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«The Club Arnage Guide to the 24 hours of Le Mans 2015 Every input was pure reflex - things were coming at me everywhere I looked. For about 50 ...»

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For the first time one make got the win in all classes and all classified Porsches and Ferraris were private teams. The following year would see the fastest lap to date at Le Mans, the longest distance covered at 5335 km and the first rolling start which has been kept until now. The Porsches had again the edge but victory would again escape the Gulf-Wyer team and go rather to the Martini Porsche 917 of Helmut Marko-Gijs van Lennep, for the second time the short-tail 917 K (Kurzheck) would beat the “made for Le Mans” 917 LH (Langheck). Neither the privately entered Ferrari 512Ms nor the Alfa Romeos could beat the pace of the best racing car of the century in its last outing at La Sarthe.

10 The Club Arnage Guide to the 24 hours of Le Mans 2015 King Henri and the Matras For 1972 rules had changed and the 3-litre engine limit had completely altered the picture, much to the advantage of the small French Matra-Simcas who would become unbeatable emperors of Le Mans, this year with no real challenge as ferrari was absent. This first victory was in the hands of Henri Pescarolo-Graham Hill making the British driver the only man to date to win Indianapolis, the Monaco GP and Le Mans with another Matra completing a neat 1-2 for the blue prototypes. Jo Bonnier was killed in an unfortunate accident leaving endurance racing without one of its main drivers and team owners.

With the circuit now modified adding a complete new White House section, the next year would see a well earned Matra victory in an allout fight with the all-but-Le-Mans conquering Ferrari 312. Henri Pescarolo was again part of the winning team partnered this time by Gérard Larrousse and they would repeat in 1974 even when gearbox failure kept them 47 minutes in the pits and put their lead at stake.

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Alpine-Renault came back in 1977 with three cars but none of them would see the finish so victory was assured for the Jacky Ickx-Hurley Haywood-Juergen Barth Porsche when drama would come back to Le Mans in its typical fashion: a piston broke on the leading car with only minutes to go. Given their huge advantage Porsche decided to take a major risk and waited until 15:50 to send Barth back to the track with a crippled car to finish the 24 Hour race almost at walking pace in a very dramatic way. The race ended with a fourth victory for Ickx and a finish for both de Cadenet - now in his own car - and the Inaltera of Jean Rondeau.

But there is always a revenge and after their 1977 disaster Alpine-Renault managed to get their win in 1978 with Jean-Pierre Jaussaud and Didier Pironi beating the Porsches fair and square in a race that saw Porsche even change Ickx to a better placed car in a futile attempt to give him his fifth victory. Renault retired from endurance after this victory so 1979 would see Porsche be total favourites with practically no opposition. And while Porsche would effectively win again with Klaus Ludwig and Bill and Don Whittington, the big news was the second placed car since one of the drivers was Paul Newman getting to the podium on his first attempt on the race of races. The 70s would close then like they started: Porsche on top and a Hollywood actor on the spotlight. The 80s would start in a very 1984:The V12 6 litre Jaguar XJR 5 of Brian Redman, Doc Bundy and Bob different fashion, with the first ever constructor- Tullius driver to take the honors. © Rupert Lowes

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Early on in this very wet race it was the Liqui Moly-Martini Racing Porsche 908/80 of Jacky Ickx and Reinhold Joest that lead the race but lost it when the car suffered a problem. At midnight there was a Rondeau in the lead, but Ickx got the repaired Porsche back on the same lap an hour later. The Porsche increased its lead over the hours to come and had a decent lead at 7 am when it suffered a gearbox failure. Unfortunately for Ickx and Joest the Rondeau did not suffer any problems and while the Porsche was being repaired the Rondeau car of Rondeau/Jaussaud gained the lead. With just 30 minutes to go the rain came back and the Porsche went in for wet tyres in an attempt to finally close the gap and take the win. The Rondeau stayed out and won the race, despite a spin from Jaussaud (who did not hit anything), the first time ever a constructor won the race with his own car.

Porsche dominates

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Lancia responded to the 956 with its LC2 but despite running well in qualifying the cars did not finish. The 1984 race was won by the Joest Racing entered Porsche 956 of Henri Pescarolo and Klaus Ludwig. They won in the absence of the Porsche factory teams, which disagreed with the new 1984 rules and therefore boycotted the race. Despite the factory teams not being there, there were still eight 956s in the top 10 at the end of the 52nd Le Mans 24 Hours.

Once again Lancia tried to win Le Mans, but even though they claimed the front row for the race it was once again a Porsche on top at the end of the race.

With a revised 956, being named the Porsche 962C, the Weisenbach-based manufacturer returned to Le Mans in 1985. This car, that was eligible under the new IMSA rules, was not able to beat the ‘old’ 956s however and Derek Bell/Hans-Joachim Stuck only finished third overall. The race was once again won by the Joest Racing team, the number 7 Porsche 956 driven by Klaus Ludwig, Paolo Barilla and “John Winter”. Winter was in fact a pseudonym for Louis Krages, a German who used this name to prevent his family from finding out he was racing.

A year later, in 1986, no one was able to catch the works Porsche 962C of Stuck/Bell/Holbert.

The number one car finished the race after 367 laps, beating several other Porsches. 1983: The Lancia of Paolo Barilla, Jean-Claude Andruet and Unfortunately the 962C win was overshadowed Alessandro Nannini by the death of Austrian Formula One and sports © Rupert Lowes car driver Jo Gartner. During the night, just after 2 am, Gartner’s Porsche suddenly made a hard left turn on the Mulsanne straight after suffering a (suspected) jammed gearbox. The car hit the barriers at nearly 290 km/h, became airborne and rolled down the track until it came to a rest on the right side barrier and caught fire. Jo Gartner was killed instantly.

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In the final race of the eighties at Le Mans Jaguar was hoping for a repeat of their 1988 victory, but there was one other team that spoiled it for the British squad. Swiss constructor Peter Sauber, who had been running cars at Le Mans for more than a decade, and Mercedes-Benz became partners and Sauber’s Team became the official Mercedes-Benz factory team. The Sauber C9 with its 5 litre Turbo V8 dominated the 1989 event. The number 62 Sauber C9 of Schlesser/Jabouille/Cudini took pole position and eventually finished fifth. Its sister cars went on to make it a one-two finish for Team Sauber Mercedes. Jochen Mass, Manuel Reuter and Stanley Dickens in the 63 car won after completing 389 laps. The number 61 of Baldi, Acheson and Brancatelli followed, albeit five laps down. All three cars were capable of reaching speeds up to 400 km/h. The winning Jaguar of 1988 was down in fourth place and seemed to have been tamed… The 90’s would bring a lot more diversity in race winners and of course a new track layout.

The end of the Hunaudieres…

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However this was not enough to beat the Oreca-Mazdaspeed Mazda 787B. The Japanese manufacturer had overcome the problems that troubled the Mazda 787 and with Volker Weidler, Johnny Herbert and Bertrand Gachot behind the wheel of the number 55 car they took the first ever Japanese victory at Le Mans, as well as the first ever non-piston engine car to win.

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The World Sportscar Championship collapsed before the 1993 season started and Peugeot and Mercedes focussed on F1 projects. Peugeot did return to Le Mans however, with the 905 Evo 1B. Eric Hélary/Christophe Bouchut/Geoff Brabham gave Peugeot a back-to-back victory, the two other Peugeots finishing second and third. Toyota Team Tom’s was the best of the rest. Following this dominant performance, Peugeot pulled out of sports car racing. With new IMSA regulations coming into place to lower the costs the 3.5L cars were no longer eligible to race in 1994.

New cars had to be open-top, flat-bottomed sports-prototypes with production engines. The so-called LMP1 cars were not able to fight for victory though as Porsche exploited a loophole in the GT rules. Two street-legal versions of the Porsche 962 were built and modified to fit into the GT category. Jochen Dauer ran the so-called Dauer 962 cars, with Porsche support, and finished first and third. Toyota ran a couple of Group C Toyota 94C-Vs and finished second and fourth. The first real ‘WSC’ car (LMP1) to finish was the Kremer K8 Spyder, 18 laps behind the winning 962 in sixth.

The 63rd 24 Hours of Le Mans only saw proper GT and WSC cars on the track. Entries like the Dauer 962 and and dusted-off Group C cars were not allowed. The Le Mans Prototype WM’s of Welter Racing took pole position and set the fastest lap time in the race but suffered mechanical problems and retired. The McLaren F1 GTR, which was in its first racing season, turned out to be the most reliable car around the track, as it had already shown in the ’95 BPR Global GT Series, and beat the Courage C34. Yannick Dalmas/Masanori Sekiya/JJ Lehto completed 298 laps, one more than the Courage. The McLaren F1 GTR took the remaining top 5 spots. Porsche responded to the McLaren F1 GTR in 1996 by entering two Porsche 911 GT1s and intended to win the race overall, defeating the McLarens and the LMPs. They succeeded in beating the McLarens, but missed out on the overall victory as Joest Racing entered a prototype for Davy Jones/Alexander Wurz/Manuel Reuter that won the race. This car was built around a TWR Jaguar

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The 1997 race saw the same outcome as the 1996 race. The Joest Racing Porsche WSC-95 was not the fastest car out on the track, but mechanical problems for the Porsche 911 GT1s and McLaren F1 GTRs meant Joest Racing claimed his second ever back-to-back Le Mans victory with the same chassis. The drivers of this car were Michele Alboreto, Stefan Johansson and Le Mans rookie Tom Kristensen. In June 1998 the number of manufacturers officially involved in the 24 Hours of Le Mans saw a significant increase. Porsche upgraded its 911 GT1, BMW entered its new BMW V12 1996: TWR Porsche WSC 95 from Joest Racing driven by Michele Alboreto, LM in cooperation with the Williams F1 Pierluigi Martini and Didier Theys team, Nissan sent 4 new R390 GT1s, © „Lorry“ Mercedes was involved with the CLK-GTR LM and the American Panoz team send two Esperante GTR-1s. The race became a war of attrition that was won by Porsche. The cars from Mercedes, BMW and Toyota retired with mechanical problems or accident damage, while the Nissan R390 GT1s and McLaren F1 GTRs did not have the pace to keep up with the Porsche 911 GT1-98s. Laurent Aiello, Allan McNish and Stephane Ortelli in the number 26 Porsche gave the German manufacturer the Le Mans victory it wanted and the number 25 Porsche made it even better after taking second place. Porsche announced they would not return to Le Mans in 1999, taking a sabbatical instead…

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The new millennium – Audi!

In 2000 three Audi R8’s were entered and the R8 turned out to be an instant winner. During qualifying the number 9 R8 of Aiello, McNish and Ortelli took the pole position, the other Audi’s were second and third on the grid. At the end of the 2000 Le Mans 24 Hours the same three cars were on top, albeit in a different order. Frank Biela, Tom Kristensen and Emanuele Pirro beat the sister cars to clinch the R8s first Le Mans victory.

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The 2005 edition was driven in exceptionally hot weather. The temperature was well over 30ºC and caused a lot of mechanical problems for the teams. The Pescarolo Sport C60 of Collard/Boullion/Comas had taken pole position and with French rally ace Sébastien Loeb behind the wheel of the second Pescarolo the French fans all came to Le Mans hoping for a French victory for the first time since Peugeot in 1993. Unfortunately for them the Pescarolo cars had a lot of bad luck during the race and despite the lower speed of the car the reliability of the Audi R8 was the key factor.

The Champion Racing R8 in the hands of Lehto, Werner and (again) Kristensen won the race, 2 laps ahead of the number 16 Pescarolo. Kristensen set a new record of seven overall Le Mans victories, six of them in succession. He was now one win ahead of Le Mans legend Jacky Ickx.

Diesel power

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The 3 factory 908's made good starts from the green flag and such was the pace of the leading trio of factory Peugeots they pulled out a lead of about one minute in the first hour. McNish was in the first of the Audis in 4th place having passed the privately run Oreca 908. But at about 7pm the lead Audi went for a trip in the gravel at a cost of 3 laps. The Peugeots could now ease the pace, something they looked very keen to do.

The damage to Peugeots reliability seemed to have already been done with all 3 factory 908s and the privately run Peugeot 908 eventually retiring throughout Sunday (one suspension failure and three engine failures). En route to failure and as the situation became increasingly desperate the No.64 Corvette was sent into the barriers by the exuberant Davidson further adding to the embarrassment. Audi locked at the podium with a 1, 2, 3 finish for the Joest team. The petrol engined LMP1 race was won by Oreca and LMP2 was won by the Strakka racing Honda. It was fitting that the last LMGT1 race was won by a stalwart of the GT1 series the Saleen SR7, with GT2 glory going to the Felbermayr Porsche.

2011 - Peugeot vs. Audi - 13.8 seconds In the 79th running of the Le Mans 24 hour race the Audi vs. Peugeot rivalry was reignited again and was the focus of the majority visiting La Sarthe that weekend. The Sebring 12 hour earlier in the year hinted that the Peugeots had the upper hand but Le Mans very rarely follows the form book.

For the first time since 2006 Audi took the top spot in qualifying with the Joest team setting a faster lap time than the much larger capacity previous evolutions of the Audi. Signatech Nissan qualified first in LMP2 and the newly created LM GTE Pro and Am categories were headed by the factory BMW team M3 and AF Corse Ferrari 458 respectively.

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