JUNE 12, 2015
One day before the start of the 83rd edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, motorsport’s oldest endurance race, the scene is set for another titanic struggle between man and machine, time and the elements. Beating the 24 hours, everything. Winning, the ultimate goal. Determination and teamwork, critical. Luck and weather, in the hands of the gods. Preparation, decision-making and strategy, the human strengths or frailties. At the close on Sunday the winners will be justly feted for conquering the purest in motorsport tests.
After of the three largely dry qualification sessions, all of which suffered lengthy interruptions through mechanical issues and driver errors, it was the Porsche 919 Hydrid #18 driven by Neel Jani from Switzerland that set the fastest time, and a new lap qualifying record, of 3:16.887 minutes during the first session on Wednesday night. Pole position at a race of this duration, needless to say, amounts to little more than bragging rights as nine-time race winner, Rolex Testimonee Tom Kristensen is quick to point out: “Remember it is a long race. You need to be steady and it is not about lap times like qualifying.”
With four major automotive manufacturers represented in the 14-strong LM P1 category, 19 cars in LM P2 and another 23 cars – including Ferraris, Aston Martins, Corvettes and Porsches - split between the LM GTE PRO and AM classes, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is in rude health according to Pierre Fillon, President of the ACO (Automobile Club de l’Ouest and race organizers): “The 2015 race promises to be an exceptional vintage.”
Kristensen, enjoying his first return to the race since retiring at the end of 2014, endorses this view. “It should be a very exciting race. In LM P1 Porsche look very strong with Audi close and biting at their heels, and I don’t think Toyota has shown us everything yet,” he said, continuing: “There is a very competitive field in LM P2 with great cars and exceptional drivers separated only by tenths of seconds. It is the same in GTE where it is difficult to pick a winner.”
Despite improvements to the 13.629km Circuit de la Sarthe over the winter, the track showed it has retained its bite in the second qualifying session as the #63 Corvette, driven by Jan Magnussen and attempting a unique triple of class wins at Rolex 24 At Daytona, the 12 Hours of Sebring and Le Mans in one season, left the track in the Porsche Curves striking the barriers on both sides of the track before coming to rest. Magnussen was not seriously hurt, but the accident brought the session to a premature close and ended his dream and those his co-drivers Ryan Briscoe and Antonio García with the car too badly damaged to be repaired on site.
More disruptions occurred in the third session of qualifying including a long hold up to remove the #67 Porsche 911 which had caught fire on the Ligne Droite des Hunaudières (Mulsanne Straight). Overall, #99 Aston Martin secured the quickest time in LM GTE PRO, with 3:54.928 and #98 Aston Martin in AM with 3:55.102.
In the closely contested LM P2 category, the #47 Oreca 05-Nissan posted the fastest time across qualifying of 3:38.032.
Each year since 2000, during the 24 Hours of Le Mans weekend, the ACO takes the opportunity to recognize an individual who has made a considerable contribution to the legend of the race. The 15th winner of the Spirit of Le Mans award was Yoshiaki Kinoshita, president of the Toyota Racing team that has been the pioneer in terms of hybrid engine technology, narrowly missing victory at the 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans, the team won the drivers’ and manufacturers’ titles in the FIA World Endurance Championship. On receiving the award, a specially engraved Rolex timepiece, Kinoshita expressed his admiration for the ACO and its readiness to look to future and embrace innovation.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans, founded in 1923, is organized by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO), and Rolex has been Official Timepiece since 2001 - a partnership that is driven by a shared passion for excellence and the pursuit of perfection. The overall winners of the 2015 race will secure a place in sporting history and receive a Rolex Oyster Cosmograph Daytona, the iconic chronograph created for racing drivers in 1963.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans 2015 starts at 15.00 CEST on Saturday, 13 June.