PORSCHE RS SPYDER LMP2 TEAMS FINISH ONE-TWO AT LE MANS 24 HOUR CLASSIC IN TWICE- AROUND-THE CLOCK DEBUT
TWO LEADING PORSCHE 911 GT3 RSRs FALL BACK IN ACCIDENT
LE MANS, France - The 24 Hours of Le Mans premiere for the Porsche RS Spyder could not have gone better as, at the world's toughest long distance race, the sports prototype from Weissach celebrated a one-two finish in the LMP2 class. After a trouble free run without a single technical problem, Jos Verstappen, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Peter van Merksteijn (all from The Netherlands) crossed the finish line first. The trio from the Van Merksteijn Motorsport team held an eight lap advantage at the finish over the second-placed RS Spyder of John Nielsen, Casper Elgaard (both Denmark) and Porsche works and Penske Racing driver Sascha Maassen (Germany).
Starting the sports car marathon from first and second on the grid, the two teams controlled the race with their 476 hp RS Spyder right from the start. In contrast, the three teams with the Porsche 911 GT3 RSR in the production-based GT2 category experienced bad luck. After qualifying on the pole and running first and second at the beginning of the race, an accident and technical trouble robbed all hopes of repeating last year's class victory.
"I'm thrilled that the expectations of our customer teams, Van Merksteijn Motorsport and Essex, have been fulfilled. The RS Spyder has proven that it's not just fast but also particularly reliable in its first 24 hour race. The professional work of the teams was also an important key to success," said Hartmut Kristen, Head of Porsche Motorsport. "The performance of the GT3 RSR was also excellent but unfortunately they lost their chance through an unlucky accident with two of the cars early on in the race."
"This success is something very special in my racing career," said an ecstatic ex -Formula 1 pilot Jos Verstappen. "Winning at Le Mans means you go down in racing history. For me it was also important as I'd never competed in a 24-hour race before. The car was unbelievably reliable and fantastic to drive. It was great fun right from the first to the last minute."
His team mate, Peter van Merksteijn, who also owns the Dutch team, was ecstatic. "This is crazy," said the 52 -year-old Dutch businessman. "Every team member has worked untiringly. Above all, Jos drove like a young stud. My job was actually only to bring the RS Spyder back to the pits without injuries and not to lose too much time to Jos and Jeroen. This worked. Porsche's support was excellent and the co-operation couldn't have been better."
The team had just one unscheduled repair disturbing their run - the underbody had come loose through cutting over the raised curbs on the track and had to be reattached. For the second-place Essex pilots, a touch of wistfulness was mixed with their joy over second place. In the first third of the race, the Danish team had led for some time and hopes had justifiably grown for a Le Mans win. Two slow punctures and an additional pit stop due to electronic problems robbed them of this chance.
"It's incredibly moving to secure second at our very first24 hour race as a team," said John Nielsen, who acts as driver and team boss and who claimed overall victory at the long distance classic in 1990.
Sascha Maassen, who competes in the American Le Mans Series in a similar RS Spyder, and has won Le Mans in GT3 class 911s, also had positive feedback about his Essex team. "Right from the start I felt great in my guest team and I was surprised at the level of engagement and determination at which they worked," said the Porsche works driver.
"It was a highlight to drive the RS Spyder here in Le Mans. Thanks to the unusually good balance and road holding of the car you always had total trust in the vehicle even in the ultra fast passages."
The teams in the production-based GT2 class also started the race with their Porsche 911 GT3 RSRs showing great promise. In qualifying, the Porsche works driver Patrick Long (USA) had broken the magical four-minute mark with a lap time of 3:58.152 minutes in the sports car category for the first time and with his German works driver team mate Wolf Henzler, claimed the first two positions on the grid as a result. In the race, two Porsche 911 GT3 RSR held a clear lead over the rival Ferraris. After two hours an unlucky collision between Long and his compatriot Seth Neiman (USA) robbed them of any chance to win. For the French IMSA Performance Matmut team with Long, works driver Richard Lietz (Austria) and Raymond Narac (France) this signaled the end of their race.
The 911 of the Flying Lizard Motorsports team could rejoin the race, but sat more than 30 laps behind to secure sixth at the flag with drivers Joerg Bergmeister (Germany), Neiman and Johannes van Overbeek (USA). With this, Bergmeister turned the fastest race lap by far in the GT2 category in 3:59.887 minutes.
Fifth place in the GT2 class went to Porsche works driver Wolf Henzler (Germany), Alex Davison (Australia) and Horst Felbermayr (Austria). Until midnight, the trio delivered a spirited fight for the lead against a Ferrari, but fell far back due to a one-hour stop for repairs in the night. "Apart from this technical defect our 911 ran like clockwork. But the competition in our class is so close that it's very difficult to make up any lost time," said Henzler.