A bittersweet result for OAK Racing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans

The 24 Hours of Le Mans are finally over, with OAK Racing coming away with mixed results.

After weeks of preparation, testing, free practice and qualifying sessions, the 24 Hours of Le Mans are finally over, with OAK Racing coming away with mixed results. The #35 Ligier JS P2-Nissan-Dunlop, driven by the gentlemen trio of Jacques Nicolet, Jean-Marc Merlin and Erik Maris, finished in 11th in LM P2, more than satisfying their goal of making it to the end of the race. However, the talented trio of Le Mans rookies in the #34 Ligier JS P2-Honda-Dunlop, Christopher Cumming, Laurens Vanthoor and Kevin Estre, sadly didn’t make it to the end of the race due to a gearbox failure in the 23rd hour of the race.

The rookies

Starting in 7th on the grid, Laurens Vanthoor took the first stint in the #34 OAK Racing Ligier JS P2-Honda, and had climbed up to 3rd in class before handing over to Kevin Estre for a double stint. Estre narrowly avoided getting caught up in the slow-zone crash involving an LM P1 in 3rd hour of the race that brought out the safety car. The team was running strong in 4th when, just at the end of hour 6, Christopher Cumming spun off into the gravel at Indianapolis. The car was undamaged and he quickly returned to the pits for a quick check-up and clean.

Thanks to the quick work of the team, they only lost about 10 minutes between the incident and re-joining the race with Laurens Vanthoor back at the wheel.

With the drivers double stinting, the car went through the night unscathed, and had climbed up to 6th thanks to the drivers’ skill in the dark and ease of driving the car. Vanthoor was in his element during his night stint and set the car’s best lap time so far (3:38.251).

When the sun rose on Sunday morning, the trio carried on their good work, and were running in 5th place when, at only 1h30 from the finishing line, the gear box gave up. The car returned to the pitbox, where the team tried to repair it, but to no avail. They sadly retired an hour before the end.

The gentlemen trio

In the #35 OAK Racing Ligier JS P2-Nissan, the gentlemen trio of Jacques Nicolet, Jean-Marc Merlin and Erik Maris had a good 24-hour race. Jean-Marc Merlin made a clean start, avoiding any incidents and moving up and down the field a bit; by the 7-hour mark, they were sitting in 15th out of the 19 cars racing in the LM P2 class, which was impressive for the trio.

They came out unscathed through the night stint, despite two spins, and drove into daylight just outside top 10 of the LM P2 class. On Sunday morning, the #35 got a couple of penalties, which dropped them a few places: a 15 second stop and go from speeding in the pit lane, and a few hours later, a stop&go penalty with an engine restart. A couple of hours from the end, the car developed a problem with the silencer on the exhaust, and so they quickly had to pit. It took the team several minutes to fix the silencer, which meant they fell out of the top 10. The team did a wonderful job, as it really meant a lot to them to get the car to the end. The car fixed, Erik Maris rejoined the race for the final hour and he crossed the finishing line in 11th in LM P2.

The drivers of the #35 OAK Racing car have reached their goal of giving Mécénat Chirurgie Cardiaque the most exposure possible: they’ve put them on the screens for over 24 consecutive hours!

Onroak Automotive cars and Dunlop tyres carried them throughout the race, as well as Nissan and Honda engines. Overall, the team are pleased with the result for the #35 Ligier JS P2, but they are of course disappointed that they came so close to getting both cars past the chequered flag.

Philippe Dumas, Team Principal: “We very nearly completely reached our goals for the #35. I think that they’re very happy with their adventure, and sincerely, I congratulate them for the sporting side of things. They were great. They didn’t make any mistake, they did their thing. That was a good point. For the #34, we knew that it could hold surprises. With the changeable weather during the test day, we weren’t ready enough. We were there right up until 1h30 from the finish line, and we’d practically made it. I’m very disappointed for the drivers and the team, the boys and girls working on the car and for it not to finish…it’s a great disappointment.“

Chris Cumming, Driver - Ligier JS P2 #34: “It’s obviously very disappointing, but I’m really proud of all the crew for working so hard and giving us a great car and great stops throughout the race. And for Kevin Estre and Laurens Vanthoor for driving well and giving us a shot at being 4th place or maybe even a podium today, if the gearbox had held up. I think we should be proud of what we’ve almost accomplished and take some encouragement from it.”

Kevin Estre, Driver - Ligier JS P2 #34: “I’m very proud and very happy having taken part in my first edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans with OAK Racing. I’m very happy with the team. We’ve got a good car, a good team. We fought until the end. We have a few mishaps sadly at the start of the race and during the night, but we had a respectable position, and for three rookies, it’s not bad. Sadly, at the end of the race, we had a mechanical problem and we had to retire. It’s a shame; it would have been a nice prize to finish the race, for us as beginners, for the team. I can’t help feeling for them, having worked on this car for months, and especially over the last 23 hours, and to finish at an hour from the end, it’s tough. But that’s racing, that’s endurance, and I hope to be able to do this again next year and to finish well placed.”

Laurens Vanthoor, Driver - Ligier JS P2 #34: “Of course, I’m disappointed. The goal for me was to get to the podium. We tried. We made a few small mistakes during the race, and we were on route for fourth. In the end, we had a problem with the gearbox. It wasn’t easy for us, as it was an ‘extra’ car for Le Mans, with people who haven’t worked together very much. It wasn’t easy for the drivers; we were all new to Le Mans, and we did our best, and I think that the speed we had could have given us a podium. But that’s that.”

Erik Maris, Driver – Ligier JS P2 #35: “The race went more or less without any issues, apart from the last couple of hours. Of course, it would have been better not to break the silencer....which made us lose a place in the last hour. It's doesn't really matter, it's not bad in 11th and we made it to the end, which is the main thing. It's great to have finished! “

Jean Marc Merlin, Driver – Ligier JS P2 #35: “Contract fulfilled. We were reliable, constant, regular. The car is great. We had fun, we didn’t have any problems of trust, it was ideal. We would’ve liked to finish 10th, but we finished 11th because of a little technical problem that isn’t even worth mentioning. The team is friendly. I’m looking forward to next year! “

Jacques Nicolet, Driver – Ligier JS P2 #35: “As a driver, I had lots of fun. I went full out this morning for nearly three hours. I set some good times, I found a good rhythm and it made me really happy. I really needed it. I also want to thank my teammates and the team of the #35 who have been especially attentive to the gentlemen drivers that we are, and made it a point to get the car back out on track so that we could take the chequered flag. “

OAK Racing

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About this article
Series Le Mans
Event 24 Hours of Le Mans
Sub-event Sunday post-race
Track Le Mans
Drivers Jacques Nicolet , Chris Cumming , Laurens Vanthoor , Jean-Marc Merlin , Kevin Estre , Erik Maris
Teams OAK Racing
Article type Race report