A race for the ages for Ferrari and Aston Martin
The 82nd 24 Hours of Le Mans is likely to be classed as an epic race, with multiple leaders, incidents and passes from the moment that Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso waved the French Tricoleur to when the chequered flag was shown at the finish.
Played out in mostly fine weather – apart from two short and sharp rain showers on Saturday afternoon, the results of which had a big effect on the outcome of certain competitors’ race - more than 263,000 spectators enjoyed this edition of the world’s most famous sports car race.
Reigning World GTE Champion driver Gianmaria Bruni, his team mates Toni Vilander and Giancarlo Fisichella were in a class of their own in the LMGTE Pro class, bringing the No.51 Ferrari 458 Italia home for their second class win in three years. The victory wasn’t achieved, however, without a huge battle for supremacy throughout the race, with the second-placed No.73 Corvette of Garcia-Magnussen-Taylor and the No.92 Porsche Team Manthey 911 RSR of Frédéric Makowiecki, Richard Lietz and Marco Holzer in third being among the contenders to push the Italian team hard. The victory extends Bruni and Vilander’s lead at the top of classification for the World Endurance Cup for GT Drivers.
The inter-class battles began right from the start of the race, and the Ferrari had to fight hard against the American muscle cars as well as Porsches at certain points and, primarily, the No.97 Aston Martin Vantage of Darren Turner, Stefan Mücke and Bruno Senna. The British and Italian marques fought relentlessly for the lead in class, and everyone was as disappointed as Aston Martin when a power steering hose leak caused the battle to be curtailed.
Well down the order then, but scoring valuable double championship points, was the No.97 Aston Martin and the No.91 Porsche Team Manthey 911 of Bergmeister-Pilet-Tandy which was delayed by fuel pressure issues. Of special note is the finish of the No.79 Prospeed Competition Porsche 911 GT3 RSR which was crashed in qualifying, injuring one of its drivers, and Jeroen Bleekemolen and Cooper MacNeil made a bit of modern history by competing with a two-man line up in the LMGTE Pro category instead of its planned crew of three in the LMGTE Am class.
With hearts in mouths for a large majority of the race were the front runners from the LMGTE Am class. It was undoubtedly a very emotional victory for the No.95 100% Danish-crewed Aston Martin Vantage V8 of Kristian Poulsen, David Heinemeier Hansson and Nicki Thiim – their win being poetic justice for the loss of their friend and team mate last year, Allan Simonsen, who tragically lost his life in the 2013 race.
“We have achieved what we were aiming for last year but didn't succeed,” commented Young Driver Team Owner Jan Struve. “We have now fulfilled it and we know that Allan has been cheering for us and smiling down on us and, of course, he has been in our thoughts.”
Two laps behind the Aston Martin in LMGTE Am was the No.88 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR of Klaus Bachler, Christian Ried and Khaled Al Qubaisi, followed home by the No.61 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia of Marco Cioci, Luis Perez Companc and Mirko Venturi. A notable retirement from this class was the pole-sitting No.81 AF Corse Ferrari of Sam Bird, Stephen Wyatt and Michele Rugolo which crashed out in the first of the two rain showers.