LE MANS LMP REVIEW: Quiet weekend for the Brits despite Conway podium

At the 2018 edition of Le Mans, Did Not Finish ruled the prototype class, with only Toyota and Rebellion finishing all their LMP1 cars, and a number of fallings-off in LMP2. Here’s how this played out for the British drivers, written by Zack Evans.

Mike Conway

Even within Toyota Gazoo Racing, with their disproportionate budget and experience, they were expecting trouble, and were open about a adopting zero-risk policy in the pits – which didn’t quite work. The 7 car suffered a share of the rear punctures affecting both cars, and shared confusion in the box with 8 when both came in under a safety car at the same time, causing difficulty with getting the fuel hose to the cars. Mike Conway (above and right) is that rare combination of patience and pace and the 7 (perhaps the reason he had the first stint) had built a two minute lead going into the night, thanks to Conway dealing with a Slow Zone correctly whereas Buemi picked up a stop-go for speeding. A compelling overnight quad stint from Alonso undid this advantage, and in the 23rd hour Kobayashi missed a pit call which put the 7 over maximum stint length, putting the 8’s lead beyond doubt. The 7 also took penalties for total fuel in stint, whereas the 8 did not. Conway’s car took second, as widely predicted.

There is no question Jenson Button won hearts and minds in this race and he clearly had a brilliant time himself. Early on the 11 SMP Racing BR1 lost two hours to sensor problems, on top of losing track time in qualifying to a different sensor issue; but immediately after that Button put in a 3h40 stint and it looked like the long-term plan may have been to allow Button to see the chequered flag. When the time came he looked incredibly tired starting his final stint with 75 minutes to go, rubbing his eyes in the cockpit. But it turns out Le Mans had other ideas anyway – 20 minutes into the stint the gently smoking BR1/AER stopped before Arnage. Button called it over pit radio: “Game over guys, game over. The engine’s gone… What a shame, but a lot learned. Bloody good job by everyone.” DNF.

At almost the same time SMP comrades over in LMP2 were doing a less bloody good job on an electrical issue plaguing Shaytar’s stint.  (This Le Mans may have set the record for Greatest Number Of LMP2 Steering Wheel Swaps.) Harrison Newey‘s 35 Dallara suffered on-off electrics throughout, leading to a later stop-and-go for outside assistance. Nato provided a good illustration of the extremes with around three hours to go, setting his fastest lap and then completing the immediate following lap in limp-home mode. Newey suffered a puncture near midnight, frustrating their race plan to build consistency rather than pace. Newey had backed off in his first fuel stint to save tyres for the third, obviously undone by the puncture. The 35 finished 10th in class.

The problems started even earlier for Oli Webb. The starter motor failed to fire up the Nismo in the ByKOLLES Enso, delaying the 4 car’s departure from the echelon. It started after a reboot, stopped again, and then finally got moving at least two minutes after the pack. Cold tyres meant a flustered Webb spun it before the Dunlop bridge almost straight away. Kraihamer came together with the 90 TF Sport Aston in Porsche Curves in the 5th hour, into the wall just by Karting, with a brief appearance of flames as is traditional for ByKOLLES. Kraihamer started the clean-up early, giving a few pieces of carbon fibre a frustrated booting; and more frustration later when the stewards declared the tag his fault and took a championship point. DNF.

Ben Hanley had a pretty torrid time of it but he had a lot to deal with. Lotterer appeared to tag him on the first corner of the race after recovering from a run the wrong side of the exit kerbs – or at least the Rebellion nose cone tagged Hanley’s 10 DragonSpeed, and there is some question over whether it was still connected to Lotterer’s car at this point. Rebellion have confessed it was not attached properly by the crew. In hour 17 Hanley slid outwards at the exit of Porsche Curves, taking him into the wall sideways, but managed to limp it back to the pits. Despite this rescue effort DragonSpeed later retired. DNF.

#6 CEFC TRSM RACING / CHN / Ginetta G60-LT-P1 – Mechachrome – 24 hours of Le Mans – Circuit de la Sarthe – Le Mans – France –

CEFC TRSM Manor are famously under-tested and did not run at Spa, so it’s no surprise that the story here is Ginetta racing the race and just trying to get a finish. Alex Brundle (right) took the start in the 6 after some last-minute fettling in the pits, with Mike Simpson in the 5. Brundle spun the wheels leaving the pits on his second return during his stint, giving the team an early penalty to add to the electrical problems that would shape the rest of the race, with frequent stops for the cars out on track.

The 6 stopped under Brundle in the late afternoon – he got it going again and handed it to Oliver Turvey, who put in a quad stint to get them through the evening. The car was off the pace for his first fuel stint but settled later in the evening, which may be why he refused a new steering wheel when it was offered to him. Oliver Rowland was in just after midnight, with a stop and reboot at Tetre Rouge, which got him as far as the first Mulsanne chicane before slowing again, stopping near the second chicane – and that was that. Manor and Ginetta sent a crew of mechanics to shout instructions to Oli, but Manor finally tweeted retirement 11h 15m into the race. DNF.

Over in the 5 Charlie Robertson got in at half past seven to start a solid quad, except for a brief return for a fettle after his out lap, telling RLM that he has “always wanted to drive into the dark at Le Mans.” His next stint took him through dawn and then he may have squeezed in a nap before taking the car at lunchtime to get it over the line. And get it over the line he did, but not without an extended stop for battery and alternator with 24 minutes to go and a further breakdown on the victory lap. Meanwhile, when Simpson had taken the 5 car back to manage the midnight run he completed two shortened stints, then a 54 minute stop to change bell-housing and clutch, which finally shifted the problems and allowed some 3:30s in the tenth hour. The 5 finished 5th in class to and beat the race, with only the four cars of Toyota and Rebellion also managing to finish.

The United Autosports LMP2 Ligier of Phil Hanson (in his second year as youngest driver at Le Mans) and Paul di Resta suffered a GPS sensor issue in the first hour and a fuel pickup problem for the second half of the race, forcing stints of only 9 laps. The GPS sensor issue delayed the start of Hanson’s first (quad!) stint at 5pm, with the driver sitting in the car and not moving for seven minutes. This was later made irrelevant by di Resta though, who left the pits just as a Safety Car came out late in the 18th hour. The 84.8km/h he set behind it was not enough to warm the tyres and he drove head on into the concrete wall at, yes, Porsche Curves, missing the tyre wall completely. DNF.

The Panis Barthez LMP2 Ligier ran in P2 or P3 for more than half the race, with Will Stevens starting, and putting in frequent 3:30s. He despatched the graveyard shift from 4am with a confident quad stint, even dipping to 3:27.872 during magic hour. His stints were in an odd rhythm against tyre strategy, with Michelin running doubles on the right and quads on the left. Stevens returned to the car for hour 19 but this stint was truncated by a clutch issue sending the car to the box for over an hour – putting them 9th in class.

Zack can be followed on Twitter @savoirsarthe. 

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