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06/19 2016

Porsche, Ford GT celebrate with wins at 24 Hours of Le Mans GARY WATKINS

Porsche Ford GT win at 24 Hours of Le Mans

Joey Hand, Dirk Muller and Sebastien Bourdais drove the No. 66 Ford GT to the class victory at Le Mans.PHOTO BY LAT PHOTOGRAPHIC

FORD PERFORMANCE CELEBRATES ANNIVERSARY OF 1966 WIN WITH LMGTE PRO CLASS WIN

Porsche snatched a second consecutive 24 Hours of Le Mans victory after the leading Toyota hit problems with five minutes of the race left to run.

The Porsche 919 Hybrid driven by Neel Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas took over the lead when the Toyota TS050 HYBRID shared by Sebastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima  lost power, briefly stopped on the start-finish straight and then completed a final slow lap to cross the line in second position. The final lap completed by Nakajima was, however, too slow for the car to be classified and it was immediately removed from the results.

Ford took victory in the LMGTE Pro class on the 50th anniversary of the first of its four outright victories in the 1960s. Joey Hand, Dirk Muller and Sebastien Bourdais took honours for the Ford Chip Ganassi USA team by more than a minute and a half from the Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE shared by Giancarlo Fisichella, Toni Vilander and Matteo Malucelli.

The Risi Ferrari battled with the two U.S.-run Ganassi Ford GTs for nearly all the race until Vilander spun out of the lead late in the 21st hour. The Ferrari was able to hang onto second place ahead of the Ford shared by Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and Scott Dixon by 24 seconds.

GTE Pro was exclusively fought out by Ford and Ferrari, despite both marques receiving performance penalties after their  domination of qualifying. Best of the rest behind the fourth-place U.K.-run Ford of Olivier Pla, Stefan Mucke and Billy Johnson was the Aston Martin Vantage GTE of Darren Turner, Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen.

Porsche 919 - pic

The Porsche 919 Hybrid driven by Neel Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas conquered the elements for the overall win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.PHOTO BY LAT PHOTOGRAPHIC

The problems for the Toyota were the final twist in a closely fought race in which the best-placed cars from the Japanese and German manufacturer were never separated by more than a lap.

The Toyota with Davidson at the wheel moved into a lead it would hold until the final minutes at the end of the 20th hour. The Porsche with Lieb at the wheel lost time first in a series of slow-zones in which speeds are limited to 50 mph by local yellow flags, and then as Lieb struggled with four-stint old tires.

Jani took over the chasing Porsche with just over three hours to go. He chipped into the Toyota’s advantage and gained more time when Davidson handed over to Nakajima, but was unable to mount a challenge for the lead.

The Swiss driver was half a minute behind with 10 minutes to go when a slow puncture brought him into the pits for a new set of Michelin tires. He fell more than a minute behind, but barely five minutes later, Porsche was celebrating its 18th victory at Le Mans.

The winning Porsche and the excluded Toyota both lost time in the early stages of a race that started behind the safety car following a heavy rain shower. The Toyota relinquished vital seconds on the opening lap when it temporarily lost power, while the Porsche had a problem with a sticking wheel nut at its first pitstop.

LMP2 winner - pic

The LPM2-winning ORECA-Nissan 05 was driven to the victory podium by Nicolas Lapierre, Stephane Richelmi and Gustavo Richelmi.PHOTO BY LAT PHOTOGRAPHIC

The lead was initially fought out by the Toyota that finished third in the hands of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Stephane Sarrazin and the No. 1 Porsche shared by Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley.

The Porsche held sway over the Toyota until losing time in slow-zones late in the seventh hour. It then dropped out of contention after encountering overheating problems that required two stops of more than an hour each to rectify, leaving the reigning world champions down in 13th position at the end.

The second Toyota remained in the hunt until Kobayashi spun in the final hours. That precipitated a precautionary pitstop to fix damaged bodywork, which left the car three laps in arrears in what turned out to be second position.

Audi endured its least-competitive Le Mans since entering the sportscar arena in 1999. It made it onto the podium with the R18 e-tron quattro shared by Loic Duval, Lucas di Grassi and Olivier Jarvis courtesy of the Toyota’s late retirement even though it was 12 laps behind at the chequered flag.

The two Audis were only sporadically able to run at the speed of the front runners and both ran into a series of technical problems that left them in third and fourth positions.

The LMP2 class was won by the French Signatech squad with its Alpine-badged ORECA-Nissan 05 driven by Nicolas Lapierre, Stephane Richelmi and Gustavo Richelmi. It triumphed by a lap over the Jota-run G-Drive Racing ORECA driven by Rene Rast, Will Stevens and Roman Rusinov.

Victory in the GTE Am class was taken by the California Scuderia Corsa team and its Ferrari 458 Italia driven by Townsend Bell, Jeff Segal and Bill Sweedler.