SEVENTEEN years after Scot Allan McNish stood on the top step of the podium, savouring his first win for Porsche in the Le Mans 24 Hours, the German manufacturer finally ended its long drought at the world’s toughest endurance race.
But despite sealing what ended up being a comfortable 1-2 result, it wasn’t the pre-race favourite, the No 17 Porsche driven by Aussie ex-Formula One star Mark Webber, which took the chequered flag.
Instead it was the team’s “back-up” car, the No 19 driven by current F1 driver Nico Hulkenberg, 24-year-old Kiwi Earl Bamber and Brit Nick Tandy.
The 33-year-old from Bedford was the big performer of the trio, rattling off a series of blindingly quick laps during a quadruple stint during the cool temperatures of the night. His performance catapulted the car into a fight for the lead, which it took at 6:30am, and held, unchallenged, for the next eight and a half hours.
“It’s just a dream,” a clearly emotional Tandy struggled to say immediately after the race, before riding dizzily on the side of the Porsche as Hulkenberg drove it to the podium ceremony. “I honestly can’t believe it.”
Webber — partnered by Kiwi Brendon Hartley and German Timo Bernhard — recovered from a 60-second penalty to finish second.
There were a number of firsts for the winning trio. Hulkenberg is the first competing F1 driver to win Le Mans since 1991; Bamber is the first Kiwi to win since 1966; and both Hulkenberg and Bamber are the first rookies to win the gruelling race since Laurent Aiello.
The Frenchman partnered McNish in the 911 GT1 in 1998, the last time Porsche won the race overall.
And yesterday proved bittersweet for the 45-year-old from Dumfries. McNish, who most recently won the race twice with Audi, is now a key cog in masterminding the Ingolstadt team’s Le Mans efforts.
Uncharacteristically, Audi, which had won 13 of the previous 15 races, and the last five in succession, had a troubled weekend punctuated by a series of minor but irritating technical problems.
As a result of the lost time in the pits, the lead Audi of three-time winners — Marcel Fassler, Andre Lotterer and Benoit Treluyer – only finished third, despite losing time when it lost a chunk of its bodywork.
Treluyer also posted the fastest race lap round the 8.45-mile circuit, clocking 3mins 17.476secs, an average speed of 154mph,
“We knew we’d be faster than the Porsches in the heat of the day and early evening on Saturday and that’s exactly the way it panned out,” McNish explained.
“Unfortunately, we then couldn’t match the Porsche cars’ speed throughout the cooler temperatures of the night and they were able to claw back the advantage we’d established.
“Plus each of our three Audis had technical problems, never anything major, but, as everyone knows, at Le Mans one of your prime objectives is to stay out of the garage and the pits. Unfortunately we had too many niggly wee problems.
“But I have to congratulate Porsche. They’ve done a fantastic job this weekend. Not only has their constant speed impressed me but so too has their reliability.
“It’s clear their cars spent less time in the pits than ours, which has surprised us, but sometimes you get race weekends like this. But, believe me, we’ll be back next year even more determined to win again at Le Mans.”