While speculation continues as to whether Audi or Porsche might join the ranks of Formula One, the two German car manufacturers’ commitment to endurance racing was in no doubt this weekend.
Porsche ended a 17-year wait to claim its 17th victory at the prestigious Le Mans 24 Hours event, which had been won by VW stablemate Audi in 13 of the previous 15 stagings.
It was a 1-2 finish for Porsche, which returned to Le Mans last year, with F1 driver Nico Hulkenberg and teammates Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy heading off the vehicle piloted by Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley.
The winners completed 395 laps of the circuit – one more than their Porsche rivals – as 263,500 spectators watched from Saturday afternoon to Sunday in France.
Audi’s defending champions Marcel Fassler, Andre Lotterer and Benoit Treluyer were third.
Hulkenberg, who fitted the race in between his grand prix commitments with Force India, was the first active F1 driver to win the race since Johnny Herbert and Bertrand Gachot in 1991.
“Our goal was to have one car on the podium, but a 1-2 victory is amazing,” said the German, who was the first rookie to win it since Laurent Aiello in Porsche’s previous 1998 victory.
“I am very proud of what we achieved. We had a flawless race with a great pace and we didn’t make any mistake. The last lap was a bit weird because it was drizzling and people got nervous in the garage,” added the 27-year-old, who has yet to win in 83 F1 starts.
“After the finish line, it is amazing to see thousands and thousands of people cheering up. I am very happy that we’ve done it.”
Bamber was also taking part in his first Le Mans, having been promoted to Porsche’s LMP1 program this year for selected endurance events.
“The last 12 months have been incredible. I was in the same go-kart club as Brendon Hartley and he actually taught me how to drive,” the New Zealander said of his compatriot.
“This victory is beyond my dreams. I hope I can come back many more times because it is a great race, and come back next year with those guys.”
Webber, who helped Red Bull win four world manufacturers’ titles before quitting F1 at the end of 2013, said the Porsche No. 19 car had deserved to triumph over his No. 17.
“We weren’t quick enough. Simple as that,” said the Australian, whose Porsche Le Mans debut last year ended in disappointment after mechanical problems. “The guys in the 19 did a great job. All three of them were exceptional for 24 hours.
“We served a penalty as well – I don’t know if that would have been enough … maybe if we didn’t have that. Especially in the night, the No. 19 car was really quick. It left the Audis and the other Porsches as well.”
Lotterer, meanwhile, had the consolation of setting the fastest lap – three minutes 17.476 seconds on No. 337 – for the fourth time of his Le Mans career.
“I set the best lap in the race, but I would have preferred to win because nobody will remember,” the German said.
“The Porsches were doing one more lap and we had to push the whole race to try to catch up with them. We had too many issues to win this race.”
Lorenzo continues title charge
Meanwhile, in elite motorcycle racing, Jorge Lorenzo closed to within a point of MotoGP championship leader Valentino Rossi by winning his fourth successive race on Sunday.
The Spaniard triumphed over the Italian veteran at the Catalunya Grand Prix near Barcelona after claiming the advantage at the first corner from the surprise qualifying leaders Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales of Suzuki.
Reigning world champion Marc Marquez is now 69 points behind Rossi after seven races, having crashed while challenging Yamaha’s Lorenzo on the third lap.
Seven-time titleholder Rossi was second for Yamaha, while Marquez’s Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa was third in his home race.