In 2014, Porsche will return to the overall prototype category.
Le Mans, France. At the Le Mans 24 Hours, Porsche has further extended its record with class wins number 99 and 100 and opened a new chapter in the history of the world’s most famous long distance race.
In the second 911 RSR, their works driver colleagues Joerg Bergmeister (Germany), Timo Bernhard (Germany) and Patrick Pilet (France) finished second, making the race car from Weissach perfect. In the GTE-Am class, the Porsche 911 GT3 RSR run by the customer team IMSA Performance Matmut clinched victory with Frenchmen Raymond Narac, Jean-Karl-Vernay and Christophe Bourret.
Porsche is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Porsche 911 sports car. Since it’s introduction and competition debut, the iconic car has accounted for countless motorsport victories around the world.
Of the 100 Le Mans class titles, 911-based racers have earned over half. Porsche has stood on the top step of the podium at Le Mans overall 16 times. In 2014, Porsche will return to the overall prototype category.
The 81st running of the long distance classic took place in changeable weather with constant showers and under the most difficult conditions. Amidst those celebrating the team’s efforts stood Dr. Wolfgang Porsche, Chairman of the Supervisory Board at Porsche AG, CEO Matthias Müller as well as Board Members Wolfgang Hatz (Research and Development) and Bernhard Maier (Sales and Marketing) who had witnessed most of the race firsthand round-the-clock in the Porsche pits.
In the first hour of the race, the 911 RSR made up positions at just its third outing in the sports car World Endurance Championship WEC, which yielded double points at Le Mans as the third round. With fast lap times and utmost reliability, the Number 92 in particular fought for victory right from the start.
The pit stops were predominantly just routine: refuel, tires, driver change – then back out on the track. Both works-run Porsche completed the entire distance without the slightest technical problem, apart from a rear light that had to be replaced on the Number 91 Porsche 911 RSR after being nudged by a competitor.
The second racer fielded by Porsche AG Team Manthey was thrown back in the field shortly after the start when the safety car was deployed right in front of Joerg Bergmeister which cost the Porsche factory pilot almost two minutes.
While some competitors struggled on the difficult and partly wet circuit, the 911 RSR made it safely through the night without any problems and underlined the intention to clinch its maiden victory with consistently fast lap times.
Even when torrential rain fell an hour before the finish and its pursuers launched a final attack, Richard Lietz remained unfazed at the wheel of the 91 car. In the final race hours, the Number 91 also gained ground and slipped into second place ahead of the Aston Martin and Ferrari.
In the GTE-Am class, at times three Porsche 911 GT3 RSRs ran at the front. At the flag, Raymond Narac, Christophe Bourret and Jean-Karl Vernay, who receives support from Porsche in his Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup campaign this season, brought home the victory.
Porsche race driver Patrick Dempsey, one of an all-American driver trio helming the Dempsey Del Piero-Proton 911 GT3 RSR with Porsche works driver Patrick Long and Joe Foster, also held the lead at times. However, after he was blamelessly shunted off the circuit by a sports prototype he had to bury his dream of winning his first Le Mans outing with Porsche.
The Le Mans race was overshadowed by the death of Denmark’s Allan Simonsen. In the fourth race lap, the Aston Martin pilot crashed into the barriers in the fast Tertre Rouge corner and died from his injuries shortly afterwards in the Circuit des 24 Heures Medical Center.
Dr. Wolfgang Porsche, Chairman of the Supervisory Board at Porsche AG: “With the 99th and 100th class win and the double victory of the new 911 RSR, this Le Mans 24 hour race was a magnificent success for Porsche. I very much congratulate all those who have contributed. Our joy, however, is also mixed with sadness and shock at the death of Allan Simonsen.
We have not only lost a passionate racer, but also a good friend of the Porsche motorsport family. He contested his first Le Mans 24 Hours in 2007 with a Porsche. With our works driver Marc Lieb in 2005, he contested two races of the Le Mans Endurance Series in a Porsche as well. Our deepest sympathy goes out to his family as well as the Aston Martin squad and his teammates at this difficult time.”
Matthias Müller, Chairman of the Executive Board at Porsche AG: “Those were very gripping 24 hours and a race with action we’ve all certainly experienced rarely. It was exciting from the first to the last minute. In the end luck was on our side. Aston Martin was a tremendous opponent. At this time our thoughts should be with the fatally injured Allan Simonsen. For motorsport and for Aston Martin it is a great tragedy. Nevertheless, Porsche has once again shown that it is the manufacturer to beat in GT racing. This makes us optimistic for 2014.”
Wolfgang Hatz, Board Member Research and Development at Porsche AG: “I am incredibly proud of what the entire team has done here. A double victory in the Pro class and even a win thanks to our customer team, you can’t ask for more than that.”
Hartmut Kristen, Head of Porsche Motorsport: “In the 50th anniversary of the 911 and 15 years since the last time a works team competed here Le Mans it’s the best result you can imagine. And I don’t just mean the performance of our Pro teams. Our customer squads have performed brilliantly. We couldn’t have done better. The race was thrilling for the spectators and it was nerve wracking but the result after all that was well worth it.”
Olaf Manthey, team principal of Porsche AG Team Manthey: “I’m still speechless about our success. After the penultimate safety car phase I was not feeling particularly optimistic. I still can’t believe this victory. In 1999 I was with Porsche for the first time in Le Mans and we won then too. Now I returned after 15 years and did it again. Dear God, however, has written a screenplay that almost ruined by nerves.”
Marc Lieb (No. 92): “It’s a fairytale. To win Le Mans at our first attempt with a new RSR is something we never expected in our wildest dreams. I’m incredibly proud of my teammates and the entire crew that turned the 911 RSR into a winning car at Le Mans in such a short time.”
Richard Lietz (No. 92): “Even in my last stint when everything came to a head for us I didn’t feel any great pressure. But right from the start I had the death of a colleague in my head, and the battle for tenths of seconds and positions became secondary. I believe there wouldn’t be many drivers who could really concentrate; I’ve never experienced so many safety car phases in Le Mans.
We were lucky with the rain today but we needed luck too under such difficult conditions. As far as our performance and the car goes we are delighted and proud, but our thoughts are somewhere else.”
Romain Dumas (No. 92): “This race was packed with suspense and emotion right from the start. It began with Allan Simonsen’s tragic accident, and in the end we were lucky with the rain which helped us considerably. However, we had a lot of frustration with the safety car at the beginning. This success is of course great for Porsche and the 50th anniversary of the 911.”
Joerg Bergmeister (No. 91): “I had very mixed feelings after Allan’s fatal accident. First and second place is obviously a dream result which we had not anticipated before the race considering the superiority of Aston Martin. We had a fabulous car, but also a bit of bad luck. But we were always up with the play, second place is a very good consolation.”
Patrick Pilet (No. 91): “It is a day to be proud and happy, but also sad. Due to the circumstances we’ll all need a couple of weeks to let it sink in. Right now we are all thinking of Allan and that’s why this success is not exactly the wonderful moment it was actually supposed to be for me. We came here with a new car, we worked incredibly hard together and fought together with Porsche for this result.”
Timo Bernhard (No. 91): “It was a very moving, difficult race with constantly changing weather conditions. We had hoped for a podium result, so the double victory is just fantastic especially for me since this was my last race with the 911 RSR. From the outset we were really fast, but lost two minutes early on through the safety car and we spent the rest of the race trying to catch up. In the end we all had that necessary luck and I congratulate my teammates on their victory. That was a truly great day for the entire team.”
Jean-Karl Vernay (No. 76): “Porsche supports me this season in the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup. Here in Le Mans I wanted to prove that they were right putting their trust in me. I think I succeeded. I had a great weekend.”
Patrick Long (No. 77): “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. Or do we want to just take what we had and be proud of fourth. Our strategist Jim Jordan told us on the radio we had defied all odds and I agreed with him so we just had fun the last 10 laps.”
Patrick Dempsey (No. 77): “We were competitive the entire race. This is really what you want to be, Patrick [Long] did a great job on his opening stint, Joe [Foster] was incredible in what seemed like every session of his in the rain, and our Porsche from Proton Competition was perfectly prepared. It was just a great race, we came up just a little short on the podium, but we will reach that goal soon enough. We had a great time.”
Joe Foster (No. 77): “It has been an amazing experience, that’s for sure. Porsche, Proton and Patrick Long all did a terrific job, Patrick Dempsey drove fantastic and I drove my heart out as best I know how. We are all kind of numb at the moment. Looking forward, we would have certainly been happy with a fourth-place finish, but in the end we were about 90 seconds away from a podium finish.
The only operational difference between us and third place was an errant flat tire in the first hour of the race. It was a puncture caused by debris, no problems all race with the Michelins, but we were then basically out of sequence for the next 23 hours. That’s what caught us out in the end.”