2016 24 Hours of Le Mans – podium and problems for Porsche 911 RSRs
While Porsche secured an unlikely 18th overall triumph, the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans was, largely, a race to forget for Porsche Motorsport’s GT department as numerous problems stymied its chances in the GTE-Pro class.
Contesting the full FIA World Endurance Championship, the no. 77 Dempsey-Proton entry of Richard Lietz, Michael Christensen and Le Mans third driver, Philipp Eng was joined by two one-off factory Porsche 911 RSRs for Le Mans.
Thanks to the questionable Balance of Performance changes handed out after the test day, the trio of GTE-Pro Porsche 911 RSRs couldn’t match the pace-setting Ford GTs and Ferrari 458s in qualifying, starting the race as ‘best of the rest’ in the GT ranks.
However, once the safety car returned to the pits after the first 52 minutes on Saturday, the wet track conditions did at least allow the no. 91 car of Patrick Pilet and no. 92 RSR of Frédéric Makowiecki to star in the early stages, using the 911’s excellent traction to rocket into a one-two during the first hour.
Once the track began to dry, the two works Porsche 911 RSRs began to fall back though the no. 91 entry was able to just about to stick with the Ford and Ferrari battle, hanging on in fourth as the race passed the three-hour mark.
At this point however, Porsche’s day was about to take a turn for the worse, the no. 91 RSR returning to the pits shortly after Nick Tandy had taken over. A stone had pierced the radiator, necessitating a change that, while performed quickly, dropped the car out of contention.
Released back out onto the track, the no. 91 machine was still dropping radiator fluid too, the slippery surface left in its wake accounting for the race’s first retirement: the no. 89 WeatherTech Racing Porsche 911 RSR in the hands of Marc Miller crashed heavily at the Dunlop Chicane having been leading the GTE-Am division early on in the hands of Leh Keen.
It wouldn’t be the no. 91 car’s last issue however. Just after midnight, while Kévin Estre was aboard, the Porsche 911 RSR’s engine grenaded itself dramatically in the Porsche Curves, forcing Pilet, Tandy and Estre into retirement.
By this point, mechanical maladies had also befallen the no. 92 Porsche 911 RSR of Makowiecki, Earl Bamber and Jörg Bergmeister, a 12-minute pitstop spent repairing sheered drive pegs on the left rear upright delaying the car at 8pm on Saturday evening before the entry eventually retired in the early hours of Sunday.
Ultimately, it is unlikely that the Porsche 911 RSRs could have kept up with the dominant Ford GTs though, their overly favourable BoP allowing them to dominate, taking a one-three-four, split only by the Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 in second.
This was certainly the case of the no. 77 car of Lietz, Christensen and Eng that struggled on, battling on the fringes of the top six in GTE-Pro before the need to replace a broken driveshaft on Sunday morning ultimately limited it to an eighth-place finish in class.
There was at least some cheer for the Porsche 911 RSR in the GTE-Am division however as Patrick Long, David Heinemeier Hansson and Khaled Al Qubaisi took the no. 88 Abu Dhabi Proton entry to a superb third place finish.
The trio had shown great pace on Saturday to lead the class by over a minute at times before their setup choices saw them drop back to second during the night. Despite this, Long and the impressive ‘Silver’ graded Heinemeier Hansson cemented the team’s podium chances with superb pace on Sunday morning.
Gulf Racing’s Le Mans debut was similarly impressive, the British team enjoying a near fault-free run across the 24 Hours to eventually cross the line after 328 laps in fifth place (and 33rd overall).
The no. 86 Porsche 911 RSRs line-up of Adam Carroll, Michael Wainwright and Total 911 columnist, Ben Barker (the latter showing some impressive pace during his stints) finished just a lap behind the no. 77 GTE-Pro class 911 RSR.