Le Mans 24 Hours: Brits on top in every class at La Sarthe

From Porsche's 17th Le Mans victory to the winning Ferrari in the GTE Am class, there was British involvement in every class success in the Le Mans 24 Hours, as Sam Smith explains.

While Germany, Hong Kong, the United States and Russia flew its flags proudly amid the victory celebrations at Le Mans on Sunday, it was dear old Blighty that had significant input in to successes throughout the five classes.

The story of Nick Tandy's remarkable ascent to the status of Le Mans winner has been told in expert fashion by Motorsport.com's very own Charles Bradley here, but now it's time for British input in the rest of the classes at La Sarthe to be told and celebrated.

Along with ex-Toyota driver Nicolas Lapierre, KCMG Oreca drivers Matt Howson and Richard Bradley both put in sterling efforts throughout Le Mans week to continue a long line of British success in LMP2 with the biggest result of their careers to date.

Howson and Bradley are also great motorsport enthusiasts and can 'out-geek' some of the more savant style journos in the media with their knowledge of racing history. Last weekend though, it was their turn to write themselves into the history books with a near flawless performance.

"For a car this new to run perfectly in a race this gruelling is a massive achievement," Howson told Motorsport.com as he stepped off the podium. "I couldn't dream we could have a run like that. In fact, this isn't a dream, is it?"

Such was Howson's giddiness that this correspondent had to rescue his winner's trophy and garland after he wondered off and got ambushed by his team with an impromptu champagne and beer shower in the paddock!

Joining the KCMG pair on the LMP2 class podium were G-Drive's Sam Bird and Jota Sport's Oliver Turvey, both of whom raced on the same Formula BMW UK grid as Howson back in 2005, as well as Jota team owner Simon Dolan.

"We lacked the straight-line speed to challenge the KCMG Oreca," Bird told Motorsport.com on Sunday evening. "It is great points for the championship for us and the G-Drive gave us wonderful reliability, but the other two guys just had a bit too much on this layout of track for us this weekend."

Rebellion clinch P1 privateers spoils

Meanwhile, Rebellion Racing again took the spoils with its No. 13 AER-engined R-One in the LMP1 privateers class with Alexandre Imperatori, Daniel Abt and Dominik Kraihamer at the wheel.

It may not have been the fairytale fourth place overall of 2014, but the team was still cock-a-hoop with the result, as just three weeks prior to the race the Anglo-Swiss squad had put the very first miles on the new package.

A late call from the team on going with the excellent AER turbo engine ensured a lot of sleepless nights for the mostly all-British crew led by Bart Hayden. Among the other British faces in the Rebellion camp are former McLaren and Williams engineer James Robinson and sportscar stalwart Ian Smith.

Gavin leads Corvette charge

In the GTE Pro class, Corvette Racing fought back in admirable fashion from the disaster of having to pull its No. 64 car from the race after Jan Magnussen's violent Porsche Curves crash on Thursday evening.

The determination shown by Doug Fehan and his team deserves special mention, as Tommy Milner and Jordan Taylor fought tooth-and-nail in the sole remaining No. 63 machine with the Aston Martins and the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari to claim Corvette's eighth GT class win at La Sarthe.

Oliver Gavin, who has competed for the team in the 24 Hours every year since 2002 and picked up his fifth class win on Sunday, has grown into a true Le Mans legend now, but was still less than amused pre-race when reminded that his current team mate Jordan Taylor had attended Gavin's first Le Mans for Corvette in 2002 and asked for his autograph as an 11-year-old!

Finding the right formula

The French-based, Russian-entered, Italian-and-Russian driven SMP Racing Ferrari that won the LMGTE Am class seemingly has little link to the British racing industry.

But beneath the surface, there was man who was integral to masterminding the class victory - Cambridge-based doctor of chemistry Steve Bunkhall, who uncovered the perfect compound for success from the pitwall.

"It was a good effort from us," said Bunkhall afterwards. "I thought it was all over when we were parked in the gravel for a few moments but all our drivers did a very special job this week."

Referring to Paul Dalla Lana crashing the No. 98 Aston Martin out of a commanding lead with an hour left to run at the Ford chicane, Bunkhall added: "Sure we got a little lucky at the end, but this is Le Mans and you have to be on the ball for every minute of the race, and we were."

Away from the podium, there were many other fine British performances, from the 'get-her-home-at-any-cost' attitude of Harry Tincknell in the troubled Nissan GT-R LM NISMO to the bounce-back-ability of Alex Kapadia in the charred LMGTE Am class Team AAI Porsche.

Kapadia watched helplessly as the Porsche 997 blazed for over a minute on the Mulsanne in Thursday's qualifying session, but dug deep to come home a stoic eighth in class on Sunday afternoon.

So, Britannia ruled the waves in varying but crucial ways in all five of the Le Mans classes this year – just like the thousands of Brits heading for the English Channel crossing on Monday, they can all be proud of contributing excellence to a classic Le Mans 24 Hours.

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About this article
Series Le Mans
Event 24 Hours of Le Mans
Track Le Mans
Drivers Oliver Gavin , Matthew Howson , Sam Bird , Oliver Turvey , Richard Bradley , Harry Tincknell , Alex Kapadia
Teams KCMG , Corvette Racing , SMP Racing
Article type Analysis