Thoughts and Observations on the 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans

Another unforgettable 24 Hours of Le Mans in the books. Once again, I stayed awake for over 24 hours watching the great race and once again it was well worth it.  The new LMP1 prototype regulations resulted in drama.  A favorite was resurgent in GT.  Another GT team honored one of their fallen drivers with a class win. As always, the 24 Hours of Le Mans offered multiple story lines and something for everyone.

What a drama filled race, not what I expected at all, but can you really expect anything at Le Mans?

There were seven contenders in LMP1 for overall victory and all of them suffered problems of one form or another throughout the race.  The #8 Toyota and the  #3 Audi were damaged in an early crash which put the #3 out of the race and put the #8 well back in the order.  Both Porsches had mechanical/electrical problems that eventually put them out. The two remaining Audis both had to have turbochargers replaced. The remaining #7 Toyota, which had the race well in hand fell out out of the race with an electrical problem (the loom, not the hybrid system).  On a positive note for the new regulations, most of the problems didn’t seem to be related to hybrid systems.  In the end, despite not having the fastest car and having reliability issues, Audi just kept on chugging away with the #2 car taking the win and the #1 car taking second.  This win, I believe should go to the mechanics for their quick and quality work getting both the #1 and #2 back out ahead of the competition.

Brad Kettler calling the turbo replacement “a commitment job” – not if you get burned but how bad. Mechanics are racing heroes, too.

As I mentioned above, Audi Sport had to replace the turbochargers on both the #1 and #2 cars and each one was replaced in around 20 minutes or so.  What an accomplishment! These extraordinarily hot parts of the cars drive train were replaced while still hot, there was not time to let them cool off before doing the work. Knowing that it was going to be painful work, the mechanics went to work in an attempt to bring victory to the team not just once, but twice.  It’s proof positive that not just the race car drivers are racing heroes, the men and women behind the scenes are heroes as well.

It might not be a win, but a great finish for with a new car, especially after a 2013 race to forget.

After what can only be described as a disappointing 2013 Le Mans, it was great to see Corvette running back at the front of GTE-Pro at Le Mans.  As a Corvette Racing fan, last year was simply painful to watch because they just weren’t a factor in the race.  They may not have won the race this year, but they led a number of times and Aston Martin, Ferrari, and Porsche definitely knew they were there. because they were right up front dicing with them. The new  C7R showed some reliability issues but for a new car in its first season it did pretty well.  I would expect them to be back even stronger next year with the car both quicker and more reliable following a season of development.

Audi & Toyota running 3:25-28, Porsche running 3:30-32. I think may have hit the nail on the head about Posche’s batteries.

Radio Le Mans’ Nick Daman had harbored some thoughts about Porsche’s use of batteries before the race and I think he may have been right in his thoughts toward the end of the race.  I think the Porsche 919’s battery packs may have been wearing out towards the end of the race due to heat and charge/discharge cycles.  Both 919s didn’t seem to be as fast at the end of the race as they did earlier.  I think for a long race such as the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Toyota’s super capacitor and Audi’s flywheel maintain their performance at a higher level throughout the duration of the race.  For 24 hour races, batteries may not be the way to store the energy for hybrid systems.

I didn’t pay as much attention to the LMP2 class as I should have but I was impressed by the performance of two drivers.  First, Jann Mardenborough put in some amazing stints.  He’s another one of the Nissan GT Academy graduates that are likely to be future stars.  If he continues like he did this weekend we’ll certainly be hearing more about him in the future.  Second, you had to be impressed with Oliver Turvey.  He got the late call from Audi to take Marc Gene’s seat in the Jota Sport LMP2 car after Gene had to be pulled to replace Loic Duval in the #1 Audi.  Despite very little time in the car, he and his teammates had the class victory in hand before a misfire put them back.  Harry Ticknell (whose career is being guided by Allan McNish) was also impressive and will be a driver to watch in the future.

Last year, Allan Simonsen was killed when the #95 Aston Martin he was driving crashed early in the race. This year the #95 was back and in honor of Simonsen it had an all Danish driver rotation.  Even with a late race scare when the car stopped on track, the Danes dominated the race and finished with a 2 lap lead.  There was no doubt that it was a popular class win and the only thing that could have made it better for the huge number of Danes that attended the race was if Tom Kristensen could also have taken his tenth Le Mans win (and it almost happened!)

There was a lot of consternation, hand wringing, doubt over how well the slow zones would work at the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year.  Instead of using a safety car every time there were repairs or clean up to be done, the idea was to establish 60 kph slow zones around the work and let the cars race on the rest of the 8+ mile course.  I thought it went quite well and it prevented some of the massively long safety car periods from last year.  It may not be the thing to do on shorter courses but on races like the 24 Hours of Le Mans I think it is the way to go.

It really was a very enjoyable race and one that I’ll remember for a long time.  Just as soon as you thought someone had a grasp on the overall lead and the win, something happened to make it a race once more.  I didn’t think that this year was going to be a 24 Hour sprint like the 24 Hours has been the last few years but I didn’t expect the reliability issues we saw either – and most of them were issues that could have occurred even without the hybrid systems.  Toyota has to be extremely disappointed; they had the fastest car and while the #7 had reliability issues the #8 did not, it’s problem was entirely avoidable.  It was their race to win and they didn’t bring it home.  On the other hand, Audi (for the most part) proved to be the solid, reliable, professional juggernaut we’ve come to expect. Having to build up a new car in 24 hours after it was destroyed in practice/qualifying and the swift turbocharger replacements proved their mettle.

I can’t wait for next year.

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