The 91st running of the Le Mans 24 Hour race has finished. Once again, and for the 13th time, Audi have been victorious.
There was bitter disappointment for the Porsche factory team, when the No 20 919 Hybrid LMP1 car of Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley ran into trouble just two hours from the end of the race. With Webber at the wheel, the car suddenly slowed dramatically and frantic radio calls from car to box could be heard, Webber explaining that the car appeared to be misfiring and losing power.
The car had suffered a powertrain problem and returned to the pits at slow speed. Earlier in the race the car was leading for a significant period. The second innovative and highly complex prototype – in the hands of Romain Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb – likewise proved to be very competitive, but was hampered by a drivetrain problem. However, their no. 14 car crossed the finish line under its own power.
After a thrilling start to the race with changing weather conditions, numerous accidents and a relatively calm night, Timo Bernhard took the lead in the Porsche 919 Hybrid. This was after 20 of the 24 hours. At 12:36 on Sunday he handed the leading car over to Mark Webber. Less than 20 minutes later the Australian was forced to slow down and drove solely on electric power back to the pits. The team could not repair the damaged powertrain.
Not even half an hour later, the sister car with Marc Lieb at the wheel had a gearbox failure. Car no. 14 was lying fourth before it was pushed into the garage at 12:54. Shortly before the chequered flag was waived, the Porsche 919 Hybrid returned to track but in the end was not classified.
Matthias Müller, Chairman of the Executive Board of Porsche AG: “Our return to Le Mans has been a strong team effort. It almost happened that our secret dream came true to top the debut of the Porsche 919 Hybrid with a podium finish. For a remarkable period we were leading the race. I want to thank everyone who contributed with hard work. Now we keep our heads up and will plan an even stronger return for 2015.”
Wolfgang Hatz, Board member for Research and Development Porsche AG: “It was our declared target to finish this race. This didn’t really work out, but at least we have managed to show the huge potential of the 919 Hybrid and its innovative powertrain. We believe in our courageous concept and we will develop it further. We have already started work on the 2015 race car.”
Fritz Enzinger, Vice President LMP1: “This result is not the reward our team deserved after this intense time of preparation work. We have had an unbelievable and unforgettable race with its highs and lows. Everyone in the entire team was working to the limits and never gave up. I am very proud of our team.”
Andreas Seidl, Team Principal LMP1: “At the moment, of course, there is a lot of disappointment. But if anyone would have told us before the race that the outcome would be what it was, we would have been very happy with it. We have learned a lot for next year and tomorrow we start to prepare for 2015. The drivers and the entire crew – everyone did a great job. We are proud to have brought one car to the finish line. To be able to fight with the other one for the silverware until shortly before the end was the icing on the cake.
Alexander Hitzinger, Technical Director LMP1: “Congratulations to Audi for the well deserved victory. Certainly we are disappointed, because such a good result seemed to be within reach for us too. But still we can be proud of what we have achieved. We have proven that we have got a fast car and our competition has taken notice of the 919 Hybrid. It was our target to finish the race, but in a different way than we did. I am looking forward to the remaining races of the FIA World Endurance Championship and to Le Mans 2015. Today the car was not always easy to handle and our drivers did a great job. I want to thank them for that.”
Porsche 919 Hybrid (car no 14)
Neel Jani: “Our car ran really well. At times we have been right at the front. Because such a huge potential was there, I am very disappointed about the result. On the other hand, we always knew that sustainability was crucial and difficult to achieve quickly.”
Marc Lieb: “I am rather lost for words, because it is hard to deal with incidents like those that occurred during the race. The no. 20 Porsche 919 Hybrid had a really fantastic race. They had no problems at all until shortly before the end. On the other hand, our no. 14 car was slowed down by some minor technical failures, which forced us to stop several times in the pits. Nevertheless, we did the best we could. Some one and a half hours before the chequered flag there was a bigger problem. The team managed to get the car running again and we finally managed to cross the line.”
Porsche 919 Hybrid (car no 20)
Timo Bernhard: “I think, after all, it was a great return for Porsche – to come back to Le Mans and to the WEC after such a long time. But for me it is very sad because we were fighting very hard – at the end, in fact, also for the victory. It would have been a podium at least. It is hard to take, the guys did a great job. The car was running well. We had some difficult issues with the balance of the car, and it was not easy to drive. But in the end, I was saving fuel and keeping away from the kerbs. And then we had a broken engine, which happened in first gear. But I think the bottom line is, it’s a great return by Porsche.“
Mark Webber: “That was tough for everyone. It would have been such an amazing achievement to go through to the finish. I think we never expected to be in such a great position towards the end of the race. What Porsche did is a very big feather in its cap. Few people know how hard it is to get the cars to this point in the race. I’m really sorry for the guys. There is never ever a good retirement in Le Mans, but today is one of the best you could probably have in a way, because we went so far and we learned so much. If you stop early you learn nothing and it’s tough. When you stop with a lap to go it’s probably even more brutal. It was our first time here at Le Mans and we were very close to the podium.“