After a disastrous night for Toyota, Porsche seemed destined for victory... The German manufacturer ended up with a nineteenth win, but not before a twist in the scenario which meant that the team only took the lead in the closing stages.
The 85th Le Mans 24 Hours was an emotional rollercoaster in the Porsche camp. Just a few hours into the race, the #2 919 Hybrid spent an hour in the garage for an engine change. At 20:00, Earl Bamber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard’s car rejoined in fifty-fifth place and embarked on a recovery operation.
Shortly before 01:00, the leading #7 Toyota slowed menacingly in the hands of Kamui Kobayashi. The #1 Porsche 919 Hybrid took over the lead and forged a ten-lap gap. At the half-way stage, the other Porsche had already clawed back to 16th.
By late on Sunday morning, the #2 was in second place, as André Lotterer in the #1 retired due to an oil pressure problem. Bernhard bore down on the LMP2 Oreca, the #38 fielded by Jackie Chan DC Racing and surged into the lead at 13:53, with just over an hour to go.
At 15:00, the chequered flag honoured a remarkable recovery by the #2 Porsche’s crew. But it was not the first such feat to be celebrated at Le Mans. In 1977, Jacky Ickx fought his way through the pack, breaking lap record after lap record in the process. Back in 1965, Masten Gregory and Jochen Rindt made a spectacular recovery in the 250 LM, the last time a Ferrari won the race outright. Both times, the drivers pushed their cars to the absolute limits. The Porsche 936 limped over the line with a failed cylinder and the 250LM broke down just beyond the flag.
In 2017, three exceptional drivers took the traditional champagne shower. It was Timo Bernhard’s first win with Porsche and his second in all - he won with Audi in 2010. It was also Earl Bamber’s second time on the top step of the podium; the first time being in 2015. As for Brendon Hartley, well, the win was a culmination of a season he won’t forget in a long time. But that’s another story.
Photo: Record-holder for the longest distance covered at the 24 Hours of Le Mans (with Romain Dumas and Mike Rockenfeller), Timo Bernhard now has a victory with Porsche to add to his (long) list of achievements.