Monday, Jun 19 01:03am
AUTHOR: Matthew Hansen

Hartley and Bamber stage unbelievable fight back to win Le Mans

New Zealand's Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber, with Porsche co-driver Timo Bernhard, have claimed a come-from-behind victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans — just the third overall victory for a New Zealander at the world's most challenging race. 


The win comes after a race-long fightback for the trio of drivers, after an axle issue dropped them more than an hour behind the leaders (down to 56th out of 57 cars) early in the race. Ironically, the win also comes on the 51st anniversary of Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon's famous 1966 win for Ford, where they too wore the No. 2 on the side of their car. It's Porsche's third Le Mans win on the trot. 


The No. 2 Porsche was placed back in contention after their stablemates in the No. 1 Porsche encountered a mechanical failure while holding a commanding lead. This promoted Hartley, Bamber, and Bernhard into third place overall and first in class. 


Soon after taking over third place overall and first in LMP1, Bernhard took over second place after the second-placed No. 13 Vaillante Rebellion machine was stifled by a lengthy pit stop ruined by starter-motor issues. 


With the leading Jackie Chan DC Racing LMP2 car making a higher volume of pit stops than the lead Porsche, gains came Timo Bernhard's way quickly. One particularly long stop for the minor team dropped them more than a minute to second place. 


With 2 hours and 10 minutes to go he hopped back onto the lead lap. Bernard's next issue were the potential for slow-zone cautions, the first of which happened on the cusp of the two-hour mark for the spun LMP2 machine of Matthew McMurray. These periods restricted the amount of time each lap that the LMP1 pilot could gain on the leader. 


For the leaders, Ho-Pin Tung took over the reigns with an hour and a half to go, and by now his gap to Bernhard was just 1min 30sec. That gap was down to a minute 10 minutes later, and by an hour and 13 minutes, it was less than 20 seconds.


The crucial pass for the lead everyone knew was coming came with an hour and seven minutes to go in the race; a clean pass while the pair of cars fired down the Mulsanne straight. Five minutes later Ho-Pin Tung pitted out of second to extend the race lead even further, as Bernhard set in for likely the longest hour of his Le Mans career. 


There were thoughts that Bernhard was likely to retain the controls of the sole-remaining LMP1 Porsche, and those thoughts were seemingly confirmed when the team made what was their pennultimate scheduled pit stop with 55 minutes to go. 


The leader's final stop happened with 24-minutes to go, with everything occuring faultlessly. By now the gap to second was a lengthy one, closing in on three minutes. And as the giant clock ticked down below 10 minutes, then five minutes, and then down to zero minutes, nobody could catch the No. 2 Porsche or prevent Hartley, Bamber, or Bernhard from claiming a famous win by a lap over the second-placed car of near-giant killers Ho-Pin Tung, Oliver Jarvis, and teenager Thomas Laurent (who themselves claimed victory in LMP2). 


It's the second win for Bamber and third for Bernhard (including a class win), while it's also the very first win for Hartley after having come close on multiple occasions with Porsche. 


The closing battle commanding the most attention was that for the win in GTE-Pro. It came down to a fist fight between Chevrolet's Jordan Taylor in the No. 63 Corvette and Aston Martin's Jonathan Adam in their No. 97 entry. The whole final stint saw them following each other nose-to-tail, and with five minutes to go the Adam unsuccessfully fired inside Taylor at Arnage; taking the lead for a few seconds before losing it again on corner exit. 


Dramatically, the Corvette ran through a chicane and sand trap on the penultimate lap, further complicating the result for the team. The margins tightened as the Corvette struggled to get his momentum back, and he lost the spot at the final corner as they began the final lap.


And with Taylor now racing with a puncture and struggling, Adam was able to scamper off with the win. Taylor had no choice but to limp home at a snail's pace, losing second place on the way to the No. 67 Ford GT of Harry Tincknell. 


Off the GTE-Pro podium, Richie Stanaway with his No. 95 Aston Martin teammates Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen finished ninth — having led the race at two different points, but denied by a puncture and then an off through the sand and into the wall. Scott Dixon, with No. 69 Ford GT teammates Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook, finished two spots ahead in seventh after a race where they struggled to match the leaders. 

Photo: Porsche

Results (overall top 10)

1. Brendon Hartley/Earl Bamber/Timo Bernhard (LMP1)  367 laps
2. Ho-Pin Tung/Oliver Jarvis/Thomas Laurent (LMP2)  +1 lap
3. Nelson Piquet Jr/Mathias Beche/David Heinemeier Hansson (LMP2)  +3 laps
4. Tristan Gommendy/David Cheng/Alex Brundle (LMP2)  +4 laps
5. Nelson Panciatici/Pierre Ragues/Andre Negrao (LMP2)  +5 laps
6. Filipe Albuquerque/Hugo de Sadeleer/Will Owen (LMP2)  +3:31.780
7. Richard Bradley/Franck Matelli/James Allen (LMP2)  +6 laps
8. Jean-Eric Vergne/Tor Graves/Jonathan Hirschi (LMP2)  +7 laps
9. Sebastien Buemi/Anthony Davidson/Kazuki Nakajima (LMP1)  +9 laps
10. Roberto Lacorte/Giorgio Sernagiotto/Andrea Belicchi (LMP2)  +14 laps


Results (GTE-Pro/Am top 10)

1. Jonathan Adam/Darren Turner/Daniel Sierra (Aston Martin)   340 laps
2. Harry Tincknell/Andy Priaulx/Pipo Derani (Ford GT)  +1:32.705
3. Jordan Taylor/Antonio Garcia/Jan Magnussen (Chevrolet Corvette)  +3.644
4. Frederic Makowieki/Richard Lietz/Patrick Pilet (Porsche 911)  +1 lap
5. Sam Bird/Davide Rigon/Miguel Molina (Ferrari 488)  +1:05.598
6. Joey Hand/Dirk Muller/Tony Kanaan (Ford GT)  +1:30.831
7. Scott Dixon/Richard Westbrook/Ryan Briscoe (Ford GT)  +2 laps
8. Marcel Fassler/Oliver Gavin/Tommy Milner (Chevrolet Corvette)  +2 laps
9. Richie Stanaway/Nicki Thiim/Marco Sorensen (Aston Martin)  +1 lap
10. Dries Vanthoor/Will Stevens/Robert Smith (Ferrari 488, Pro-Am)  +1 lap