Seven of the eight ORECA 03 chassis at the start of the 24 Hours of Le Mans finished, with two reaching the podium and six in the top ten ! A show of performance and reliability.
Part of the front running pack during the entirety of the twice around the clock race, the ORECA 03 chassis made their moves at the most opportune moments. Occupying the top spots, often dueling amongst each other, all of the teams running ORECA chassis were worthy of success. Performance and reliabilty were on order as seven of the eight entries rallied the finish, with the only retirement coming for Murphy Prototypes due to incident after leading during part of the night. At the end of the day, Thiriet by TDS Racing and Pecom Racing finish on the podium behind Starworks Motorsports. With three rounds of safety car deployments, an up and down race, leader changes and an uncertain outcome until the drop of the checkered flag, this 80th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans lived up to its status as a legendary event.
« Bravo to all those who entered an ORECA chassis» declared Hugues de Chaunac, President of Groupe ORECA. « It’s a superbe group result, with seven of the eight cars crossing the finish line and two of those on the podium ! Thiriet by TDS had a great performance as did Pecom Racing who take second and third places respectively. We are very happy with these results and I’d like to congratulate each team. »
A look back at these 24 Hours…
For Thiriet by TDS Racing, the hours counted down but did not look alike during this edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Up to second place after the first hour of racing, and even reaching the lead during Swiss Mathas Beche’s stint, the No. 46 then encountered a reversal of fortune. Flat tyres or off-line excursions led to a 16th running position before beginning an incredible climb back to second with five hours to go in the race. As Pierre Thiriet continues on the pace, Christophe Tinseau takes over for a busy end of race and never lets up. In fact, the trio continues to push, with multiple attempts to dislodge the leader. With a quick pace and without any doubt, the Thiriet by TDS Racing ORECA 03 finishes its first 24 Hours of Le Mans on the second step of the podium.
It’s a nice confirmation for team manager, Xavier Combet, who looks back at the intensity of this legendary event : « Our objective was to discover this unique race while correctly managing the car. Yesterday afternoon we encountered a small mechanical issue which forced us to pit for repairs. We lost four laps but we knew that it’s a 24 hour race and that many other things could happen. We stayed very calm while waiting for the best time to seize the moment. The drivers did a remarkable job with leadership from Mathias (Beche). We took over position after position before finally finding second place. This result is an excellent surprise for a first time participation and a nice reward for the entire team and especially our partners who believe in our project. »
At the heart of this extremely disputed class, the Argentine team Pecom Racing showed itself the most consistent and most offensive minded, never running lower than seventh place. Practically glued to third place, Soheil Ayari never lets up the pressure. Unfortunately, the No. 49 picks up a stop and go penalty for speeding in pitlane giving up the precious seconds gained.
Pierre Kaffer and Luis Perez Companc return to the hunt and reach second place in LMP2 at the halfway point. With five hours to go, despite going straight on at the Indianapolis curve, Soheil Ayari conserves his position for a time before being passed by the No. 46 of Thiriet by TDS Racing. Pierre Kaffer then throws all his energy into the fight back and the ORECA 03 responds perfectly. At the finish, the third step of the podium is a hard fought and well earned result for the entire team.
Pierre Kaffer savors this podium: « This year, the LMP2 cars were very competitive. I’d like to thank Pecom for having prepared such a super car. We you look at the pace we kept during the entire race, we deserve this podium. A podium at Le Mans is magical, whatever the position, and it’s for that reason that I’m so happy, both personally and for the team, who put in a fantastic job for months. The car had no problems and we never had a flat tyre. This result is a real satisfying one. »
For Signatech-Nissan, the start of the race was a quiet one. The original strategy of chaining together triple stints is put to an end by premature tyre wear. The triple stints turn into double stints but doesn’t keep the No. 26, driven by Nelson Panciatici, Pierre Ragues and Roman Rusinov, from running in a comfortable fifth place in class during the first third of the race. With good progress, the ORECA 03 enters the 11th hour in second position, hotly contested with the Argentine team Pecom Racing, also in an ORECA 03. With four hours to go, Roman Rusinov falls victim to a flat right-rear tyre and spins dropping to fourth place. But the gap proves too big to surmount and the third step on the podium becomes too difficult to reach. For Nelson Panciatici, who received the Prix Jean Rondeau rewarding the best rookie, the experience and the fourth place finish will be unforgettable. « Le Mans is really a difficult race, I didn’t expect to have so many things to manage, notably at night where traffic and incidents are real challenges. But I’m very happy to have reached the end. My only regret is to have finished just outside the podium. We had no major technical issues on the car but the flat tyres really penalised us and that’s what cost us the podium. This week was really exciting and I only have one desire, to come back next year! »
The French team’s sister car, the No. 23 Signatech-Nissan had a comparable beginning to the race but encountered problems in the night. Although Franck Mailleux is able to improve the fastest LMP2 time, it’s Olivier Lombard who has a big moment at around 4 o’clock in the morning, making contact with the wall at Mulsanne. The driver is able to make it back to the pits and after the Signatech-Nissan mechanics make repairs, the No. 23 ORECA 03 rejoins the action about ten laps down and tries to start making up time. Five hours later, Franck Mailleux finds himself in the top 10 before being caught off guard and going straight on at the first chicane. It’s a moment more frightening than damaging as the No. 23 continues on without issue. Jordan Tresson takes over in the fight but can only realise a 9th place finish.
At the drop of the green flag, class polesitter John Martin (ADR-Delta) keeps the advantage and begins the twice around the clock race on the right pace. But shortly before completing the first hour of racing, the British driver loses the lead after a long pitstop. As the hours pass, small incidents (flat tyre, spin or straight on), make their appearance and ADR-Delta runs in the top 10.
Stint after stint, John Martin, Tor Graves and Jan Charouz are able to take back a few positions to run in 5th place as they begin the last third of the race. Lap after lap, John Martin and Jan Charouz push hard, putting in quick laptimes close to pole time. After 20 hours of racing, performance is still on order in the ADR-Delta ORECA 03. In the end, the British team gives one position back and crosses the line in 6th place in LMP2.
Always around the Top 10, Boutsen Ginion Racing takes on the first few hours of the race without too much hurry. As the laps go by, Bastien Brière and Shinji Nakano encounter small racing line errors and flat tyres without having major problems. But, around 7 o’clock in the morning, Jens Petersen, as he was piloting the No. 45, went straight on at Indianapolis. The ORECA 03 rejoins its pit stall about 15 minutes later and the mechanics diagnose a left rear suspension is damaged. After the necessary repairs, the No. 45 rejoins the action but precious minutes have gone by placing the Belgian team in 11th place. After 24 hours of racing, Boutsen Ginion Racing enters the top 10.
After a relatively calm start to the race, Race Performance is then victim of several misadventures. Michel Frey has a spin then Ralph Meichtry receives a stop and go penalty for speeding in the pitlane. Jonathan Hirschi then tries to climb back into the top ten but small errors have big consequences at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Despite this, Race Performance remains consistent leaning on the ORECA 03’s reliabilty and finishes in 11th place in LMP2. Mission accomplished.
Murphy Prototypes is one of the major players in this 80th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans after living the highs of leading and the lows of retirement. Sixth at the end of the first hour (also the car’s starting position), the Irish team gains a position with each hour passed until they take the lead after seven hours of racing. Brendon Hartley, Warren Hugues and Jody Firth fight tooth and nail and offer a remarkable spectable as they battle with their opponents. Unfortunately, in the early morning hours, the problems arise. Young New Zealander Brendon Hartley makes an error in the Ford chicane and the damage to the right rear suspension is too great ; the ORECA 03 is forced to retire. Despite a good showing, a lot of disappointment in the Murphy Prototypes clan, who could have gone for the victory.
Next event will be in July with the 6 Hours of Donington, under the European Le Mans Series banner. As for the FIA World Endurance Championship, the fourth round will be in August at Silverstone