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24 Hours of Le Mans 2016

18th - 19th June 2016

Event report

Le Mans 24 Hours - the 84th of the most famous sports car race in the world. The RSC team is here for the second consecutive year. What is actually new compared to the last season? For the first time since the 1960s we have here 60 cars ready to qualify for the race - should they survive the free practice session, three qualifying sessions and the warm up without any incidents or huge technical issues.

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Another change is that none of the factory LMP1 team is entering a third car, so with the highly unsuccessful Nissan not returning this year, we are down to just 6 really competitive cars with a real chance of the overall victory. With their reliability issues in Spa, can the 1979 race repeat, when none of four competitive top class cars finished, and a Group 5 Porsche won with lowest average speed in several decades? Hopefully this will not happen again, but it is probable that the battle would not be that close as it was usual the last decade, but the more unpredicted the overall winner is.

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LMP2 class is now stronger than ever. Not only new 4 slots on the grid, but also a departure of several LMP1s made the space for the promising LMP2 to boost in numbers. Well, not so promising, it is actually being killed and replaced with a completely new LMP2 with much limited choice of product - engine, electronic, only a few chassis are allowed. Everybody interested in the sport knows about it - but truly: Was it really needed to kill off the most successful class in Endurance racing and replace it with some experiment just at this stage? We can only hope that the two existing and accepted manufacturers will receive some competition from another two selected chassis builders. But more likely we can see something what happened in the European Le Mans Series with a successful LMP3 class. It is success in numbers but while last year it was all only about Ginettas, this year it is almost all only about Ligiers. Here in Le Mans there is a lot of LMP3 Ligiers as they entered one of the support races, Road To Le Mans, which is actually the GT3 Le Mans Cup which is run during the ELMS meetings. But here in Le Mans with no ELMS race on the schedule, the LMP3 cars were invited to the Cup as well. Apart from the Ligier armada, there is one Ginetta and one new Adess. The other support race is a Ferrari Challenge. We paid almost no attention to that one though.

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Another news is a welcome return of the factory Ford team. Unfortunately only into the GTE class. But after having experienced Balance of Performance handicap following successful qualifying (1-2-4-5), it is believed that in the prototype category Ford should not be afraid of such artificial manipulation with cars the day before the start. Last year Toyota were much slower than their LMP1 opponents. But would somebody be considering increasing their fuel cells, or adding weight ballast to Porsche or Audi because of that? This only proves how wrong current GT regulation are - everything is driven by artificial equality while the real racing performance has nearly no correlation with the production cars performance. Well, it might be good for amateur GT3 racing. But in Le Mans we would expect something more sophisticated, would not we?

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Now it is Friday evening and all 60 cars are set to take part in the race. Possibly the most dramatic moment was delivered by CLM P1/01 when the car got fire and was damaged during the first on track session. It then skipped the first Wednesday qualifying session but was ready for the next day and qualified ahead of all LMP2 cars - though far from any other LMP1, including the Rebellions. Toyota took the provisional pole early in the session, but then Jani in a Porsche set the fastest time, the only one under 3:20 over the week. And he was delayed in the Porsche curves on that lap. Later the other Porsche followed, so that we have the first row full of Porsche. Audis quite surprisingly actually never matched Toyotas, so the second row is formed by Toyotas, which improved their lap times compared to last year to 3:20s. Also the next two rows are filled by single teams: Audi and Rebellion.

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G-Drive Racing is leading the LMP2 pack after the qualifying and will start from 10th grid position. This car is an Oreca 05, and considering a fact that the next two grid positions belong to Alpines, which are just rebadged Orecas 05, this type of car actually took the first four positions in LMP2. Next two slots belong to Ligiers LM P2 in hand of American teams - Michael Shank Racing and WEC regulars Extreme Speed Motorsports, in Le Mans black and white colours.

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GTE class was already mentioned. Need to say that remaining positions around Fords belonged to Ferraris, while Aston Martins, Chevrolet Corvettes and Porsches, including the factory ones, were really not competitive enough - losing 4 seconds per lap on average.

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Almost all sessions were influenced by rain, only very little dry periods decided the grid, while the teams had a chance to prepare for wet conditions which are expected during the race especially on Saturday.

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Warm Up

Warm up session which was scheduled to long 45 minutes was interrupted by red flag two times, so there was not really much track time. Of the factory prototype teams only Audis bothered to enter the track during the first part of warm up and easily dominated the sheets ahead of third Rebellion and fourth CLM, which were followed by LMP2 cars. After the first red flag more cars joined in and despite some cars even did not complete a full measured lap (while completing four or even more pit-through laps), the final classification was Audi-Toyota-Porsche-Audi-Toyota-Oreca.

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Race Start 15:00

The expected rain before the race start really happened. Unfortunately, the race decision was to start after the safety car and without any formation lap - possibly for the first time in the history of Le Mans. So a huge number of spectators and fan lost that exciting moment of the race. The rain soon decreased and stopped but the safety cars (three of them were circulating around the track - as per Le Mans rules, despite just one keeping cars behind) were kept on track for most of the first hour. Once they were called in the race was very exciting, providing close battle and overtaking between all three manufacturers cars. Toyotas then led after the first hour.

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After the pit stops, Audi no.7 which took an advantage of one quicker lap while pitting earlier and led by some 12 seconds. But not for a long time is it visited its garage for repairs as the first manufacturer car and stayed there for looong 5 laps. After that Porsche no.1 had a nice battle with the other Audi, no.8, overtaking each other a few times. In the meantime Toyota no.6 which lost in the pits closed the gap very quickly and in the end overtook the Audi while being very close to the leading Porsche.

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With the second series of the pit stops and Toyotas running longer on a full fuel tank, both Japanese cars appeared 1-2 for a couple of laps. During the third hour the positions settled as Porsche no.1, Toyota no.6, Audi no.8, Toyota no.5, Porsche no.2 and Rebellion no.13. CLM started from the pit lane so automatically lost one lap. The other Rebellion pitted earlier and lost several laps. Audi no.7 was improving and setting one fastest lap and after another.

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Update after 6 Hours

The first quarter of the race is now behind us. At the top nothing significant happened. Porsche no.1 leads but Toyota no.6 which has notable longer stints moves ahead with every pit stop series lead in between, Actually Toyotas were in the lead in hours 1, 5 and 6 while Porsche led in hour 3 and 4 - all based on pit stop intervals. Toyota no.5 and Audi no.8 changed their positions 3 and 4 in a similar way. Later the Toyota no.5 suffered tyre vibrations so stopped earlier than scheduled which moved it temporarily to 5th overall behind the Porsche no.2. Rebellion no.13 still kept the 6th overall, though both Audi no.7 and Rebellion no.12 improved through the LMP2 cars. But now the no.12 is in the garage again, while Audi no.7 lies 7th overall.

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Right after the six hour mark, Toyota no.6 retained the lead in front of Porsche no.1, even after pitting - for the first time. We believe that a slow zone did the job for Toyota rather than anything else. Current positions are: Toyota-Porsche-Porsche-Audi-Toyota-Rebellion-Audi-Oreca-Alpine (Oreca)-Oreca-Oreca-Oreca-Gibson-Gibson etc. In the GTE class Fords and Ferraris still maintain the lead even after unfair balancing changes just before the race, though after the first hour it looked as if Porsche 991 would dominate.

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Update after 9 Hours

The situation at the front was more or less unchanged for the next two hours though Porsche no.1 seemed to lose its pace compared to its sister car no.2, which after some close running moved to second and led no.1 by6 seconds after the first third of the race. But hour nine brought more drama. Most notably the Porsche no.1 turned to the pits and was pushed into the garage for a long repair. In the meantime Audi no.7 and no.8 went to the garages for smaller adjustments. But it means Audi no.8 is now one lap down behind the leading Toyota no.6, Porsche no.2 and another Toyota no.5. When we are near the midnight, nine hours into the race, it looks best for Toyota, which now receive challenge from the only problem-less running LMP1 car, Latest information from Twitter confirm that Porsche no.1 has high water cooling temperature and is under investigation. Still in garage, having being helped a little by the safety car period, not losing so many laps as under the full speed. Would the other Porsche suffer the same issue? Will Toyota continue their trouble-less excellent race and would win for the first time? Has Audi still some chance to fully recover? Would the night racing in Le Mans reveal some bits of the answers?

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Mid-Race Update

After 12 hours the Toyota no.6 is in the lead. However it is changing positions with the Porsche no.2 based on pit stops. Ten minutes before the middle of the race, it was still Porsche leading. Now it seems that Porsche is running consistently quicker and the Toyota might suffer within a few hours to keep the lead even after the Porsche stop. The third and fourth places are still the same, Toyota no.5 in the lead lap, and Audi no.8 one lap behind the leaders.

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Rebellion no.13 and Audi no.7 were in the same lap changing positions just like overall leaders. However Audi no.7 lost speed and went slowly to the pits. After a driver change and refuelling it is back in a full speed but some two laps behind the Rebellion. Meanwhile the much delayed Porsche no.1 returned fully to the race, after completing nearly entire lap on a hybrid power and entering garage again. It re-joined the race from nearly the last position (high 50s) and slowly moves up, so far almost 10 positions and is 48th after 13th hour. Rebellion no.12, which suffered another delay several hours ago, after had nearly recovered, is now running decent 23rd overall.

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The LMP2 class lost KCMG Oreca, which is now a third retired car - really after 13 hours we have just 3 official retirements. Should the current ratio of retirements be keep until the end of the race, a new record in a number of classified cars would be reached. In the past rarely Le Mans had seen 30 or more classified finishers. This became more common in recent years but by far most classified finishers we had in 2013 when 42 cars crossed the finish line, but one was later disqualified. Now it is set to have over 50 classified finishers and if it happens, it would be an excellent historical record.

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Continuing with LMP2: It is still dominated by Orecas 05 (or their another incarnation Alpine A460) ahead of two entered Gibsons - which represent the swan song of open cars in Le Mans - at least for the foreseeable future. Alpine no.36 is now in the lead followed by TDS by Thiriet Oreca no.46. All Ligiers faded away while both Russian BR01s keep well on 6th and 8th positions in class.

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The GTE continues to be the battle between Rissi Ferrari and two of the Fords GT. Unfortunately the third one (no.66) suffered a garage repair and is now behind Aston Martins, one of the factory Corvettes and best private Porsche. The factory Porsches GTE are basically out of the race - one retired and the other the very last among the still running cars. Amateur part of the GTE is Ferrari-Porsche-Ferrari-Ferrari-Porsche-Ferrari. Corvettes and Aston Martins do not play any significant role in this class, though still running.

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Sixteenth Hour

Porsche no.2 is usually running quicker than both Toyotas and has also shorter pit stops. However 8 hours and 30 minutes to the finish, it is Toyota no.6, Porsche no.2 and Toyota no.5, all separated by only 8 seconds. And the battle continues.

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The next two positions are occupied by Audis. The number 8 is still one lap behind the leaders. Both Rebellions had major problems, and no.13 is still stationary around the track - likely becoming a retirement. No.12 was repaired in the garage and was just overtaken by the delayed Porsche no.1 - both are 41st and 42nd overall. LMP2 is still led by Alpine ahead of two Orecas 05 and another Alpine. In GTE no change as well: Ferrari-Ford-Ford and the others.

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Seventeenth hour

A lot of accident marked the start of the final third of the race. Chevrolet Corvette no.4 lost control and crashed heavily behind the Dunlop curve. Then fourth running Alpine no.35 went through the first chicane directly into the wall. Any attempts to continue were marred by the heavy front right suspension damage. There were two slow zones at the same time. Before both were released the CLM got fire in Porsche curves and is retired too. Further accident of second LMP2 running Thiriet by TDS Oreca 05 no.46 and off track excursion by ESM Ligier no.30 finally led to a decision to call Safety Cars. Bad for Toyotas, which lead the Porsche no.2 by 30 second (Toyotas separated themselves by 20 seconds). Now the gap under the SC is between 3 and 4 seconds. Not really a good way to achieve a victory, should the Porsche finish less than 20 second ahead of the Toyota at the end of the race.

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Six Hours to Go

During the eighteen hour there was an epic battle between both Toyotas and the Porsche. Still under safety car, Toyota team opted for a driver & tyre change, refuelling earlier in an attempt to gain back part of the disadvantage caused them by the safety cars. After the SC release the Porsche lead by nearly one minute but Toyotas were faster. When Porsche refuelled, all three cars were packed together and had a very close battle. It is really very rare at this stage of the Le Mans race to have three cars within about two or three seconds fighting for every meter of the track. During that time Toyota no.5 took the lead from Toyota no.6. And as it was quicker, it started to move away from both, the sister car, and the Porsche. Now the second Toyota is about half minute behind the leading car, while the Porsche no.2 is further 15 seconds back. Nothing else changed much, only the number of official retirements increased rapidly - to ten cars at the moment - partly due to the accident, partly old stationary cars claimed retirements. There is still Rebellion no.13 somewhere on the track for many hours, still displayed as running. Of the other 49 continuing cars, there are three in the garage, so still we have a big field of 46 healthy cars to continue into the final quarter of the race.

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21st Hour

One of the best battles ever seen in Le Mans, between the two Toyotas and the Porsche no.2 continues. It is about fragment of seconds. In the first part of the track the Porsche is usually slightly quicker; Toyota prevails at the part behind Mulsanne corner to the finish. All cars were recently pitting within one lap, the Porsche changed tyres one pit stop earlier. We experience a long attack by Toyota no.5 to the leading Porsche, when the difference was between 4 and 2 seconds for many laps. Then Toyota closed the gap and within several laps it moved ahead to the lead. After the last pit stops, the Toyota no.5 took a lead by about 20 seconds. The third Toyota no.6 was overtaken by Porsche no.1, which is now running 21st overall. But trying to keep the pace, it spun in Porsche curves. Despite recovering itself from the gravel, it is now nearly 1 minute behind the leading Toyota.

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Meanwhile Audi no.8, which was 4th, slowed down the straight and running on 4th gear it continued at only 165 kph into the garage, where it stays already 13 laps. Its sister car number 7 is going to overtake it very soon. Just another accident, Manor Oreca LMP2 hit the barriers after pervious damage of the front, which detached and went under the front wheels. It is very likely another retirement.

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Three Hours to Go....

...and Toyota no.6 is pushed into the garage to repair damages cause by a collision during the night, which was fixed only temporarily by a tape and re-emerged after the spin in the last hour. Audi no.8 had been actually release from the garage in front of number 7, so it retained its fourth position. The other Audi no.7 lapped behind it for some time but then suffered another issues and lost more than 3 laps - it still remains 5th. Toyota no,6 is now out, three laps back. Porsche no.1 moved up to 17th position, while Porsche no,2 is now running safely second 56 seconds behind the leading Toyota. Drama continues, nothing is decided, though the battle is not that close and in the previous few hours.

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Also note that the best Ford GT overtook the last competitive Ferrari in GTE for the class lead, a few hours ago. Aston Martin no.94 was running fourth for some time, after Ford GT had suffered problems earlier in the race, but a puncture and slow run around the circuit lost Aston Martin this position and in GTE we have now: Ford-Ferrari-Ford-Ford-Aston Martin-Aston Martin-Chevrolet Corvette. All in the Pro category. In the Amateur portion of GTE it is Ferrari-Porsche-Ferrari-Ferrari at the moment. No competitive Aston Martin or Corvette stayed in the race and are 10 or more laps down.

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Final Hour

Toyota no.6 driven by Kazuki Nakajima leads Porsche no.2 with Neel Jani at the wheel by 30 second and the difference is almost unchangeable and if nothing unpredictable happened, the race is set for a Toyota victory. Situation in LMP2 and GTE classes remains unchanged. To remind current LMP2 positions: Alpine no.36, surviving G-Driver Oreca 05 no.26 and BR01 tops the sheets ahead of Strakka Gibson.

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Final pit stops, no driver or tyre change. Toyota leads the race by 34 seconds with a half hour to go ... Porsche no.2 then gave it up, went to the final pit stop to add a few fuel and even changed rear tyres. However the leading Toyota stopped before the finish line one minute before the end of the race.... and Porsche won. It was unbelievable... no comment.

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LMP2 was won by famous Alpine brand. It finished 6th (or 5th?) overall. Nothing important changed in LMP2 and GTE classes. Ford GT has won after its factory return, despite the handicaps applied after the success in qualifying.

Road To Le Mans

This was the main support race. It was a part of the GT3 Le Mans Cup championship, which is commonly ran within the ELMS meeting, here filled with a LMP3 field too:

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