Incredible LeMans Finishes Spoiled by Technical Infractions
This year’s 24 Hours of LeMans was expectedly dominated by the two LMP1 entries from Toyota, but it wasn’t the expected car that won. LMP2 had a huge battle of its own, American-based IMSA teams challenged in GTE Pro, and the heartfelt GTE Am win changed after the end of the race.
After dominating for nearly the whole race and resetting the track record, the #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050 Hybrid of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway, and Jose Maria Lopez came in with a down tire. Upon going back out, they realized that the tire pressure sensor system was reporting the incorrect tire’s pressure and they had to come in once again. Driving the entire track with a low tire cost them dearly.
This relinquished their lead to the eventual winners, which were the #8 Toyota of Fernando Alonso, Kazuki Nakajima, and Sebstian Buemi. Completing 385 laps, they led only 46 of them, winning by only 16 seconds over their teammates. This was the second straight 1-2 finish in this order for the Toyota team at LeMans.
It is worth noting that the 3rd place car in LMP1 — and highest finishing non-hybrid — was only 6 laps behind they Toyota Hybrids. The Russian-backed #11 SMP Racing BR Engineering BR1 AER of Vitaly Petrov, Mikhail Aleshin, and Stoffel Vandoorne — all ex-F1 drivers — ran the 24-hour race trouble-free to secure their position.
LMP2 started with a massive 20-car field. After the G-Drive Racing #26 had led a fair bit of the race, the Signatech Alpine Matmut #36 of Nicolas Lapierre, André Negrao, and Pierre Thiriet would take over the lead and carry on for the win. Signatech Alpine repeats their victory from 2018 after G-Drive had initially won, but was later disqualified.
In GTE-Pro, there were 38 lead changes at the front of the 17-car class. As competitors were spaced out later in the race by full-course yellows and pace cars, the class victory would go to the #51 AF Corsa Ferrari 488 GTE of James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Daniel Serra. While there were several American-based IMSA teams competing, the final podium positions would go to the factory Porsches. In their final factory-backed efforts at LeMans, neither Ford nor BMW would reach the podium.
The post-race technical infractions uprooted the GTE-Am class finishes. After American car dealer and racer Ben Keating’s #85 Ford GT won what was a one-off race for them, the fueling infractions came to light. At first, it was a fueling rate issue that resulted in a 55.2-second time penalty being assessed. This dropped them to 2nd in class. But later measurements of their fuel tank capacity showed them to be 0.1 liters over the 96-liter limit. This resulted in an outright disqualification and the same fate was suffered by the #68 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing GT that had initially finished 4th.
The final results in GTE-Am resulted in a victory for the #56 Team Project 1 Porsche of Patrick Lindsay, Jorg Bergmeister, and Egidio Perfetti. The #84 JMW Motorsport Ferrari was promoted to 2nd and the #62 WeatherTech Racing Ferrari inherited 3rd.
[Images: Toyota; Ferrari; ACO; Ford; FIA]
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I still remember the Ford GT win back in the 60s and how cool that was. I totally fell in love with the car at that time (along with Jim Hall's Chaparral). Kind of a drag the team weren't able to win this one, especially due to a technical infraction. I guess, in a certain way, they did still win - just not officially.
The Ford in the LM GT Am class was a privateer entry; those in the LM GTE Pro class were the factory entries. Ford stopped their factory effort but likely there will be privateer entries for a few more years until the cars become obsolete.