Sports Car World Championship WEC, race 3, Le Mans 24 Hours/France – Preview GT
An ageless classic: The 84th running of the Le Mans 24 Hours is coming up on 18/19 June as round three of the Sports Car World Endurance Championship WEC. On the legendary Circuit des 24 Heures, 60 cars and 180 drivers will compete. As the most successful manufacturer in the history of the prestigious long distance classic, Porsche is again represented by a large contingent. In the strongly supported GT classes, a total of seven 911 RSR tackle the world’s toughest automobile race: The Porsche Motorsport factory squad fields two 911 RSR with the overall Le Mans winners Earl Bamber (New Zealand) and Nick Tandy (Great Britain) and with five nine-eleven contenders campaigned by customer teams. With the two 919 Hybrid in the LMP1 class, Porsche is represented at Le Mans by total of nine vehicles and 16 works drivers.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is legendary. In the list of winners, the best racing drivers in the world have been immortalized. Even Hollywood has honoured the prestigious long distance race in the French province: The 1970 film “Le Mans” featuring Steve McQueen in the lead role is regarded as one of the best racing movies of all time. The race, run for the first time in 1923, is not only famous around the world for the 13.629-kilometre Circuit des 24 Heures with its combination of racetrack and normal national roads as well as its legendary corners like Mulsanne and Tertre Rouge. The almost five-kilometre-long Mulsanne straight also sets this racetrack apart.
The Porsche drivers
Six Porsche works drivers contest the GTE-Pro class at Le Mans for the Porsche Motorsport factory squad. Sharing the cockpit of the #91 Porsche 911 RSR are Nick Tandy and reigning IMSA GT champion Patrick Pilet (France) with Kévin Estre (France). The sister 911 RSR with the starting number 92 has an equally strong line-up. Earl Bamber shares driving duties with Jörg Bergmeister (Germany) and Frédéric Makowiecki (France). With 14 starts until now, Jörg Bergmeister has the most experience as a Porsche GT pilot at Le Mans.
Taking up the race in the 911 RSR run by the Dempsey Proton Racing customer team is Richard Lietz (Austria), the WEC winner of the FIA World Endurance Trophy in 2015 as the best GT pilot, and his works driver colleague Michael Christensen (Denmark), with whom he contests the entire WEC season. Supporting them as the third driver is Philipp Eng (Austria), the 2015 winner of both the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup and the Porsche Carrera Cup Deutschland. This will be Eng’s cameo appearance at Le Mans, where traditionally double points are awarded towards the WEC championship. In the GTE-Am class, four other customer teams and two Porsche works drivers race the Porsche 911 RSR: Abu Dhabi Proton Racing with Patrick Long (USA) and KCMG with Wolf Henzler (Germany), as well as Gulf Racing and Proton Competition.
The Porsche 911 RSR
As the fastest ever nine-eleven, the Porsche 911 RSR crowned its maiden 2013 season with a double victory at Le Mans. The racer is based on the seventh generation of the iconic 911 sports car at Porsche Motorsport in Weissach and in addition to Le Mans it also won the American long distance classics at Daytona, Sebring and the Petit Le Mans. The winning racer, which is characterised by an uncompromising lightweight design, received modifications for 2016, particularly to the aerodynamics. The position of the rear wing was moved further to the back, with the rear diffuser now considerably larger. Moreover, the 911 RSR received a modified front spoiler lip as well as wide side sills.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans gets underway on Saturday, 18 June, at 15.00 hours CEST. Free practice is held on Wednesday from 16.00 to 20.00 hrs, followed by the first qualifying session from 22.00 hrs to midnight. Two more qualifying sessions follow on Thursday, 16 June, from 19.00 to 21.00 hrs and from 22.00 hrs to midnight. The warm-up is scheduled for Saturday from 09.00 to 10.00 hours.
Live on TV
Eurosport 1 and Eurosport 2 broadcast the entire race live. Free practice as well as the three qualifying sessions will also be televised live. In addition, the “24 Minutes of Le Mans” magazine provides the latest news and interviews from the track during the entire race week. Eurosport’s detailed TV schedule for Le Mans is available on www.eurosport.com.
Comments before the race
Dr Frank-Steffen Walliser, Head of Porsche Motorsport: “Porsche and Le Mans have written many decades of motor racing history together. This tradition brings an obligation. As the most successful manufacturer in the history of this fascinating long distance classic, we are back again this year with a large contingent. We’re campaigning no less than seven 911 RSR against very strong opposition in the traditionally very competitive GT classes. The competition in the GTE-Pro class in particular has seldom been this high: Five well-known manufacturers and 14 vehicles manned with top pilots – you only get this at Le Mans.”
Marco Ujhasi, Overall Project Manager GT Works Motorsport: “Preparing for Le Mans has always been intense. We’ve used the time well to find the best possible setup for our 911 RSR for the special demands of this extraordinary race. The main focus for Le Mans is to drive for as long as possible at the highest level and to keep out of any tangles, so that you still have an undamaged car to really attack in the final sprint. We’ve laid the foundations for this and we hope that we can ultimately fight for victory.”
Drivers 911 RSR #91
Patrick Pilet: “Le Mans is, of course, the greatest race for me. I’m French, after all. To win this race is one of the greatest goals of my career. The 250,000 fans who come to Le Mans every year add to the fantastic atmosphere. The track is terrific, very fast and very demanding. For us drivers, Le Mans represents a long and exhausting week with many assignments and appointments. With so many distractions it’s not always easy to concentrate on the essentials. That’s why we can’t wait for the race to start.”
Nick Tandy: “Even if you come to Le Mans as the defending champion, you have only one objective – to win. It’s the greatest race of the season, the absolute highlight. We’re not going for overall victory this year, but we can win our class. That’s my goal. There are not many drivers, possibly even none at all, who have won two different classes in succession at Le Mans.”
Kévin Estre: “It’s something very special to be a French racing driver at Le Mans. You stand in the public eye, expectations are high and, of course, you don’t want to disappoint. I suppose it’s the same for a British tennis player at Wimbledon. I’m very excited about my first Le Mans race as a Porsche works driver.”
Drivers 911 RSR #92
Earl Bamber: “Since my victory last year with the 919 Hybrid, Le Mans is obviously a very special race for me. After all, this is where I scored the biggest success of my career so far. I’m looking forward to returning to Le Mans this year with the 911 RSR and I hope that we perform well. It won’t be easy. The grid in the GTE-Pro class is definitely one of the strongest we’ve seen in recent years.”
Jörg Bergmeister: “Le Mans is the race that everyone looks forward to. And everyone wants to win. I managed this one, but that was twelve years ago. So it’s high time for another victory. This race is the highlight of the season and with its long history for Porsche it’s obviously very special. The Circuit des 24 Heures with its combination of racetrack and normal roads is unique and one of my all-time favourites.”
Frédéric Makowiecki: “As a kid I came to Le Mans a lot. It was fascinating to experience this race and, of course, I also dreamed that one day I might be able to race here. This dream has come true, and the fascination has never waned. On the contrary: Le Mans is still something truly special for me and I wish for nothing more than a win. It would be wonderful if that would happen with Porsche this year.”
Customer teams drivers
Richard Lietz (911 RSR #77, Dempsey Proton Racing): “Thanks to its appeal and tradition, Le Mans is on a par with classics like the Indy500 and the Monaco Grand Prix. To travel to Le Mans always has something magical about it. I love this race. If I didn’t come here as a driver I’d probably buy a ticket and sit with the spectators in the grandstands.”
Michael Christensen (911 RSR #77, Dempsey Proton Racing): “This race always had a special meaning for me. A childhood dream came true when I competed here for the first time. Every racing driver wants to win Le Mans. Me too, of course. It’ll undoubtedly be hard, but we’ll do everything we can to be as far up the front as possible at the flag.”
Wolf Henzler (911 RSR #78, KCMG): “Le Mans is without equal. No other race has such a vibe. I won this classic in 2010 with Richard Lietz, one of my teammates at that time. That was an unforgettable experience. We’re well prepared this year. At the WEC races in Silverstone and Spa we learned a lot as a team. Now I hope we can utilise all those insights as perfectly as possible and finally celebrate a breakthrough at Le Mans.”
Patrick Long (911 RSR #88, Abu Dhabi Proton Racing): “I finished on the podium in Le Mans last year. And that’s where I want to go this year, too. I’m very familiar with the circuit and its quirks – after all, I’ve raced here 13 times. But it’s still one of the toughest challenges you can imagine as a racing driver. I’m feeling very confident. Our class is very competitive, but we have good chances.”