Porsche Wasn’t the Only Big Winner At Le Mans This Year
It was clear from the outset that this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans was going to be an exciting one. From Porsche’s record-setting practice lap times from its 919 hybrid prototype cars, to Audi vying for its sixth consecutive victory, to Nissan fielding a radical front-engined, front-wheel drive car looking to shake up the race, the 2015 race looked like it was going to be anything but business as usual at the Circuit de la Sarthe.
Off the course, Ford and Renault both made headlines by announcing the return of some of their most iconic sports cars. With 24 hours before the start of the race, Ford confirmed it will return to Le Mans in 2016 with a endurance-spec GT racer, hoping to return to the glory days when it dominated the race from 1966-1970. And while Renault Alpine campaigned an A450B in the LMP2 class (it was forced to retire in the evening after an accident), the big news was its Celebration concept, which is set to debut in Europe next year.
Unfortunately for Audi, a few high profile crashes and nagging reliability issues meant that it just couldn’t keep up with the mighty Porsches in the Prototype class, finishing a disappointing third behind a pair of 919s as Porsche earned its 17th victory since 1970, and first since 1998. Porsche and Audi, both brands under the Volkswagen Auto Group umbrella, took the top five spots, but Toyota’s TS040 V8-powered hybrids acquitted themselves nicely too, finishing with two cars in the top 10 overall.
In the GT class, Aston Martin suffered some serious setbacks, with it’s high-profile Art Car forced to retire early, and GT class-leading Vanquish knocked out with just 45 minutes left in the race after a horrific crash. Late-stage issues with its cars forced Ferrari to all but cede the class to the Corvette team, which took home an unexpected American victory.
With action in all classifications, and plenty to talk about off the course, the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans will be remembered as one of the most exciting endurance races in recent memory. Here’s a better look at some the biggest winners from this weekend’s race.
1. Porsche 918 Hybrid
This photo pretty much says it all. The V4-powered hybrid 919s dominated the race from the start, leading the pack while Audi’s R18 e-tron quattros (the two cars behind the Porsche) hopelessly tried to play catch up. The number 18 car was driven by Nico Hulkenberg, Nick Tandy, and Earl Bamber, and was the weekend’s big winner, taking the LMP1 class and finishing first overall, while the red number 17 car came in a close second. Hulkenberg also made history by being the first active Formula 1 driver in 24 years to win at Le Mans. Despite Audi’s long-held dominance over the race, could the formidable 919 and its strong victory signal the start of a new era of Porsche dominance at Le Mans?
2. KCMG Oreca 05
The Oreca 05 built by Hong-Kong based KC Motorgroup Ltd. finished ninth overall, and won the LMP2 class, dominating a field of 19 cars – 14 of which were powered the same Nissan 4.5 liter V8 it had. The LMP2 class is largely made up of smaller, private teams, though KCMG did best LMP2 cars from iconic brands like Renault-Alpine and Morgan. KC Motorgroup is a relatively young team, and has only been competing at Le Mans since 2013. With its excellent showing this year, the team is now at the forefront of endurance racing. Expect to hear more from this team in coming years.
3. Corvette C-7.R
In perhaps the most unexpected victory of the race, Chevrolet took the checkered flag in the GTE-Pro class after a crash took the leading Aston Martin car out of the race, and reliability issues hampered Ferrari and Porsche throughout. Finishing 17th overall, the victory for the American team was a poignant one – it started out down a car as the number 63 Corvette was wrecked during practice laps earlier in the week, leaving the team to field only one car. Despite its unlikely victory, the Corvette’s success was no fluke. The team also won this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, and the 12 Hours of Sebring, making the Chevy the GT car to beat.
4. Ferrari 458 Italia GT2
Winning the GTE-Am class was the Russian SMP Racing team’s Ferrari 458 Italia GT2 car, finishing just ahead of the Porsche 911 RSR driven by actor Patrick Dempsey. Ironically, by finishing 20th overall, the number 72 car finished ahead of several Italian pro-driven 458s, including this number 71 car, which finished 21st. With the 458 Italia set to be replaced with the new 488 in 2016, this could be the last time we see the venerable 458s campaigned in numbers at Le Mans.
5. Ford GT
As well as Ferrari and Chevy did this year, the Ford GT is coming for 2016, officially putting both on notice. The new Ford can trace its roots back to the GT40 cars that dominated Le Mans between 1966 and 1969, and it marks the Blue Oval’s first official return to Le Mans in decades. Details are scarce on the GT for now, but we know that it will be powered by the 600 horsepower EcoBoost V6 that Ford successfully campaigned at the Tudor United SportsCar Championship in 2014. Partnering with Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, the Ford will enter the 2016 Le Mans as the car to beat. It certainly looks the part, but only time will tell if it can live up to the hype.
6. Renault Alpine Celebration Concept
Renault Alpine’s have raced at Le Mans for over half a century, so it was only fitting for the French automaker to choose the iconic race as the backdrop for unveiling its new sports car, the first road car to wear the Alpine name in 20 years. While it’s a concept for now, sources inside Renault have confirmed that the car will see production, and take on the likes of the Porsches Cayman and Boxster, and Alfa Romeo 4C for mid-engined supremacy in Europe. Unfortunately, it’s doubtful the next-generation Alpine will make its way to America anytime soon.
From unexpected victories to plenty of historic firsts, the 2015 race at Le Mans is one that people will be talking about for a long time. We won’t try to predict a winner for next year, but chances are we’ll be talking about a few of these cars again in about a year.