The Super Finale of a Super Season
For the first time in its history, the 24 Hours of Le Mans decided the winners of the FIA World Champion titles in the various classes. The 87th running of the race served as the Super Finale of the 14-month, eight-round 2018-2019 Super Season, with two rounds at Spa-Francorchamps and Le Mans, amounting to 86 hours of racing! On Sunday 16 June, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing, Porsche GT Team, Signatech Alpine Matmut and Team Project 1 celebrated winning well-deserved titles, and the AF Corse team its LMGTE Pro win.
"06:48 at the Chapelle"
Last year's 24 Hours of Le Mans poster highlighted the circuit lights, the day-night contrast and the fun fair, all symbols of the legendary endurance race. The theme carried on 2019 with a poster depicting the sunrise over the track, a mythical moment at the 24 Hours, with the sun's rays permeating from behind the race logo. In the foreground are pictured the Toyota TS050 Hybrid, and the battle in LMGTE Pro between Ford and Ferrari, a nod to the release a few months later of the film "Le Mans 66" ("Ford v Ferrari").
Rather than the typical 60 garages, 62 were set up for the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans. With 75 worthy applications submitted for 60 available invitations, the Selection Committee had its work cut out for it, compelling the Automobile Club de l’Ouest to consider all possibilities in order to accommodate as many competitors as possible. As a result, two temporary garages were added for United Autosports' two Ligier JS P217-Gibsons. In the end, a record 61 cars took the start in the race (the #99 Porsche 911 RSR of Dempsey-Proton Racing was forced to withdraw after an incident during the free practice)!
An all-female driver line-up at the start and finish
Among the 61 cars on the starting grid, the #83 Ferrari 488 GTE was shared by an all-female driver line-up. Manuela Gostner, Rahel Frey and Michelle Gatting took turns at the wheel in the LMGTE Am class. The drivers, supported by the FIA Women In Motorsports Commission, crossed the finish line in 39th place overall and ninth in their class. No all-female crew had made it to the checkered flag since 1977. "Finishing the race was not just thanks to us, but the result of the work done by the entire team. We did a lot of testing ahead of the race and were well-prepared," said Rahel Frey recently.
A hydrogen-electric prototype warmed up the track before the start
Just a few minutes before the start, the hydrogen-electric LMPH2G prototype developed by the ACO and GreenGT, for the joint-venture MissionH24, did a lap of the 24 Hours circuit to demonstrate the technology's viability for the future of endurance racing. Since June, in the Michelin Le Mans Cup, the car has taken part in free practice sessions at Spa-Francorchamps and Portimão.
HRH Princess Charlène of Monaco honorary starter
Her Royal Highness Princess Charlène of Monaco, a swimming champion also involved in the Grand Prix of Monaco, gave the start at the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans. "I discovered a very special atmosphere, a highly enthusiastic public and intense competition. The 61 cars on the starting grid, the 183 drivers next to their machines with their team members during the start procedure, the resounding anthems, the presentation of the trophy, the patrouille of France, it all created a very moving ambiance and energy," said the Princess shortly after giving the start.
10-minute preview screening of the film "Le Mans 66" ("Ford v Ferrari")
The 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans kicked off the publicity campaign in France for the movie "Le Mans 66" ("Ford v Ferrari") directed by James Mangold starring Matt Damon and Christian Bale. An exclusive 10-minute clip of the film was screened on Friday 14 June in the Pathé Le Mans and CGR Le Mans Saint Saturnin theaters, and throughout the weekend of the race fans were able to watch the movie's first official trailer on several screens in the Fan Zone and around the circuit.
Tony Parker in the starting blocks
Four-time NBA champion Tony Parker came to experience the 24 Hours of Le Mans within the IDEC SPORT Racing team, taking part in the great Drivers' Parade on Friday 14 June in downtown Le Mans. He also did a lap of the circuit before the start of the race in a Porsche safety car driven by Christophe Tinseau (12 participations in the 24 Hours of Le Mans). During a press conference, he admitted wanting to participate in the race. "First, I'm going to take part in a private testing session, far from the media, cameras and at night so no one can watch (laughs, Ed.). I never say never and I really would like to try my hand, so I'm going to talk with Patrice Lafarge (IDEC SPORT Racing president, Ed.). But, before racing and taking on such a challenge, I will need to make major progress."
Other noteworthy individuals were also in attendance, such as Minister of Sports Roxana Maracineanu and Secretary of Equality Marlène Schiappa.
Art and color
For the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans, several teams opted for rather special liveries. Whether for historic, artistic or simply aesthetic reasons, these cars definitely stood out. There was the historic reference to Ford with the four GTs fielded in the LMGTE Pro class sporting liveries in tribute to the American manufacturer's wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the #85 Ford GT of Keating Motorsports competing for the first time in LMGTE Am celebrated the 80th anniversary of its sponsor with a livery in orange, mauve and pink.
For the #93 and #94 911 RSRs fielded in LMGTE Pro, Porsche chose to pay tribute to one of its most successful representatives in the U.S., the Brumos team, recognizable thanks to the red and blue stripe that Porsche GT Team recreated with Brumos' favorite number, 59.
In LMP2, Racing Team Nederland decided on a livery inspired by the Minardi M192, a single-seater fielded by Scuderia Minardi in the 1992 F1 World Championship.
Rebellion Racing painted its #1 and #3 Rebellion R13-Gibsons in bright colors in an artistic mélange between graffiti and dripping.
Two Ferraris were also given extraordinary liveries: for the team's return to LMGTE Pro, Risi Competizione called upon the Paris Ecole nationale supérieure des arts appliqués et des métiers d’art, while JMW Motorsport's #84 488 GTE was decorated with a drawing of the 24 Hours circuit and others from the European Le Mans Series. Lastly, Team Project 1's #56 Porsche 911 RSR in the LMGTE Am class sported a feminine inspired work signed by Richard Phillips.
A virtual race during Race Week
For the first time ever, a virtual event was held during Race Week: the Super Finale of the Le Mans Esports Series. Launched during the 2018 6 Hours of Silverstone, the competition saw as many as 20,000 gamers try their chances. In the end, 36 earned their invitations to the first grande finale. Grouped into 12 teams of three drivers, the players competed in the Xbox One game "Forza Motorsport 7" in nine races at five circuits: Le Mans (in its current configuration without chicanes), Silverstone, Sebring and Spa-Francorchamps. It was a significant challenge that called for remarkable strategy, won by the American team Veloce Esports ahead of the French outfit Baguette Racing.
The new 2020 LMP3s unveiled
On Friday the day before the race, fans enjoying the traditional pit walk were able to feast their eyes on the new LMP3s set to hit the track in 2020. The Ligier JS P320, the Ginetta, the Duqueine D08 (constructor previously known as Norma) and the ADESS 03 EVO were on display in the pit straight. These cars will be eligible to compete from 2020 to 2024 in the European Le Mans Series, Asian Le Mans Series, Michelin Le Mans Cup, Ultimate Cup, IMSA Prototype Challenge and V de V.
Patrick Dempsey wins the 2019 Spirit of Le Mans award
The American actor and owner of Dempsey-Proton Racing won the 2019 Spirit of Le Mans award. The diehard motorsport enthusiast has taken the start in the 24 Hours of Le Mans four times at the wheel of a Ferrari F430 GT2, Porsche 911 GT3 RSR and Porsche 911 RSR with as best result second place in his class. He even competed in almost a full season of the FIA WEC in 2015, winning his class at the 6 Hours of Fuji. Dempsey goes out of his way to promote the present and future of endurance racing and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. "Since his first participation in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2009, we've seen an amateur driver make enormous progress through hard work, focus, learning and involvement and become a seasoned competitor. He is a huge fan of motorsport and its supporters. We have also gotten to know a humble gentleman who is at the service of his team, dedicated, invested in others and interested in helping young drivers and the future of endurance racing. He is the Spirit of Le Mans," underscored Automobile Club de l’Ouest president Pierre Fillon.
Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver parade
For the 50th anniversary of their win at the 1969 24 Hours of Le Mans, drivers Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver thrilled the crowd with a lap of the circuit in their #6 Ford GT40 painted in the Gulf colors. Cheered on by an excited public in the grandstands of the pit straight, the two teammates lived an unforgettable and emotional moment.
Grand Marshal Hurley Haywood
After Henri Pescarolo (2013), Allan McNish (2014), Tom Kristensen (2015), Alexander Wurz (2016), Mark Webber (2017) and Jacky Ickx (2018), Hurley Haywood (72 years old) served as the Grand Marshal at the 87th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The three-time winner (1977, 1983 and 1994) waved the green flag to open the track on Wednesday 13 June for the free practice then guided the drivers and their cars to the starting line on Saturday 15 June.
Toyota and Aston Martin commit to Le Mans Hypercar class
One of the highlights of Race Week was surely the announcement given by two major manufacturers, Toyota and Aston Martin, of their intention to participate in Le Mans Hypercar, the future head class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and in the FIA World Endurance Championship starting with the 2020-2021 season. The two announcements came a few hours after the ACO's presentation of the new regulations. They leave the choice to constructors between a prototype and a series car to develop their hypercar. Toyota has opted for a hybrid prototype based on the road car GR Super Sport, a concept car unveiled during the 2019 Tokyo Motor Show. Aston Martin has chosen a version adapted from the Valkyrie, promising to push all technical limits thanks to its specially-designed 6.5-liter V12 engine. Since then, Peugeot has also revealed it will compete in the Le Mans Hypercar class beginning in 2022.
33 rookie drivers at the start
Of the 183 drivers taking the start, 33 were rookies at the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans. Among them, former F1 driver Stoffel Vandoorne at the wheel of SMP Racing's #11 BR Engineering BR1-AER and Jules Gounon driving Rizi Competizione's #89 Ferrari 488 GTE EVO. Prior to participating in the race, all rookies must complete six simulator exercises mandated by the ACO. They include getting to know the circuit, driving in changing weather conditions, driving during the day and night, traffic management, marshal positions and a slow zone test. Then, all rookies must complete 10 laps of the actual circuit during Test Day.
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the second time in the same season
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing achieved an extraordinary feat when it placed the #8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid on the top step of the overall podium. The Super Season of the FIA WEC afforded the possibility of winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans twice in the same season and that is exactly what the Japanese marque managed to do, joining Bugatti and Lorraine-Dietrich with two consecutive victories at the race.
Signatech Alpine Matmut's feat
Signatech Alpine Matmut (Signatech Alpine Elf for the 2019-2020 FIA WEC season) won the LMP2 class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the second time in a row, but also for the third time in four years. The team managed by Philippe Sinault also won the FIA Endurance LMP2 Teams and Drivers Trophy for the second time. Nicolas Lapierre, driver of the #36 Apine A470-Gibson with André Negrão and Pierre Thiriet, even clinched a third win at the race in the LMP2 class on the heels of four participations with the French marque. "We had decided to prioritize the world champion title, but once the race was in full swing, we fought with everything we had against G-Drive Racing. It wasn't a battle for the championship with them, but you have to respect this legendary race and fight to win," explained Lapierre.
Crushing blow for the #7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid
"It's one of those things that throws everything up in the air right when you think it's in the bag," TOYOTA GAZOO Racing's technical director Pascal Vasselon said recently about the flat tyre that befell the #7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid on its way to victory in the final hour of the race. Denied a first win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, José María López (who was at the wheel for the flat tyre) said not long ago: "We've moved on, but it's still disappointing. We led the race for 23 hours and came so close to winning. We know the 24 Hours of Le Mans is as wonderful as it is merciless. Toyota knows it well too. Now we're thinking about the next one and performing well like we did this year so we can go after the win."
Stunning shows in the LMP2 and LMGTE Pro classes
Rarely has a class victory been as sought after as at the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans. In LMP2 like in LMGTE Pro, the cutthroat action never let up. In LMP2, TDS Racing, G-Drive Racing, IDEC SPORT Racing, Jackie Chan DC Racing and Signatech Alpine Matmut battled nonstop, with Signatech Alpine Matmut's #36 Alpine A470-Gibson reached the top step on the class podium. In the always competitive LMGTE Pro class, Porsche, Ferrari, Ford, Aston Martin, Chevrolet Corvette and BMW duked it out, with very little separating the competitors. Ten cars were withing the same lap on Saturday 15 June at 19:00 for example. Only with the deployment of the safety car in the 10th hour did things finally shake up a bit. On the morning of Sunday 16 June, spectators were treated with a stunning duel between the #63 Corvette C7.R of Corvette Racing and the #51 Ferrari 488 GTE of AF Corse for first place, with the Italian team claiming the top step on the LMGTE Pro podium.
70 years later, Ferrari wins again
By winning the LMGTE Pro class after an intense 24-hour battle, AF Corse celebrated the 70th anniversary of Ferrari's first victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in grand fashion (in 1949 with the Ferrari 166MM driven by Luigi Chinetti and Peter Mitchell-Thomson). "We worked hard for it. For the last six months, a great deal of preparation was done and I think we wanted it more than anything. It is not an easy race at all," said James Calado, driver of the winning #51 Ferrari 488 GTE EVO along with Alessandro Pier Guidi and Daniel Serra.
Over 350.1 kph in the Mulsanne Straight
350.1 kph was the fastest speed recorded at this year's running of Le Mans. The performance was clocked during the 40th lap by SMP Racing's #11 BR Engineering BR1-AER driven at the time by Stoffel Vandoorne, a former F1 driver participating in his first 24 Hours.
The determination of Nyck de Vries and Racing Team Nederland
At 11:33 on Sunday 16 June, Racing Team Nederland's #29 Dallara P217-Gibson driven by Nyck de Vries suffered a flat tyre going into the Indianapolis Corner and rammed into a tyre wall. The young Dutch driver managed to retake the track and return his very damaged prototype to its pit. The team immediately set to work repairing the car and was successful in getting back on the track, proceeding to finish 26th overall and 15th in the LMP2 class. "You are just a passenger. You see the wall getting closer and everything is out of your control. Honestly, I thought the impact would be more painful, but I'm alright. To me, the winners are the heroes. Today, we're just survivors," said de Vries after the race.
Two Russian drivers on the podium
For the first time in the history of the race, two Russian drivers finished in the top 3 at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Along with Stoffel Vandoorne, Mikhail Aleshin and Vitaly Petrov, drivers of SMP Racing's #11 BR Engineering BR1-AER, reached the third step on the podium, a fantastic result for the Russian team and its non-hybrid prototype.
Relive the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans via our YouTube Playlist.