The official 2015 Le Mans Test Day is now behind us, and what a sensational event it proved to be. Now we can look forward to seeing the biggest prototype field for many years on race weekend of 13/14 June. Last year’s winners, Audi, will be fielding three R18 e-tron quattro cars, Porsche at Le Mans will have three 919 Hybrid cars, Nissan, the newcomers, will have three GT-R LM Nismo cars, while Toyota will have a pair of TS 040 Hybrids on the grid. That’s eleven prototype cars in the top class!
The season to date for the Porsche prototype cars has been a frustrating one for those enthusiasts of the marque, with a second place at Silverstone when the prospects looked a lot brighter. Spa was a real mixed bag of fortunes, but they did end up with a second, third and sixth place in Belgium. However, the focus of this analysis is to look at what Porsche did at the official test day at Le Mans on 31 May 2015, and how that might play out in the race proper.
If we learned anything from Silverstone and Spa, it was that the Porsche engineers have really worked some serious overtime over the winter, because the car was looking really fast. And so in preparation for the big one, Porsche pulled out all the stops on Sunday 31 May in a show of domination. In the first practice session, the #18 Porsche of Dumas/Jani/Lieb posted the fastest time of 3:21.945, followed home by two Audis half a second back.
The second session proved to be faster still when the Bernard/Webber/Hartley #17 Porsche came home quickest of the field with a time of 3:21.061. This fastest time of the day was set by Hartley in the dry, and was 6/10ths of a second faster than the pole time of the Toyota in 2014, and more than a full second quicker than the fastest Porsche qualifying time last year. The second fastest car was the #19 Porsche with ‘new boys’ Hulkenberg and Bamber, and old hand Nick Tandy, in a time of 3:22.322, again ahead of two Audis.
What can we learn from this demonstration? Well, for starters, the weather was decidedly unpredictable with wet conditions causing problems for all, but then it may be just like that during the race proper. Several teams complained that they did not get enough track time under dry or wet conditions to generate sufficient meaningful data, but then that should show all concerned just how changeable it could be on race day if the weather conditions are the same.
The other important thing is that in both races so far this year, Audi have not gone for the headlines, they seem to have preferred to hang back and save their talking for the race itself. Dr. Ullrich has a wise head on his shoulders and he has won a few races before today, and so Porsche will do well to remember that. But then Porsche have the highest tally of Le Mans victories to its name of any manufacturer, so there is a good deal of wisdom in the Stuttgart team as well, and they are no doubt feeling like adding one more to their total of 16 victories. Talking of which, the red #17 Porsche 919 Hybrid is themed in the same style and colour as worn by the #23 red Porsche 917 on the occasion of its first victory back in 1970, and ably carried on by the world beating 956s and 962s in the 1980s.
The two 911 RSRs in the GTE PRO class did not have as much to crow about, but then this was a test session and not a race. Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser, Head of Porsche Motor Sport, summed it up well when he said, “We experienced a very productive day of testing. The different weather conditions that we had today could also occur during the race, so that suited our preparations very well. We have trialled various tyre combinations from standard slicks to wet tyres. We were able to find a setup for the 911 RSR for all conditions and the drivers are now prepared as well. Our cars run like clockwork and the drivers have become well-attuned to each other. We’re heading into the race week full of confidence.” To a man, the squad of drivers are similarly buoyed, and all rarin’ to go.
And so the relatively ‘slow’ times on the test session time sheets may well be just that, test times. Of course the race itself will be proof of that, but we can be certain of one thing, Porsche will be going all out to clinch another Le Mans title, so you had better get to your seats early because this is going to be a contest like we haven’t seen for years.
Fasten your seat belts…and…start your engines, watch out for Porsche at Le Mans!
Written by: Glen Smale