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24 Hours of Le Mans 2014

14th - 15th June 2014

Event report

Practice and Qualifying Sessions

A relatively new practise to have a free practice session in Le Mans is relatively new. It was introduced only in 2009, when until then common format of two 2-hour qualifying sessions on Wednesday and the same of Thursday was replaced with a very long Wednesday free practice of total of 6 hours, while the Thursday programme was unchanged. Overall track time before the Saturday's warm up and race was thus prolonged by two hours however to have just one qualifying day was not much appreciated so since 2010 it changed to one 4-hour free practice session and 2 hours of qualifying on Wednesday, while the Thursday is still kept the same. This was also valid for this year 2014 but due to a large number of accidents causing longer red-flag periods, the race director decided that the final Thursday’s qualifying would start 30 minutes earlier, allowing the team more track time. This is needed especially to allow all drivers to cover 5 laps in the dark, which is mandatory requirement for a driver qualification. And with almost one hour lost with accident shortened Wednesday night, this was more than welcomed.

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The free practice started with Audis and Toyota taking on the fastest times while the Porsche team, a very welcomed factory newcomer to LMP1, kept themselves a little back, some 3 or 4 seconds off by the end of the session. Most importantly, rather early Audi no.1 in its just tenth measured lap with Loic Duval at the wheel went off the track and its rear was completely destroyed. Very worrying first pictures were soon replaced with a good message that the driver was actually unhurt. Despite this good news doctors did not recommend him, or allowed him, to continue in the event. So Audi spare driver Marc Gené, who was actually present in Le Mans with another team (Jota Zytek), was called to Audi no.1 to replace Duval on Thursday and for the race. A new car had to be rebuilt around a new chassis. This was prepared in time for the second qualifying session, which started on Thursday at 7 PM.

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Jota team now without a third driver took the opportunity to call Oliver Turvey as Gene's replacement. Oliver was originally scheduled to race with Millennium Racing team. But the team, which was originally entered with two cars, then withdraw both not only from Le Mans but also from all preceding WEC races, re-appeared on the list before the race since due to too many withdrawals there was no car left on the reserve list. Despite Millennium racing hard effort, the promised sponsorship was not delivered in time and we were left with only 55 cars, instead of currently common 56. There was another car invited in the last minute. It was the familiar light green Ferrari of Krohn Racing, which was not listed on any published entry lists since January. Krohn was happy and prepared the car and the team in time for the big event.

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It was Toyota no.8 that took the free session, just 0.3 seconds ahead of Audi no.2. The other Toyota was third and the heavily crashed Audi no.1 retained its 4th position despite covering only a little portion of laps. In LMP1 Porsches and Rebellions were well sorted, 6th & 7th and 8th &9th respectively.

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The official qualifying started after one hour break, with only six strong factory LMP1 cars. The first leader was Alexander Wurz in a Toyota no.7 but with 10 minutes of the session passed, Neel Jani in Porsche no.14 took a bit surprisingly the provisional pole. Only another 10 minutes later, his team colleague Brendon Hartley in Porsche no.20 even improved this time and we had provisionally Porsches in the first row. Toyota's and possibly also Audi's time had to come but with a huge crash of factory Aston Martin no.99 in the middle of the session, we received a red-flag and marshal started working on repairs of the barriers. Unfortunately, they appeared to be impacted too much and 30 minutes before midnight, the race director announces that the sessions would not be restarted anymore. So the common last minute battle for pole did not materialize and Porsche ended one-two, followed by two Toyotas, two Audis and two Rebellions. G-Drive Morgan was fasted LMP2 ahead of the only Signatech Alpine in the field.

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GTE class was led by AF Corse Ferrari ahead of Aston Martin no.97. Unfortunately, the next day it was confirmed that the crashed one no.99 will not be repaired and was withdrawn from the race meeting. Thus we are down to 54 cars. The new, experimental Nissan ZEOD ZC, the Garage 56 entry, a car with an electric power combined with a standard engine, did not run much on Wednesday, and it actually did not cover a single full measured lap. The aim of this factory Nissan car, which is, by the way, visually very similar to a DeltaWing, which was saw in Le Mans couple of years ago, is to cover a single lap on only electric power. Otherwise, it is a preliminary Nissan programme before a full factory LMP1 effort, which is already confirmed for the next year.

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On Thursday, we were one Aston down and one Audi up but we were about to lose two other original cars due to accidents. Both were GTs and both were possible to replace with new cars. One replaced car is a Prospeed Porsche no.79, with a Crubile Sport car. Its owner, Sébastien Crubilé, will also replace Bret Curtis, who crash the original car and even if not injured, not allowed by doctors to take further part in the event. The other replacement car was shipped to France by AF Corse for their damaged no.71.

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Other cars which were damaged in crashes, RAM Ferrari, Murphy Prototypes and Pegasus Racing Morgan were repairable. The last named car actually crashed to the barrier while trying to avoid slowly running Audi no.1, which had had a collision barriers a bit earlier and ran to the pits with damaged front.

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The battle for the pole actually happened between Toyota. After the first part it was Toyota no.7, Porsche, Porsche, Audi, Toyota, with the first three cars in 3:22s and other two in 3:23s. Both Toyotas and both Porsches were at one time on a provisional lead in the session. It was Kazuki Nakajima who set the final fastest lap of the session. But he was determined to improve his time even further in the final Thursday session. After less than 15 minutes after the start Nakajima posted excellent time 3:21.789 and it was not beaten until end of the session - partly due to a fact that the final stages were slowed by a local Code 60 section, which was prolonger until midnight. The Toyota will share the front row in the grid with a Porsche no.14 (3:22.146) and the same cars will fill in also the second row. Only then we have three Audis.

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Ligier proved to be favourites of LMP2 class, as the only closed-cockpit cars in the class. Thiriet Ligier was fastest and will start from 10th place. The third was factory/OAK Ligier - both split a bit surprisingly just by Jota Zytek. Nissan ZEOD finally did some measured laps and will start behind all LMP2 cars and ahead of all GTE cars. One of planned achievements of Nissan was already reached: running over 300 kph on the straight on electric power only. AF Corse managed to beat entire GTE field with their best Pro and Am entries, so the Am entry no.71 will actually start ahead of all Pro teams except for car no.51, which took the GTE pole. The next GTE row will consist of a Chevrolet Corvette, which debuts here their new C7, and Aston Martin. The best GT Porsche was only seventh.

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We have also learned that Crubillé was not allowed to take part in the race, so the Prospeed Competition Porsche will be moved from GTE Am to GTE Pro, which required some ballast (20 kg) and it will be share by only two driver, who by the way, do not meet criteria of the Am class.

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During Warm Up, Porsches kept themselves a bit in the background, so it was Toyota, Audi, Toyota, Audi, Audi, with the Audi no.2 leading the session for about 5 minutes. The difference between the first two was only 0.01 second and the times within 3:23 gives even some chance that the overall race distance record could be broken this year. The weather is nice but a relatively big number of incidents before the race might predict some cautions, which actually did not take place in 2010 when the race distance record was set (actually after 39 years, during which this achievement belonged to a Porsche 917 from 1971).

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Race

The race was started exactly at 3 PM and Toyota immediately took the lead. Porsche no.14 kept second while the other Porsche was quickly challenged by the Audis. After a few laps both Toyotas lead, no.7 ahead of no.8, Audi. no.2 moves to third. Then Toyota no.8 left the track, lost some 10 seconds before returning and Audi moved to second. This however cause a local Slow Zone (SZ), with less than 30 minutes of the race, and Audi no.1 changed a strategy and turned to the pits for the first refuelling. This slow zone became unfortunate for the better Porsche no.14, which could not get back to speed and continued 60 kph to the pits. It was repaired within 5 laps but the Porsche continued from 51st. By that time Nissan ZEOD was already out of the race. Both SMP Orecas are also in troubles. Car no.27 stopped in the pits after 3 laps. When it returned, the other car no.37 stopped in the pits as well - but this one was not repairable. Engine was the reason for its retirements.

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Then a weather forecast of some possibility of the rain in the second hour became into reality and there was actually pretty heavy rain at some part of the track. And it became fateful for Audi no.3, which was running at decent speed but was hit from the rear by fast running cars; either Ferrari no.81 or even Toyota no.8 might be involved, as it crashed into the barrier too. Safety car was immediately called as the track was pretty dirty and three crashed cars around the track. Audi no.3 was confirmed a retirement, as well as was the Ferrari no.81. Fortunately, at least Toyota could get back to the garage and is currently being repaired.

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By two and half hours, the race already restarted, rain almost gone (with further possible soon), the positions are: Toyota no.7, Audi no.2, Porsche no.20, Audi no.1 and then Rebellion no.12, Race Performance Oreca no.34 (LMP2 leader) and Rebellion no.13. Porsche no.14 is 41st; Toyota no.8 still in the garage is 48th.

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Race part 2

Just posting the first part of the report and heavy rain is back again. Second Safety Car period immediately, even before any crash. The conditions were not safe even in small speeds, so we witnessed spins and also a contact and damage of two LMP2 cars. Zytek no.41 and Murphy Prototypes Oreca were the victims of this accident. Both cars can get back to the garage for repair but the Zytek is crashed rather heavily with right front wheel and suspension broken.

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In the meantime, the Toyota no.8 is back on the track, still under safety car. With Audi no.2 having a regular pit stop, Porsche no.20 is moving to the temporary second place. Its sister Porsche improved to 40th, while the delayed Toyota is currently classified 49th.

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Race part 3

Safety car out while leading Toyota no.7 in the pits, Porsche no.20 moves to the lead, for the first time. But it has still its regular pit stop ahead. Bernhard in no.20 was able to keep Sarrazin in the Toyota no.7 for many laps behind before pitting. It is also worth to mention that Patrick Long, on Dempsey Porsche in GTE Am class was able to lead GT classes overall until sometimes into fourth hour of the race. So Toyota no.7 now leads Audi no.2, ahead of the Porsche no.20 and Audi no.1. Rebellion no.12 is still keeping good 5th position, while its sister car is on the pits and is currently being overtaken by one GTE car after another. In the meantime, the Porsche no.14 is almost recovered, now ahead of the worse Rebellion, briefly 14th before its regular pit stop. The track is slowly drying so the cars that were on wet tyres are now in disadvantage and with every refuel pit stops, dry tyres are mounted. While we have 4 cars in the lead lap after three and half hours, another rain shower was predicted a while ago.

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Race part 4

Surprisingly soon after Porsche no.20 was had its third pit stop, it did not take too long before both Audis a Toyota had their four pit stops, so the Porsche is now in the lead again some 20 second ahead of the Toyota no.7 and further 30 seconds ahead of Audi no.2. The Toyota is now running 43rd. Rebellion no.13 is back in the race, now running 32rd. Long in the Dempsey Porsche got again into the overall GTE lead for a while, but now it will be the Corvette no.74 that will lead the GTE categories, after having overtaken the factory Porsche no.91 a while ago.

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After the next series of pit stops the Toyota no.7 takes the lead, Porsche no.20 is second, still followed by the two Audis. Porsche no.14 improves to 10th and before the end of the fifth hour, it is ahead of all LMP2 cars, some 2 laps behind the well running Rebellion no.12. Its sister car improved in the top 20 and also the repaired Toyota no.8 is now 24th, taking on most of the GTE cars.

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Bad news for the second Porsche no.20 was a flat tyre and unscheduled stop, which partly removed its advantage of one less pit stop gain during the rain. Audis took the advantage and move head. The positions between the cars are now changing mainly only due to pit stops.

Now with five hours of the race passed, the LMP2 class is led by OAK Racing Ligier no.35, followed by Race Performance Oreca no.34, Signatech Alpine no.36 and another Ligier of Thirier by TDS no.46.

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By the way, the damage of the two LMP2s cars in the second rain shower was more serious than it originally looked. The Greaves Zytek made it to the pits but was retired. It was a little better for Murphy Prototypes, at least in term of continuing in the race. The car just appeared back on the track 10 minutes ago, after about two-hour of repairs. It is now 15 laps behind nearest running competitor. It is the RAM Ferrari no.52, which is currently in the garage. The car stopped on the track with some fire or smoke from the rear, driver off the car. It seemed as a retirement but somehow the fire was not serious and was put out and the car appeared in the garage.

Positions at exactly 5 hours: Toyota no.7, Audi no.2, Porsche no.20, Audi no.1, Rebellion no.12 and Porsche no.14.

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Race part 5

The race is no win at the end of its 7th hour and another safety car period just ended. The reason for this caution was an accident of Chinese Oreca no.47, which suffered sudden broken suspension and crashed at the end of the Porsche curves while driven by Alexandre Imperatori. It seems that this SC period helped the leading Toyota no.7, while the Audi no.2 which was pitting just at the safety car deployment and was caught at the pit exit. Now it is running some 2 minutes behind the Toyota. The Porsche no.20 is now driven by Mark Webber and is running fourth. The car lost one place when Hartley made a mistake in the previous stint and after braking a bit late and did not make the curve in time. It took a lot of time before he got the car moving and lost together about one lap. So Audi no.1 moved to third.

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Rebellion no.12 is still running great and holds the fifth place while the Porsche no.14 is closing the gap behind it. Unfortunately, the second Rebellion was announced as a retirement. Toyota no.8 is now 11th but in the same lap than all LMP2 ahead of it. This class is usually led by two Ligiers but at the moment (7th hour) it is led by the lone Alpine, which is on a different pit stop strategy.

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The GTE class now enjoys a great battle for the lead between Westbrook in a Corvette no.74 and Turner in Aston no.97. The Aston is now in the lead as we are entering eighth hour.

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Race part 6

Now we have two thirds of the race behind us, the night part of the race is gone and the situation in the race changed a lot. Toyota no.7, which led the race for many hours ahead of Audis no.2, no.1 and Porsche no.20, which was a couple of laps back. By midnight the other, delayed, Porsche no.14, moved up to fifth. Sixth place belonged to Rebellion no.12 until hour 10. Then Toyota no.8 replaced it after 11 hour, when this Rebellion went through minor problems to fall down among the best LMP2s. They were led by Ligier OAK no.35.

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The next hour started with a drama, when Audi no.1 with nine-time Le Mans overall winner Kristensen had electrical trouble and went to the garage. Porsche no.20 moved to a podium position. Porsche no.14 was also in trouble running slowly, managing to get it to the pits by an electric power. This actually helped the Toyota no.8 to improve to fifth.

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Just two laps before the end of the 14th hour we had a change in the lead after a long time. Unfortunately, it was because the leading Toyota no.7 stopped on the track, outside of the view of cameras. It was near Arnage as reported by Czech track marshals, who were standing there. So Audi no.2 took the lead, ahead of Porsche no.20 and Audi no.1. At the same hour Toyota no.8 lost to Porsche no.14.

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The last car without major trouble until now, the Audi no.2, which was leading comfortably after 15 hour and 55 minutes, was pushed into the garage, with turbo needed a replacement. So Audi no.1 became a new leader, ahead of Porsche no.20. Two laps later Audi no.2 was repaired and return to third. Toyota no.8 is now 5 laps behind Audi running fourth, two laps ahead of the Porsche no.14.

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The remaining running LMP1 car, the Rebellion no.12 is currently running 9th, behind LMP2-leading OAK-Ligier no.35, Alpine no.36 and another Ligier no.46 of Thiriet by TDS. So we have famous makes with a huge history at the top 3 in LMP2.

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In GTE there are still much closed battles. Now Aston Martin no.97 is leading a few meters ahead of Ferrari no.51. Factory Porsche no.92 is running third, while Corvettes are now a little further back.

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Race part 7

The last six hours, a normal length of a common WEC race and it is about to get the cars to the finish without as least repairs and troubles as possible. At least now, 5 hours to the finish, when Aston Martin no.97, having actually led the GTE Pro, is nearly 30 minutes in the garage. Ferrari no.51 leads by two lap ahead of the Porsche no.92 and Corvette no.73, while Aston no.97 just left the garage.

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Similar troubles hit the LMP2 leader a few laps later. The Ligier no.35 was pushed to the garage, so the class lead is taken by another Ligier, the private TDS no.46. Even before high raking Alpine no.36 LMP2 was also pushed into the garage. It returned in 5th in LMP2. Since then it overtook the Loeb-Oreca no.24 and is currently running 4th behind Jota-Zytek no.38. There is nothing changed in the overall/LMP1 positions. Just the Porsche no.20 is running regularly some 5 seconds slower than Audis. The Ligier no.35 is now back from the garage...

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The Rebellion no.12 set a lap 3:29, same speed as currently produced by the Porsche no.20 and improved back to 6th overall, ahead of all LMP2s.

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Four hours to go: nothing changed at the top, but Rebellion no.12 engine cover off, in the pits. Thiriet by TDS Ligier, current LMP2 leader, suffered a puncture and is slowly running to the pits, while one lap ahead of the other Ligier No.35.

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Kristensen stops on the straight. Continues after about 30 seconds of being stationary, to the pits. Returned to the track but still slow. Next lap Audi no.1 to the garage. Porsche no.14 now leads ahead of quicker running Audi no.2, which is 35 second behind.

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Porsche no.20 was then running 2-5 seconds slower than Audi no.2 but kept the lead for couple of hours. When Mark Webber got to the car, he lost the lead to Audi which kept it even after its pit stop, because unlike Porsche, it did not change tyres. But exactly two hours before the finish, Porsche no.20 is running very slowly and at the moment is out of the contention for the win. Now it is mainly about a trouble free finish for Audi no.2.

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Sad message heard from the Porsche box. The car number 20 was retired, apparently with an engine problem. Audi no.2 now leads Audi no.1 by two laps. Toyota no.8 is 3 laps down. Porsche no.14 just caught its sister car number 20 is now in the garage too. We hope at least one Porsche LMP1 can make it across the finish line - 100 minutes later.

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Race Finish

The race was full of unexpected happenings and each of the three factory manufacturers seems to have this race under control. Toyota almost exclusively dominated the first 14 hours. Then it was more of Audi versus Porsche battle. Audis looked to be the favourites but then both cars had failures of turbo, and both have to be replaced. Porsche no.20 took the lead and the surprise of Porsche win almost materialised. Then it became a drama as it appeared that the second Audi is catching the Porsche rather quickly. But then one Porsche after another hit serious trouble and the race in its last two hour converted into a charming ride of the two leading Audis followed by the remaining Toyota from a respectable distance. The race was practically decided, and everybody just wait for the Audi to make it to the very end, while well running Rebellion-Toyota, a very new car in its only second outing moved up to finally finish fourth overall.

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The new 2014 winners are Andre Lotterer, Marcel Fässler and Benoit Tréluyer in no.2. Tom Kristensen, who was aiming for his 10th victory had a bad luck this time and with his co-drivers Lucas di Grassi and Marc Gené had to accept a second place finish. The Toyota, which got to the podium in the final hours, was driven by Nicolas Lapierre, Anthony Davidson and Sébastien Buemi.

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Porsche no.14 was taken from the garage in five minutes before the end to cross the line after 3 PM, when the race finishes. They managed to cover this lap, as well as, the next parade lap but anyway, first published results show them as non-classified (because the last lap was longer than 6 minutes). We still hope that the Porsche would be in the end classified 11th, as it really finished, as in the past this 6-minute rule was not taken too seriously anyway.

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The LMP2 witnessed a very good and surprising battle in the final stages of the race, when the dominating Ligiers suffered some minor troubles. With the competition in the class, in the end it was Jota Racing Zytek, driven by a spare driver Oliver Turvey could be the TDS Ligier convincingly. The Alpine improved to third while Loeb-Oreca moved ahead of the factory OAK-Ligier and was classified fourth in class and eighth overall.

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During the race, a very competitive GTE Pro class converted in the dominant show of the Ferrari no.51 driven by Gianmaria Bruni, Toni Vilander and Giancarlo Fisichella. The Chevrolet Corvette no.73 was second and the Porsche no.92 was third. In GTE Am it was a quite convincing victory of Aston Martin no.95 - great achievement for the team that almost won also the Pro class, before fading into troubles and getting 6th in class. Porsche and Ferrari filled the rest of the Am podium.

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The race was well attended (over 263 000 spectators), very dramatic at times, probably one of the best editions over the past few decades, maybe best since the strong factory commitment in 1999, even though the 2011 results were much closer between then winning Audi and Peugeot in their last Le Mans appearance so far. Furthermore Audi as a chassis manufacturer equaled Porsche in a number of 13 overall victories in the famous Le Mans race.

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(All photos courtesy and copyright of Stéphane Brard.)

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