GTE Pro delivered. Again. That’s probably the simplest way to sum up the top production-based class at the 2017 Le Mans 24 Hours, which ended in the closest, most dramatic and most exciting fashion possible.
But while the last-lap battle between eventual winner Jonny Adam in the #97 Aston Martin (above, co-driven with Darren Turner and Daniel Serra) and Jordan Taylor in the #63 Corvette (co-driven with Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia) will be what most will remember, perhaps the bigger takeaway from the race will be just how close it was between the five manufacturers.
Pretty much the entire 13-car Pro field was circulating on the lead lap for the first couple of hours and five different makes finished in the top five after 24 hours of racing in swelteringly hot conditions. Only the sorest loser would have cause to complain about Balance of Performance after a race like that.
Adam, Turner and Serra’s victory will of course be hugely welcomed at Aston Martin, but it could so easily have been the sister #95 car of Sorensen, Stanaway and Thiim, which dominated the field in the early stages thanks to Thiim’s quick laps, but was then knocked back first by a puncture and the an off for Stanaway that required time in the pits for repairs.
Second place went the way of last year’s winners Ford in the end – although this time it was a car from the European half of the operation, the #67 of Harry Tincknell, Andy Priaulx and Pipo Derani that was victorious in the WEC season opener at Silverstone.
Although the Blue Oval never looked like a straightforward threat for victory this year, this car was always in or on the fringes of the podium positions and perfectly poised to capitalise on the chaos of the last two laps. The #66 Mucke/Pla/Johnson car spent time in the garage, but the two American entries came home a respectable sixth and seventh.
The #63 Corvette crew’s third place in the class will be a bitter pill to swallow when victory was so close. Having been out of sync with the majority of the field for most of the race following an early stop for a slow puncture, consistent strong pace and a lack of mistakes saw them right in contention as Sunday dawned.
Although Taylor successfully resisted Adam’s first passing attempt into Arnage on the penultimate lap, he had picked up a slow puncture straight-lining the first Mulsanne chicane, which had got worse by the time the battling pair arrived at the Ford chicane, hence Adam being able to power past as they crossed the finish line for the penultimate line.
Taylor’s tyre had deteriorated further on the approach to Dunlop, causing him to straight-line the chicane and then have to baby the car around the rest of the lap and across the line, giving Tincknell in the Ford the opportunity to snatch second at the line.
The other #64 Corvette saw its challenge put paid to when Tommy Milner went off at the exit of the Porsche Curves during the night, necessitating a seven-minute pit stop for repairs.
Porsche looked to be a threat for victory right until the end, but an unscheduled late stop for the #91 car of Makowiecki/Lietz/Pilet due to a puncture relegated it to fourth in the final reckoning. Michael Christensen did for the sister #92 car’s chances when he crashed at the Ford chicane in the early hours of the morning, ending his and co-drivers Kevin Estre and Dirk Werner’s chances.
AF Corse Ferrari’s best finish of fifth for the #71 of Bird/Rigon/Molina will be a disappointment after Bird and Rigon’s Spa victory, while the sister #51 machine of James Calado, Pier Guidi and late call-up Michele Rugolo ended up as the final classified Pro finisher after contact with the GTE Am-class #90 TF Sport Aston Martin.
In GTE Am, the story was simpler but no less impressive. In their first race running the new Ferrari 488 GTE, with three Circuit de la Sarthe rookies (Will Stevens, Dries Vanthoor and Rob Smith) JMW Motorsport took their first Le Mans 24 Hours win in utterly dominant fashion, coming home two laps clear of their nearest competition, the #55 Spirit Of Race AF Corse Ferrari of Duncan Cameron, Marco Cioci and Aaron Scott.
Finally, the heroic underdogs of last years race, Risi Competizione, barely had a chance to get going when Pierre Kaffer was hefted into the barriers on the Mulsanne early in the race by an errant LMP2 car, causing race-ending damage on the spot.
It was an all-Ferrari podium in GTE Am, with Cooper MacNeil, Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell, the latter two making their second consecutive visit to the Le Mans podium following class victory in 2016, finishing third in the WeatherTech car (above).
The Beechdean Aston Martin came home fourth in the class after a very consistent and trouble-free run for Andrew Howard, Le Mans newbie Ross Gunn and Olly Bryant. Behind them, the Clearwater Racing Ferrari trio of Matt Griffin, Weng Sun Mok and Keita Sawa took home the maximum haul of WEC points as the first full-season entry across the line.