard will provide good pace and experience behind the wheel, with the young charger Sorensen balancing his GP2 season with a switch to GT racing. All three will be looking to impress at Le Mans, although in this hugely competitive class, it may be difficult for this team to move up to GTE Pro and win Le Mans in their first year. A class podium would be a great result for the “Dane Train 2.0”. 

#97 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage GTE: Darren Turner/Stefan Mucke/Rob Bell

This number 97 Aston Martin will be the one that stands out throughout the race week, as this car will have a very distinctive ‘art car’ livery by artists Tobias Rehberger. As well as standing out for it’s art car livery, it will also stand out as this car will likely be the one that leads the Aston Martin charge for class victory in the race.

The Aston Martin team are regulars now in the highest level of GT racing, and have come very close to winning the GTE Pro class the past two years. This year the team will be aiming for a class victory, and this car is the one most likely to deliver it.

Experience is the name of the game with this driver line up, with Darren Turner, Stefan Mucke and Rob Bell all being long term factory drivers for Aston Martin. Their speed and experience will be a potent combination in the race, and if the team can avoid misfortune this car will be fighting for victory going into the final hours of the race for sure.

#99 Aston Martin Aston Martin Vantage GTE: Fernando Rees/Alex MacDowall/Richie Stanaway

The third and final works Aston Martin racing entry at Le Mans is the Number 99 car, which goes into the 24 hours on great form after taking the class win at the most recent WEC round at Spa a month ago. This car is very much in the hunt for the WEC drivers title after two rounds, and with Le Mans being a double points round this weekend will have a big outcome on the championship.

Both Fernando Rees and Alex MacDowall will be hoping for much better luck this year, after a huge practice crash for Rees last year forced the team to withdraw from the race on the opening day of running. This year they both have a new team mate in young New Zealand hotshot Richie Stanaway. He has shown well in GP3 and especially GP2 this season, and his fresh injection of pace will only add further strength to this car’s chances of a class win.

If all three drivers have a close to perfect race, their talent and this Aston Martin Vantage will have more than enough pace to take an unexpected GTE Pro class win, although if the car suffers any misfortune in the race it will be difficult to see them being able recover enough to claim the victory. A podium will be a very good result for this team, although a class win is a definite possibility.

That wraps up my look at a very competitive GTE Pro class, hope you enjoy this article and any comments would be appreciate both good and bad. I have to add thanks to Motorsport.com for their amazing, high quality photos which you see in this article. I urge you to go and visit their website http://www.Motorsport.com for all the latest news and photos from the motorsport world. Next up will be a preview of the LMP2 class.