One of Porsche’s flagship top-class LMP1 cars just went into the garage and onto the High Jackstands of Doom after only about three and a half hours of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The No. 2 Porsche 919—the same one that had a mechanical failure in final qualifying—just lost its front axle drive.
According to a Porsche team update, the cause of the failure is still under investigation. Earl Bamber was driving at the time of the failure, which locked the front wheels, throwing up a puff of tire smoke.
The entire front suspension of the No. 2 car is off and the team appears to be frantically working on the hybrid system in order to get the No. 2 back out on track. Commentators estimated that it could take as long as two hours to replace the motor generator unit of the hybrid system on the car.
Fortunately, Porsche still has the No. 1 919 in second place, but unfortunately, this means it will be even harder for Porsche to have two cars in contention at the end of the race when it’s crunch time. Worse yet, the No. 1 car just reported a vibration.
This isn’t the No. 2’s first mechanical issue this week. Porsche noticed that the engine temperature was rising in the final qualifying session and instructed driver Brendon Hartley to pull off in order to save it, ending its session early. It qualified fourth.
UPDATE [1:27 p.m. ET]: Team principal Andreas Seidl just popped on the WEC broadcast to clarify the status of No. 2 Porsche 919's problems.
“We lost drive on the front axle,” Seidl told the WEC broadcast team. “The front axle motor had to be changed. We need another 15 mins and then we will go out again.”
The car’s nose is back on, and Brendon Hartley is getting ready to get into the car. The No. 2 has spent nearly an hour in the garage at this point.
UPDATE #2 [1:38 p.m. ET]: Porsche Goonies never say die! (Erm, if you ignore those rumors for a sec.) The No. 2 is back out on track, albeit 19 laps down.
The Race Four Hours In
We’re about four hours into Le Mans, and it’s been exciting as always, with plenty of crazy passes (albeit usually on the road, Toyota) where faster prototypes have to navigate cleanly around the slower GT cars. It’s still pretty bright out, but expect more chaos and possible contact as the sun starts to set and cars become a bit more difficult to see.
Toyota has kept its commanding overall lead of this race from its 1-2 start, with the No. 7 TS050 in front ahead of the No. 1 Porsche 919. The No. 13 Vaillante Rebellion leads LMP2 at the moment, just barely ahead of its sister No. 31 car. It is LMP2 where cars are very closely matched, so not only have the two Vaillante Rebellion cars been swapping the lead back and forth with each other, but you can expect about a zillion more lead changes as drivers get more aggressive as the race goes on.
The GT battles have also been delightfully close this year. Porsche, whose brand-new GTE Pro-class 911 RSR was allowed to shed 8 kg of weight after qualifying a bit too slowly, is finally making good use of that break. Their fastest No. 92 car had climbed up as high as fifth before making unfortuante contact with a Corvette, but seems to be slowly but steadily clawing its way up.
I’ll bet the experienced boffins behind that factory Porsche GT team are just biding their time to slowly claw their way up over the course of 24 Hours. You don’t want to get too aggressive this early on, because that’s when you start making bonehead moves that can break the car.
Aston Martin Racing maintained control of the GTE Pro lead for much of the race all while looking too classy for me to handle in lovely British Racing Green. Currently, their No. 97 car sits in the lead, although it’s certainly had to fight for it in this amusingly cut-throat class.
Aston is out in front in GTE Am, too, with their No. 98 car still in the lead.
There’s been a bit more of carnage and chaos in these past couple hours. The ultra-fast No. 69 Ford GT had a lengthy pit stop to repair a rear taillight that was out—borkage that no doubt brings up plenty of deja vu to their infamous spat with the Risi Ferrari 488 GTE last year over the Ferrari’s leader light going out at the end.
The No. 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing LMP2 briefly looked as if it was trying to do kung-fu instead of racing, missing a braking point on track and tapping the wall with its nose while it was third in the hotly contested class. It struggled to restart, but ultimately made it back out on track with a new nose.
The No. 28 TDS Racing LMP2 later had a similar off, running through the gravel to eat wall.
It’s been the Dunlop Curves, though, that have been the biggest source of high-speed drama.
First, Ben Keating’s No. 43 Keating Motorsports LMP2—the lone Riley chassis running this year with a team full of American drivers—went side-by-side with the No. 91 Porsche 911 RSR at the Dunlop Curves. The Porsche appeared to have kept the racing line, but for whatever reason, didn’t see the Keating LMP2 beside him trying to go for a pass.
The two made contact, sending Keating into a spin that was thankfully slowed down by the car catching a sign before the tire wall.
“We were door to door, but he didn’t know I was there,” driver Ben Keating said on the official WEC stream. “I tried to cut the curb and didn’t miss him.”
The car touched the wall softly enough that Keating told the commentators that he hadn’t even felt the wall smack.
Then the No. 92 Porsche 911 RSR had a similar spin heading into the Dunlop Curves after making contact with the No. 63 Corvette C7.R. Corvette driver Jordan Taylor tried to pass going into the turn, but the Porsche didn’t let off. The two made contact in the process, sending the Porsche spinning around.
Fortunately, both the Keating Motorsports LMP2 and the Porsche 911 RSR were fine enough to make repairs and continue.
What chaos is next? We’ll see.