Porsche, TF Sport Aston secure Le Mans GTE glory

Porsche, TF Sport Aston secure Le Mans GTE glory

Porsche GT Team’s No. 91 911 RSR 19 of Gianmaria Bruni, Richard Lietz and Fred Makowiecki took an unlikely win in a thrilling, topsy-turvy 24 Hours that made up the final appearance at Le Mans for the GTE Pro class. With GT3 coming in 2024, and one final year of pro/am GTE racing left, this was always set to be a memorable occasion in the factory-dominated category. And it would be a race of attrition this time rather than a 24-hour sprint.

The narrow, 42-second victory over the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari for the No. 91 crew, was the third in GTE Pro for Gianmaria Bruni, a second for Richard Lietz (the only GTE Pro Le Mans driver to have run each event) and a first class win in 12 attempts for Fred Makowiecki.

“First, I’m very happy to have finally done the job for Porsche, having been successful here before with other teams,” said Bruni. “We had to work hard for it — a win at Le Mans is never easy. I think we deserve this win, having come close before.”

Lietz said: “I think any win at Le Mans is fantastic, but I’m really pleased for Gimmi and Fred. The factory program is finishing at the end of the year and it was important for us to get this win. Of course, I’m sorry for our teammates, but this year it was our turn.”

In telling the story of this race, you have to begin by reflecting on the heartbreak for Corvette Racing. For a loyal team that’s supported this event and GT racing through thick and thin in the 21st century, to see it head back to the USA with neither car making the finish, was tough for fans to witness and a tough pill to swallow for everyone involved in the program.

This was especially the case as the C8.Rs were the class of the field through Hour 18 on pace. For much of the first half of this one it looked like a 1-2 finish was not just possible, but likely. However, when Le Mans bites, it bites hard.

No fairy-tale ending for Corvette’s C8.R duo this time. Nikolaz Godet/Motorsport Images

Suspension issues for the No. 63 forced Nicky Catsburg, Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor into retirement from the lead. Then with six hours to go, the No. 64 (which took over the reins at the front after the No. 63 hit trouble), as the team confirmed the withdrawal of the No. 63 after lengthy repairs, was swiped by the No. 83 AF Corse ORECA while running three-wide heading down the Mulsanne Straight, sending Alex Sims veering off into the barriers and out of the race.

In a race that saw only eight cars out of the 62 that took the start retire, it was hugely unlucky for Corvette in their final GTE Pro ride to have to pack up early.

The drama for Corvette left AF Corse and Porsche to duke it out for the victory with their best-placed cars. Initially it was advantage AF Corse, with the No. 51 488 GTE of James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Daniel Serra, which benefited from 18 hours of trouble-free running, despite struggling for raw speed. But the lead for the No. 51 would last long, as the safety car called for the No. 31 WRT ORECA’s shunt saw the No. 91 gain back the time lost from its drive-through penalty early in the race for track limits violations.

Makowiecki piled on the pressure on Alessandrio Pier Guidi as the pair ran nose-to-tail for the lead. The Frenchman couldn’t find a way through as Pier Guidi pushed his car to the limit — and over on a couple of occasions. In the end, however, he didn’t need to make a pass on track to claim P1, as a slow puncture for the No. 51 a handful of laps later dropped it back to second and handed the No. 91 a comfortable lead of over around half a minute.

The task for the final hours was then clear — keep the Ferrari and bay and make the finish. And they did just that in convincing fashion. The victory is not only a historic one for Porsche and the three drivers in question, but it also had interesting WEC title ramifications, as the No. 91 crew now leads the class standings ahead of the 6 Hours of Monza.

Completing the podium behind the No. 51 was AF Corse’s second Ferrari which made it a double podium for the Italian marque. This was an strong final showing from AF Corse in Pro at Le Mans, before it focuses on running Ferrari’s forthcoming top class Le Mans Hypercar effort from next season.

The No. 92 911 RSR 19, which looked the stronger of the two Porsches early in the race, came home two laps down in fourth after a costly moment for Michael Christensen at Mulsanne Corner ended its hopes of victory. The Dane had a trip through the gravel after a rear puncture occurred under braking, which then resulted in a second puncture that ripped up all the front bodywork, forcing the car into the garage for repairs.

Riley Motorsports’ Ferrari, the only privately entered car in the class, completed the top five.

TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Ben Keating, Henrique Chaves and Marco Sorensen ruled the GTE Am class. Motorsport Images

GTE Am was also an entertaining contest this year, won eventually by Tom Ferrier’s impressive TF Sport team. The British Aston Martin customer outfit took control of the class at the halfway mark and controlled the race with exceptional performances from Ben Keating, Marco Sorensen and Henrique Chaves. This is a first class win for all three drivers, and means a huge amount to all of them, Bronze-rated Texan Keating in particular.

The hugely passionate gentlemen driver, who has come so close at Le Mans so many times — including having a class win wiped from the history books in post-race scrutineering in 2019 — deserved this. He was exceptional in a pool of quality gentlemen drivers in the hotly contested class, staying consistent, keeping the car out of trouble and completing a brutal triple-stint in the process. After finishing second last year with TF Sport, reaching the top step this time felt especially sweet.

“It’s a really special win for sure, my eighth Le Mans and in seven different cars,” noted Keating. “We didn’t win on pace — the Porsches were two seconds a lap quicker — but we had excellent pit strategy, we got lucky with the pace car and we kept to our plan. At midnight I wasn’t sure how we would get on. I couldn’t ’t belive we had an 80-second lead!” “It’s been a long time coming, but this year we made it stick,” said Sorensen. “The race pace came naturally at the right time for us. It was emotional with three laps to go and to cross the line as a winner is amazing, you realise why it means so much.”

Finishing second was the WeatherTech Racing Porsche, which turned out to be the surprise package of the race. Julien Andlauer was mercurial, Thomas Merrill held his own, and Cooper MacNeil stepped up to the plate every time he climbed in the car. They finished 44 seconds off the lead, and did themselves proud.

Completing the podium was the Northwest AMR Vantage, which was in the hunt throughout and made it a double podium for Aston Martin. David Pittard in his first Le Mans outing was impressive, Nicki Thiim was, as always, one of the fastest in the field, and Paul Dalla Lana finally found some luck. The Canadian, who has a history of heartbreak at this race, scored his first podium finish this weekend and will soak up the celebrations as a result.

GR Racing finished just off the podium, Mike Wainwright’s team promoted to fourth late in the race after the No. 77 Dempsey Proton Porsche hit trouble and the Hardpoint Porsche lost crucial time in the gravel at Dunlop.

The No. 88 Dempsey Proton Porsche took fifth, finishing just nine seconds up on the first of the Ferraris in the class, which after much chopping and changing, turned out to be the No. 54 AF Corse Ferrari.