Michelin sweeps Le Mans again; Toyota repeats
Michelin sweeps Le Mans again; Toyota repeats
Above photo courtesy Toyota Gazoo Racing
Michelin has won its 22nd consecutive and 28th overall 24 Hours of Le Mans, sweeping all four classes in the process.
Toyota Gazoo Racing (LMP1) and Signatech Alpine (LMP2) repeated their wins in this race a year ago, although under different circumstances.
Meanwhile AF Corse Ferrari (GTE-Pro) and Keating Motorsports Ford (GTE-Am) took the GTE class wins.
Toyota led flag-to-flag with its pair of TS050 Hybrids. However a bad sensor reading forced the previously dominant No. 7 car driven by Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez into the pits twice inside the final hour or so of the race.
That opened the door for the trio of Fernando Alonso, Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastien Buemi to win again in the No. 8. Alonso downplayed the significance and said the No. 7 car had their measure most of the race.
The same trio also secured the 2018-’19 FIA World Endurance Championship for LMP drivers in the process. Within a calendar span of 12 months the Spaniard has won Le Mans twice, the Rolex 24 At Daytona and a WEC title all racing with Michelin and with two different top-class prototypes.
Signatech Alpine’s trio of Andre Negrao, Nicolas Lapierre and Pierre Thiriet shared the winning No. 36 Alpine A470 this race in LMP2, a year on following a midseason switch to Michelin. They inherited the 2018 win following a post-race disqualification for G-Drive Racing. They emerged from a good battle with the same car, now badged an AURUS 01 this year, up front. The G-Drive car lost time in the morning when it went behind the wall. This trio also won the LMP2 driver’s title for the FIA WEC season.
AF Corse Ferrari enjoyed a largely untroubled run to the GTE-Pro race win. Other than getting held up during a couple Slow Zone periods, the trio of Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Daniel Serra broke through in an otherwise tough season for the No. 51 Ferrari 488 GTE. The win ensured a fifth different GTE manufacturer has won the class in as many years. Since 2015, it’s been Corvette, Ford, Aston Martin and Porsche. Serra was part of the 2017 Aston Martin winning lineup while Pier Guidi and Calado have claimed their maiden Le Mans wins.
Porsche rounded out the podium with its No. 91 Manthey-run 911 RSR ahead of its No. 93 CORE-run car, the latter having made significant year-on-year strides at the race. Usual IMSA teammates Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet shared the car with Tandy’s old Porsche LMP1 co-driver, Earl Bamber. Exhaust issues took the No. 92 car of Kevin Estre, Michael Christensen and Laurens Vanthoor out of contention but Estre and Christensen had enough of a points gap to secure the GTE-Pro driver title.
Ford missed the podium in GTE-Pro but made up for it in GTE-Am. The trio of Jeroen Bleekemolen, Ben Keating and Felipe Fraga scored an emotional and dominant victory in the No. 85 Keating Motorsports Ford GT. Keating is the first customer to run the Ford GT.
The win came despite some late-race drama in the last two hours. Ford crew had to change the nose assembly. Then Keating had to serve a stop-and-go penalty for spinning the wheels leaving a pit stop.
This brought Joerg Bergmeister within striking distance in Project 1’s No. 56 Porsche, adorned in a special “art car” livery this race. But with Bleekemolen installed for the final stint and on a fresher set of Michelins, the Dutchman was able to pull away to his second Le Mans win. He’d won in LMP2 in 2008 driving a Porsche RS Spyder.
Bergmeister needed a late splash for fuel. Regardless he, Patrick Lindsey and Egidio Perfetti’s second place finish was enough to clinch the GTE-Am driver title. JMW Motorsport completed the podium with a lineup of veteran American and past Le Mans class winner Jeff Segal, and race rookies Wei Lu and Rodrigo Baptista.
OTHERS OF NOTE
Other American-flagged teams endured a tougher race, with none having a harder ending than Corvette Racing in its 20th consecutive year.
The No. 64 Corvette’s race ended early when Marcel Fassler attempted to pass a slower GTE-Am class Porsche. However the Porsche’s left front fender collided with Fassler’s right rear and spun him around into the barrier. The Swiss driver was OK but the car was substantially damaged.
The sister No. 63 Corvette ran within the lead to top three nearly all race but saw its hopes come unglued in the final hours. A Safety Car delayed the car when it needed to pit and switch from Antonio Garcia to Jan Magnussen. Then Magnussen clipped the apex curb and suffered slight left front damage, which put the car behind the wall. They finished ninth in class.
WeatherTech Racing finished just off the GTE-Am podium in fourth place. Fellow Ferrari runners Risi Competizione never factored all week and ended 12th in GTE-Pro.
American-flagged prototype teams DragonSpeed (LMP1 and LMP2) and United Autosports (LMP2) hit trouble with all four of their combined cars. The No. 22 United Ligier pressed on to fourth in LMP2 despite losing time overnight trying to repair the driver’s side door.