We are now into the final days before the Le Mans 24 hour week kicks in! Here is our first preview of the Porsche LMP2 and GT2 breakdown. Once again, Porsche will look to dominate the LMP2 class and take back the GT2 win! Ferrari shall not win!
Porsche customer teams are well prepared for the 77th running of the legendary Le Mans 24 hour race. The Japanese NAVI Team GOH and the Danish Essex team race two RS Spyder on 13/14 June and are keen to repeat the Porsche double victory from 2008 in the LMP2 sports prototype class. Porsche supports the teams with works drivers Sascha Maassen (Germany/GOH) and Emmanuel Collard (France/Essex). In the production-based GT2 category, international customer teams compete with five Porsche 911 GT3 RSR vehicles this year. In addition, the two Porsche works pilots Timo Bernhard (Germany) and Romain Dumas (France) drive an Audi R15 TDI in the class for the most powerful vehicles, the LMP1 sports prototypes.
‘With a double victory at its debut last year, the RS Spyder proved to be fast and reliable. And in the GT2 class, we are even better represented than in 2008, with five 911 race cars instead of three. Having Timo and Romain in the LMP1 car, we have two of our drivers, who are amongst the best sports car pilots in the world, who can even fight for overall victory,’ says Hartmut Kristen, Head of Porsche Motorsport. ‘With this diversity we can travel to La Sarthe with great optimism. We are aiming for class wins for the RS Spyder and the 911 GT3 RSR, and we are well prepared for this.’ With 16 overall victories since 1970, Porsche is by far the most successful manufacturer in the history of the long distance classic.
With a total of six test days in Japan and France, NAVI Team GOH, 2004 overall winner at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, has taken meticulous steps to prepare for the race. Joining forces with works driver Sascha Maassen for the event are two Japanese teammates, Seiji Ara, winner at Le Mans in 2004 with GOH, and the talented Formula 3 youngster Keisuke Kunimoto. ‘I’m feeling optimistic after our tests,’ says Maassen. ‘The RS Spyder is fast and reliable and my teammates are extremely capable. The experience and preparedness of the team are very important, above all because there was no pre-test on the circuit this year.’ No other works driver has clocked up as many kilometres in the RS Spyder as the 39-year-old German. He has assisted with development of the sports prototype since 2005 and in 2006 claimed the championship title in the American Le Mans Series. Maassen knows the 13.629 kilometre circuit in Le Mans well. In 2004 and 2005 he celebrated class wins in the GT2 category, and last year he came second with an RS Spyder fielded by the Essex team. ‘I have the greatest respect for the race track and its swift corners,’ he says. ‘The race will be immensely challenging and certainly very exciting. My goal is to improve on last year’s result by one place.’
Taking Maassen’s seat in the Essex team this year is the Porsche factory pilot Emmanuel Collard from France. Together with Denmark’s Casper Elgaard and Kristian Poulsen, the trio are a force to be reckoned with. The 38-year-old Frenchman won the GT class in Le Mans in 2003, secured second in 2005, and in 2007 Collard claimed third overall. 31-year-old Elgaard celebrated second place at the wheel of an Essex RS Spyder in the LMP2 class in 2008 – and early May in Spa claimed his second win in the Porsche sports prototype in the Le Mans Series. Newcomer Poulsen underlined his talent and nerves of steel at his debut on the Belgian circuit, when in the gripping final phase of the race he brought the RS Spyder across the finish line as the winner.
Porsche works drivers Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas, who are lent to Audi, could put in a performance worthy of the history books after recently winning the 24 hour race on the Nürburgring-Nordschleife. Should they now go on to win in Le Mans, they will be the first race drivers in the history of the long distance classic to celebrate victory at both races in one year. ‘I’m extremely grateful and happy that Porsche and Audi have given us the chance to drive for overall victory at Le Mans,’ says Timo Bernhard, whose racing résumé brims over with successes in endurance racing. The German secured overall victory at the Daytona 24 Hour event in 2003 and at the 2008 Sebring 12 hour race together with Romain Dumas. Teaming up with the Frenchman, he claimed all championship titles in the American Le Mans Series with the RS Spyder in 2007 and 2008.
In the GT2 class as well, customer teams receive support from Porsche through works drivers. The German Felbermayr Proton squad brings a top line-up for its 911 GT3 RSR. At the wheel of the #77 Porsche are Marc Lieb (Germany), Richard Lietz (Austria) and Wolf Henzler (Germany). After a three-year break from competing at Le Mans to complete his studies, Lieb is now eagerly anticipating the race. ‘Le Mans is always a highlight,’ says the 28-year-old. ‘The atmosphere is unusually wonderful, and the track is great. It’s huge fun to drive there. Above all, with its high full throttle percentage, the circuit suits our 911. With Richard and Wolf we have a top team and the new Michelin tyres fit perfectly. In short, we have a real chance to win – and we want to use it.’ Lieb has already celebrated three wins this season: Together with Lietz, he won the first two rounds of the Le Mans Series. And like Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas, he was one of the winning Porsche quartet on the Nordschleife.
The French IMSA Performance Matmut team fields two 911. Taking up the race in the #76 car are Raymond Narac (France) as well as Porsche works drivers Patrick Long (USA) and Patrick Pilet (France). Rounding of the IMSA contingent are Horst Felbermayr Jr., Horst Felbermayr Sr. (both Austria) and Michel Lecourt (France). From America comes the Flying Lizard team with drivers Darren Law and Seth Neiman (both USA), backed up by Porsche works driver Jörg Bergmeister from Germany. The fifth 911 GT3 RSR is entered by the Endurance Asia team, with drivers Darryl O’Young (China), Philippe Hesnault (France) and Plamen Kralev (Bulgaria).
Traditionally, the Le Mans race weekend gets underway with the technical scrutineering on Monday and Tuesday (8/9 June) on the Le Mans market square – witnessed by thousands of enthusiastic spectators. Free practice takes place on Wednesday, from 19.00 hours to midnight, with the qualifying sessions to determine the grid line-up held on Thursday from 19.00 to 21.00 hours and from 22.00 hours to midnight. On Friday the engines remain silent. The famous drivers’ parade takes place from 18.00 to 19.00 hours from the race track to the city centre of Le Mans. On Saturday, 13 June, at 15.00 hours, the lights turn green for the 55 competitors at the world’s most famous 24 hour race.
Eurosport broadcasts the entire race live alternately with its Pay-TV subsidiary Eurosport 2, with two thirds of the race covered by the free main station. The qualifying as well as the warm-up will also be televised.