TK HONORING DAD, SIMONSEN
The amazing and unparalleled ninth overall victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans for Audi Sport driver Tom Kristensen was met with the usual rousing support from the throngs of Danish fans who make the trek to La Sarthe each year. But an obvious pall was cast over the podium celebrations as the ceremonies opened with six-time Le Mans winner Jacky Ickx and Aston Martin chairman Dave Richards addressing the tens of thousands on pit lane and the front straight to honor Denmark's Allan Simonsen, who was killed in a crash just moments into the race.
The melancholy remained as the top three from the P1 category took to the stage, with a teary-eyed Kristensen not only dedicating the race to his fallen countryman, but first, to his father Carl-Erik who died in March.
“This is for my father; he was the one who inspired me,” said the 45-year-old whose most recent LM24 win came in 2008. “This victory today, I dedicate to Allen Simonsen, a great fellow Dane.”
Britain's Anthony Davidson, who finished second in the No. 8 Toyota TS030, shared TK's sentiment and verbalized the hard truth that is rarely spoken, yet is ever-present in our sport.
“Mixed emotions for me and the guys alongside me,” he admitted. "It was (a faultless performance by his Toyota team), but at the end of the day, shadowed by the loss of Allan Simonsen. I think we all share that sadness and a cruel reminder that our sport is dangerous; our thoughts are with him and his family at the time from all of us standing here. Very mixed emotions for all of us.”
PORSCHE SENDS A MESSAGE
Aston Martin had the pace but not the luck. Porsche had the pace and a lack of misfortune.
In the end, two of Aston's three GTE Pro entries failed to finish – one due to a crash and the other to a mechanical issue – leaving the No. 97 Vantage V8 to fend off the brand-new Porsche 991s. A blend of rain and safety cars saw the No. 97's lead evaporate in the final two hours as the No. 92 and 91 Porsches took over first and second to deliver the marque its first factory win (albeit a class victory) since 1998.
Call it a hunch, but the 991s looked like they had a surprise in store for the Astons throughout practice and qualifying, and despite their relative lack of racing mileage, the Germans gave every indicator the GTE Pro machines would factor in the final standings.
The marque also won the GTE Am category with IMSA Matmut Performance, perhaps giving a glimpse of what the 2014 Le Mans podiums – especially with the addition of its new P1 prototypes – might look like. After years of semi-works involvement at Le Mans, Porsche send a less-than-subtle reminder of what it can achieve when the full might of its factory and key partners is focused on a goal.
HUMBLING EVENT FOR THE HOME TEAMS
The Stars and Stripes received a thorough drubbing at Le Mans this year. Seven-time GT class winners Corvette Racing never found the pace to content with the Aston Martins, Porsches or Ferraris in qualifying, and the struggles continued during 24 frustrating hours of competition. The Michigan-based team would eventually place fourth and seventh in the GTE Pro class, with the No. 73 C6.R coming closest to the podium despite being three laps down to the winning factory Porsche 991.
A few theories were shared for Corvette Racing's off year at Le Mans, but I'd suspect the relative age of the C6.R chassis, coupled with limited performance allowances coming off of its championship-winning 2012 ALMS season, left the thundering V8s wanting for concessions of their own to keep pace with the other marques.
“While it certainly was a challenging 24-hour event, I am proud that the entire Corvette Racing team exhibited a ‘never give up' approach all race long,” said Jim Campbell, Chevy's head of motorsports. “We look forward to returning next year for the 15th time at Le Mans and our first with the next-generation Corvette racecar.”
Level 5 Motorsports, the dominant P2 team in the ALMS, found itself in a similar position. Using the same chassis that won the P2 class at Le Mans in 2012, its HPD ARX-03b was unable to outrun the performance balancing changes awarded to the car in the offseason, and when it came time to go racing, the new direct-injected twin-turbo V6 powerplant began sounding sick before darkness arrived on Saturday. Its flame-spewing display during pit stops caught everyone's attention, but it wasn't long before the car was pulled into the garage, where it sat waiting for the 3 p.m. finish to arrive. Honda Performance Development engineers came up with a short-term solution to get the car across the finish line, but it the unfortunate result – the first in-race engine failure of the HR28TT P2 motor – was a disappointment for all.
The same rain-and-yellows scenario that caught out the AMR team also stunted the result for the Dempsey Del Piero Racing team. Patrick Long, who led the GTE Am class twice and finished the race for the team with a monster three-hour stint, took solace with a fourth-place result while knowing a place on the podium was within reach.
“We had a long caution that didn't help, and when I knew we were going back to green I asked if we wanted to just throw a Hail Mary, just kind of go for broke, and hope it works out and maybe end up in the fence,” he said.
The SRT Viper did better than expected, frankly, as the pair of V10-powered coupes conducted their first 24-hour race. Teething problems and contact conspired to leave the snakes down in eighth and ninth at the finish, but the valuable lessons that came from getting both cars to the finish on their Le Mans debut was what stood out most to SRT boss Ralph Gilles.
“Le Mans is amazing – and the 24 hours feels like an entire race season squeezed into one day. To have both cars finish the race makes me feel extremely proud and also shows the future promise of this team,” he said.
Krohn Racing's miraculous efforts to replace the Ferrari F458 its team owner destroyed during practice on Wednesday with a donor chassis that required a complete re-build to make the race was rewarded with a cruel and premature end to the race. Tracy Krohn also managed to spin at the Porsche curves Saturday night, causing more damage that led the team to retire from the event.
“It's been a terrible two weeks for us, much of it self-induced,” said Krohn, whose team is usually a top-three contender in the GTE Am class at Le Mans. “But you learn from your failures, get humbled by it and figure out how to make it better. The team did a fantastic job. I'm really proud of those guys. All of our guys worked really hard and I'm sure it was not the result they wanted or me.”
MIXED FORTUNES FOR P2 INDYCAR DRIVERS
Ryan Briscoe's debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans came one week after driving for Panther Racing at Milwaukee, and with the aforementioned issues suffered by Level 5 Motorsports in P2, the Aussie will have to look toward to a return visit to earn a more satisfying result.
Former IndyCar drivers Bertrand Baguette and Martin Plowman had the best day of all in P2, winning the class in their OAK Racing Morgan-Nissan as the open-wheel converts drove home to a one-lap victory over their sister OAK car. Yet possibly the most impressive showing in P2 came from the third-place team featuring Dale Coyne Racing's Mike Conway.
With an IndyCar win at Detroit earlier this month and a podium in his first attempt at Le Mans, the Briton is having one hell of a June, and displayed the same fearless attitude behind the wheel of his G-DRIVE Racing ORECA 03-Nissan that he did while punishing DCR's Dallara DW12-Honda around the streets of Belle Isle.
The chance of a win, which looked more than likely in the early going, was taken away when Conway's No. 26 entry was forced to pit to rectify an issue with the illuminated car numbers that are required to function at all times.
Although the V8-powered P2 car was nearly perfect to drive, something as silly as number lighting ruined the team's chances to win the class.
“We had the pace to win,” Conway told RACER. “We had two light panel issues and lost 15 minutes in the pits total getting it fixed. That ended up costing us a couple of laps…the fight back was good, but now we need to come back and win.”
PUT THE PHONE DOWN SON, YOU JUST WON LE MANS
I noticed it during last year's Le Mans podium – the younger drivers bursting onto the walkway with their cameras extended to capture photos and video – and it continued this year as Audi Sport's Loic Duval, a first-time winner at Le Mans and on home soil, spent a decent portion of the celebration viewing the proceeding from behind his iPhone.
The young Frenchman's behavior wasn't entirely unexpected, but it was contrasted rather heavily by his co-winners, Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen, who conducted themselves in a more traditional manner as Duval turned the event into a social media happening. Maybe I'm being a cranky old guy, but I'd think the opportunity to race at Le Mans in the highest tech prototype ever built…followed by winning the damn event, would generate a lifetime of memories that would far outweigh whatever might be captured with a cell phone.
What an interesting demonstration of the generational differences within the winning car. Two drivers look out and soak up the richness of what they've achieved, while the other's first instinct is to capture it all by hand to share the achievement with the world…all the while forgetting a half-billion people already watched it happen.