Interim report 1, FIA World Endurance Championship WEC, Round 4, 24 Hours of Le Mans (France)
Porsche Penske Motorsport makes steady progress in the early stages
Porsche 963, Porsche Penske Motorsport (#5), Dane Cameron (USA), Michael Christensen (DK), Frederic Makowiecki (F)
Laps in the lead for the Porsche 963 at the 24 Hours of Le Mans
Initial phase of the 100th anniversary of the race marked by incidents
Strong comeback from Hertz Team Jota customer team
Porsche 911 RSR takes the lead in the GTE-Am class
The three Porsche 963 fielded by the Porsche Penske Motorsport works team made a strong start to the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In the first four hours of the race, Felipe Nasr in the No. 75 car and Michael Christensen in the No. 5 sister car at times led the field. The No. 6 hybrid prototype is currently defending its second place. Meanwhile, the identical model campaigned by Hertz Team Jota has launched a spirited chase to catch up. In the GTE-Am category, three Porsche 911 RSR have worked their way up to the front.
Witnessed by a large crowd of over 300,000 spectators, the 62-strong field started into the race at 4 pm on Saturday to mark the centenary of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Just before the 91st edition of the endurance classic got underway, isolated showers on the 13.626-kilometre racetrack created difficult conditions. When an accident involving a competitor in the Hypercar class occurred after just one lap, the safety car was deployed for over 30 minutes.
Thanks to a clever strategy and strong performances by the works drivers, Porsche Penske Motorsport’s three Porsche 963 made up several positions in the first hour of racing. After two hours, Michael Christensen held the lead for almost 30 minutes in the No. 5 car. In the sister car flying the number 75 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Porsche sports cars, Felipe Nasr has consistently run in the top 5. Meanwhile, the No. 6 was hampered by a minor setback: Due to pressure loss in a tyre, Laurens Vanthoor had to pit for a wheel change. The car that the Belgian shares with Frenchman Kévin Estre and German André Lotterer was around a minute behind the leaders after two and a half hours of racing. However, the redeployment of the safety car slashed this gap to just a few seconds. All three works vehicles are within striking distance of the leading car.
“The starting phase was extremely eventful with safety car phases, slow zones, yellow flags and many incidents,” states Urs Kuratle. The Director Factory Motorsport LMDh adds: “Our three cars are in the leading group and have no technical defects or scratches. That’s the most important thing after such a turbulent start. It’s wild out there. I hope we now get a stint with a dry track so that the race can progress a little more normally.”
The Porsche 963 campaigned by the Hertz Team Jota customer team missed out on setting a qualifying lap and thus had to tackle the race from the back of the grid. However, works driver António Félix da Costa quickly worked his way up the order – and also benefited from an early safety car phase.
Heavy rain on parts of the circuit then shook up the field again and led to several slips and slides. This triggered another long stint behind the safety car. After a little more than four hours of racing, the No. 6 Porsche is running in second place behind the lead car, the No. 75 sister car is in fifth, the Jota Porsche in sixth and the No. 5 racer in tenth.
In the GTE-Am class, the Porsche 911 RSR entries fielded by customer squads turned heads with an impressive starting phase. After about an hour, five 911 locked out the first five positions in their class. Subsequently, however, some crews were hit by bad luck. The two 911 RSR of Proton Competition (#16) and Iron Lynx collided, while the leading No. 86 car spun into the crash barriers in the heavy rain. Dempsey-Proton Racing’s No. 77 car became entangled in an incident with an LMP2 prototype. After four hours, the Iron Dames and Project1 – AO entries rank first and second. The No. 911 of Proton Competition trails in third place helmed by Hollywood star Michael Fassbender from Ireland, among others.
Drivers’ comments on the early stages
Michael Christensen (Porsche 963 #5): “Wet track, safety car, slow zones, cold tyres, dirty tyres – everything was thrown at me in my first stint and a lot is happening out there! Still, I kept my cool and worked my way up the field with some great manoeuvres. It’s been fun, but we still have a lot to do.”
Laurens Vanthoor (Porsche 963 #6): “These stints haven’t been easy in such difficult conditions. In the first two hours, I made up a lot of ground and managed to maintain a pretty decent pace. At the end of the second stint, we had some vibrations that will hopefully be remedied after the wheel change. I hope we can last the distance without incident.”
Felipe Nasr (Porsche 963 #75): “The first stints have gone smoothly. It feels great to run among the top group right at the start. I think some cars were struggling with quite a bit of tyre deterioration, which led to different strategies: Some teams changed all of the wheels all at once, while others – like us – just switched the tyres on one side of the car. Our car was running really well, but we experienced a minor problem with the wipers when it started to rain. Hopefully we can get that sorted quickly, because we’ll definitely need the wipers often in this race.”
António Félix da Costa (Porsche 963 #38): “At the start, we had a lot of traffic in front of us because we had to line up on the grid in P60 of the 62-strong field. Still, I quickly ploughed my way through the large field of GTE-Am cars straight after the start. Our car is really fast. We now have to stay out of trouble as the race progresses, then maybe something very good can come of it.”
Matteo Cairoli (Porsche 911 RSR #56): “The starting phase went perfectly – I drove from 15th to the top of our class. The 911 RSR is driving beautifully. We were watching the weather developments very closely but were still surprised by a heavy shower. It’s totally unpredictable. I have my fingers crossed for my teammates PJ and Gunnar.”