A hundred years after winning the inaugural Le Mans 24 Hours in 1923, Michelin won this weekend's 'Race of the Century' in front of a crowd of 300,000 to extend its unbeaten run in La Sarthe since 1998. The MICHELIN Pilot Sport range of tires developed entirely using simulator technology for endurance racing's Hypercar prototypes delivered competitive, lasting performance which enabled the teams to run triple-stint strategies. Michelin also won the LMGTE Am class with Corvette.
The centenary Le Mans 24 Hours was undeniably a resounding success, with an entry of no fewer than six carmakers in the headlining Hypercar class. Five of them actually topped the order at one moment or another, while Ferrari, Toyota and Cadillac finished on the podium.
For Ferrari, it was a case of returning to the great French circuit where it had triumphed 50 years previously. This weekend, its #51 499P hybrid prototype (Alessandro Pier Guidi/James Calado/Antonio Giovinazzi) scored a splendid win after a thrilling scrap with the #8 Toyota GR010 Hybrid (Buemi/Hartley/Hirakawa). The latter's challenge ended, however, when it sustained accident damage with less than two hours remaining.
Meanwhile, the comeback of the American brand Cadillac to Le Mans was rewarded with third and fourth places at the checkered flag, spearheaded by the #2 V-Series.R in the hands of Bamber/Lynn/Westbrook. Peugeot and Porsche both appeared momentarily at the sharp end of the leaderboard before their respective bids were thwarted by a variety of issues.
As in 1923, the race was marked by rain which fell in the form of two torrential showers that caused havoc amongst the 62 starters. They also led to several interruptions and, although intense, the race had difficulty settling into any sort of rhythm up until around midnight Saturday. In the end, there were practically 40 leader changes over the 24 hours!
It was an extremely positive race for Michelin which provided a range of simulator-developed Pilot Sport tires for the 16 Hypercars. The entire range was used over the course of the race, from soft-, medium- and hard-compound slicks to rain tires. The majority of the prototypes successfully triple-stinted (almost 500 kilometers on a single set) with no detriment to performance.
Triple-stinting at Le Mans equates to less time spent in the pits. Over the full distance, the strategy can save something like seven minutes - equivalent to around two laps - compared with single-stinting, so lasting performance is a key factor in the quest for victory at Le Mans.
The result saw Michelin clock up its 32nd victory at Le Mans and its 26th in a row since 1998. The French tire firm had already won with Ferrari in Formula 1 (the Italian make was even the first with which it won a grand prix, back in 1978), but the two companies had yet to win the main prize at Le Mans together, a situation which this year's centenary edition corrected at last!
Meanwhile, in the LMGTE Am class, all the 21 entries chose to compete on Michelin rubber, with three different makes again celebrating on the podium - namely Corvette, Aston Martin and Porsche. The Corvette C8.R of Catsburg/Keating/Varrone recovered from an early suspension problem to eke revenge for the team's cruel defeat at Le Mans this time last year. Second was the ORT by TF's #25 Aston Martin Vantage (Al Harthy/Dinan/Eastwood) and third was the GR Racing #86 Porsche 911 RSR (Wainwright/Barker/Pera). The all-lady crew of the #85 Porsche/Michelin (Bovy/Gatting/Frey) finished just shy of the top-three after challenging for the win all the way to the flag.
The ACO-organized centenary Le Mans attracted an exceptional attendance of 300,000 fans who were treated to a bumper week of entertainment, including mouthwatering displays of historic cars, breathtaking support races starring the likes of MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi who won a Road to Le Mans race on Michelin tires, concerts and fireworks.