Twelve hours into the 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours, Porsche holds the overall lead thanks to Nico Hülkenberg, Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy. Good job too, as the Porsche team had begun to look ragged following a fire and retirement for the 92 911 RSR, retirement of the 88 911 and a stop-and-go penalty for the leading 919.
As night fell at Le Mans, Hülkenberg was first to hit the front with stunning lap after stunning lap. Tandy retook the lead after his pit stop and stuck seconds per lap on Audi’s, Andre Lotterer. The cooler temperatures of the evening seemed to suit the number 19 car, as Tandy began to set laptimes within a tenth of a second of his qualifying pace, in marked contrast to the car’s early pace.
Number 19 had started third on the grid but, as the race found its feet, the car was passed by not one but two Audis, much to the delight of the Audi team. Keeping in touch with the pack, the team eventually modified 19’s strategy to fit with a series of safety cars. At the nine-hour stage, the LMP rookies in number 19 were fourth overall.
Big Red, the number 17 919 LMP1 of Bernhard/Hartley/Webber ran out front from the start, but eventually picked up a one-minute stop/go penalty for passing under yellows. The other 919 had a rather disastrous first half of the race due to a problem with braking: Romain Dumas getting quite agitated with his engineers over team radio.
The call came for Romain to brake later in corners to heat up the front brakes after he went straight on through a run-off section at the end of the front straight. As the braking seemed to get progressively less effective, Dumas eventually flew off the track, clouting a wall at Mulsanne. The car was pushed back out on track, only to run off the track at Arnage later on, needing recovery by a hydraulic loader.
At time of writing, it is Porsche-Audi-Audi-Porsche-Audi-Porsche. Fastest race lap so far is a 3:17.647 from the number 9 Audi. Fastest Porsche time is a 3:18.674 from the Tandy 919, so one second slower than the Audi. There is still a long way to go and these cars are racing flat out, putting huge stress on the mechanicals. It’s hard to believe that the Audis can be beaten, but stranger things have happened. No doubt this is already a classic Le Mans.