Porsche 919 Hybrid goes to Le Mans as title defender

M16_1981Public expectations are high ahead of the 84th running of the Le Mans 24-Hours on June 18/19: Porsche enters the world’s hardest race with the 919 Hybrid as a record holder, title defender and leader in both the manufacturers’ and drivers’ world championships. Le Mans is also the third round of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC). Ahead of the season’s highlight, the trio of Romain Dumas (FR), Neel Jani (CH) and Marc Lieb (DE) leads the drivers’ standings. The reigning world champions in the sister car, Timo Bernhard (DE), Brendon Hartley (NZ) and Mark Webber (AU), have been unlucky in the first two rounds (accident in Silverstone, puncture in Spa-Francorchamps) and can’t wait to catch up. At the classic on La Sarthe, the teams and drivers are rewarded with double points compared to the other eight six-hour races in the championship.

For Porsche it is the third entry in Le Mans after returning to top level motorsport. In 2015, at only the second try, Porsche managed a one-two result. The 919, with its ground-breaking downsizing two-litre V4 turbocharged petrol engine and its two energy recovery systems (brake and exhaust energy), has been significantly developed. It produces a system power of 662 kW (900 HP) and hits the Le Mans roads with an aerodynamic configuration for low drag. On the long straights the 919 frequently reaches top speeds above 320 km/h.

The six works drivers have between them participated in the Le Mans race a total of 49 times. Bernhard/Hartley/Webber finished second last year and now drive the futuristic prototype with the number 1. Dumas/Jani/Lieb came fifth in 2015 and share the number 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid. Last year’s winning car was in the hands of Earl Bamber (NZ), Nico Hülkenberg (DE) and Nick Tandy (GB).

Quotes before the race:
Fritz Enzinger, Vice President LMP1: “Coming back to Le Mans for the pre-test was emotional for the entire team. Winning in Le Mans doesn’t compare to anything else, because it is so incredibly hard. The fact we made it in 2015, in only our second attempt, puts us in the role of an odds-on favourite. We have to make sure this doesn’t drive us crazy. By no means is 2016 going to become any easier, as the opposite is the case. Porsche set new technology benchmarks when returning to the top category with the most advanced prototype on the grid. The competition has reacted and that’s why we now all have a 24-hour race ahead of us which might become the closest in history.”

Andreas Seidl, Team Principal: “The race team and the staff back in Weissach did a super job in development, as well as during testing and preparation. Le Mans especially is a steep learning curve. In 2014 the race came much too early for our freshly assembled team. Still we got further than anyone could have expected and then learnt how bitter a retirement shortly before the finish can taste. In 2015 we managed three cars, got them one-two-three on the grid, brought them all home and celebrated a one-two result. Le Mans 2016 is our 19th race as a team. This isn’t a lot. Technically and operationally we are better prepared than ever. But we know about the challenge to survive the race week, and especially the race itself, with no technical problems and no incidents on track. We have the utmost respect for that. We feel ready.”

Drivers Porsche 919 Hybrid car number 1:
Timo Bernhard (35, Germany):
(9 races: overall victory 2010, overall second 2015, class victory GT 2002)
“I’m really excited for the race! Le Mans is one of the biggest races in the world with a great history. The track is also really special – the mix of public country roads and the permanent racetrack is unique. For Le Mans you must try to stay calm, be perfectly prepared physically and mentally to start the race full of energy. After many hours in the car you still have to be able to make the right decisions when going at 250 km/h through the Porsche curves. I know that our Porsche 919 Hybrid is quick and we’ve got a strong team behind us.”

Brendon Hartley (26, New Zealand):
(4 races: overall second 2015)
“When I drove in Le Mans for the first time in 2012, I immediately fell in love with this race. The first night racing experience is something I will never forget. This tunnel vision and warp speed type feeling – I loved this sensation. Plus the circuit itself, with its unique features such as crowns in the roads and massive straight-line speeds. The Porsche curves, in my opinion, is one of the best high speed sections on any track in the world. There is so much passion for this endurance race. The special atmosphere starts with scrutineering one week before the race. At the Friday parade through the streets of Le Mans you really feel that you’re part of the history, in which Porsche plays a big role. Entering Le Mans with this brand is a dream.”

Mark Webber (39, Australia):
(4 participations: overall second in 2015, not racing in 1998 and 1999)
“The race is another incredible opportunity for us – for Timo, Brendon, myself and Porsche – to achieve something special. We have been very close in 2014, until the retirement, and came second in 2015. We have one step to go and would love to win together. First we have to make our way through the 24 hours. We are open to the fact that it is not a race that is easy to execute in terms of operation, as well as traffic, backmarkers and the weather. We have huge respect, but feel ready. We’re not overconfident, but we could not have done any more work to prepare for the race. We have as good a chance as anyone to fight for the win. During the week before the race it is very important to have a good routine, get some sleep when you can and watch the energy level of your own batteries.”

Drivers Porsche 919 Hybrid car number 2:
Romain Dumas (35, France):
(15 races: overall victory 2010, 3rd place overall 2007, 5th place overall 2015, class victory GTE 2013)
“For me Le Mans is the race of the year and, especially when you’re French, it’s the biggest sports event of the year. There are a quarter of a million spectators just at the racetrack and a lot of them have a special interest in the French drivers. It would be a dream come true to win this race with Porsche. I think we are well prepared to achieve this goal again with our 919. We’ve got a great car, team and crew and I feel very good.”

Neel Jani (32, Switzerland):
(7 races: qualifying record lap and 5th place overall 2015)
“We have had a great preparation and did a lot of testing in advance of the event. All the drivers have had a lot of seat time in the car and the Porsche 919 Hybrid is as well prepared as possible. I have personally prepared like I did in the previous years, attaching particular importance to endurance and the neck, because you have a lot more time at the wheel compared to the other WEC races. I have a good routine that worked well in the previous years. Le Mans is the biggest event of the year for the team and for me. Everyone’s tension is particularly high when the crown jewels of endurance racing are at stake once a year. Due to the 2016 regulations, we have less fuel and, therefore, power, but we have increased the cornering speeds. The engineers have done a great job.”

Marc Lieb (35, Germany):
(10 races: 5th place overall 2015, class victories GTE 2013, GT2 2010, GT 2005)
“For me Le Mans is the biggest race ever. I was born in Stuttgart and grew up in Zuffenhausen, practically next door to Porsche. When I was a five-year old I was a big fan of the Group C cars, which were racing in Le Mans and in the then world championship. I always found these race cars a lot more attractive than Formula One cars. It was a dream to compete once in Le Mans in the highest category for overall victory. The fact I can do this now for the third time means a lot to me. I cannot put into words how much I’m looking forward to the race. We had a good pre-test and are better prepared in every regard than ever before. This also goes for the driveability of the car and this perhaps can be the most important factor for a 24-hour race.”

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