In its last-minute minute switch to GTE-Pro livery to conform to its two-driver entry, the Prospeed WeatherTech entry of Cooper MacNeil/Jeroen Bleekemolen was holding its own in the factory-backed class at the halfway point.
Le Mans. After 12 hours of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Porsche has cars in contention for strong finishes in each of the three classes in which it competes. At one point within the first third of the race, Porsche led simultaneously in the Le Mans Prototype (LMP1), GT Endurance-Pro (GTE-Pro) and GTE-Amateur (GTE-Am) classes of the premier event of the FIA/ACO World Endurance Championship (WEC). However, for a variety of reasons, the German marque fell from the top spot leading up to the race's midpoint. The Porsche 919 Hybrid, in its debut in the 82nd running of the race at the Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France, and two different Porsche 911 RSRs remain within striking distance in their respective classes as the race moves deeper into its second half.
Two significant rainstorms slowed the early going of the grandfather of all endurance racing events. The quick and hard cloudbursts cost several contenders their race after accidents while others were hampered for a shorter period of time. Porsche in all classes were not seriously involved in any of the incidents.
Porsche 919 Hybrid Program
As the final 12 hours of the French classic began, the No. 20 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid ran third in class with factory drivers Timo Bernhard (Germany), Mark Webber (Australia) and Brendon Hartley (New Zealand). The car which uses a combination of electric motors and a gasoline-fueled V4 turbo engine, led early in the race. When Bernhard took the lead, it marked the first time since 1998, Porsche's last appearance in the top-class at Le Mans, that the German marque had led overall at la Sarthe. The prototype's sister car, the No. 14 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid, co-driven by Romain Dumas (France), Neel Jani (Switzerland) and Marc Lieb (Germany) is sixth in class, 12 laps behind the leader after an extended time in the garage area.
Timo Bernhard: "In the opening phase the car felt quite tricky to drive but that improved after a few laps. We were really fast in the rain and employed the right strategy. My experience from several years at Le Mans helped me a lot during this stage of the race, but it was still extremely difficult. We had all kinds of conditions out there that you could imagine, from zero vision to completely dry track, and everything in between. All this within one single lap. That was absolutely crazy, I have never experienced anything like it. Only on the Nürburgring Nordschleife have I ever seen similar conditions, if at all. All in all it was a really good stint. To put a Porsche in front of this race for the first time after the comeback was definitely a great moment. Now we have to make sure that we keep doing a zero-error job."
Marc Lieb: "My first stint was rather difficult. I started when the track was partly dry and still partly wet in places. Therefore I wasn't quite sure how much I could push. At first the tyre pressure on the rear went up, probably because I pushed a little too hard in the damp sections. Because of the tyre pressure issue the car balance was not quite as I would have liked it to be. In my second and third stint it was much better, though. There were no further problems at all, the car is running fine, everything ok. We'll see where this is going to take us in the end."
Romain Dumas: "The car felt OK. It's never easy to jump into the car and do your first stint. But everything looks OK, we just have to continue like that. Of course we cannot regain what we lost at the beginning, but we keep on going. The traffic out there is not easy, but it's the same for everybody, so we have to deal with it."
Brendon Hartley: "This was my first turn at Le Mans with Porsche and I had a great time out there. We made one early stop because something felt a bit strange on the car. We weren't sure if it wasn't a puncture, so we pitted and the guys investigated it. The car is running fine and we are still close. We even led for a little while. Toyota had a little bit more pace so we couldn't maintain it. But still everything is running smooth."
Porsche 911 RSR Programs
The No. 92 Porsche Team Manthey 911 RSR driven by Marco Holzer (Germany), Frédéric Makowiecki (France) and Richard Lietz (Austria) is fourth in the GTE-Pro class. However, their factory pilot colleagues Joerg Bergmeister (Germany), Patrick Pilet (France) and Nick Tandy (Great Britain) fell back down the field with the second No. 91 Porsche 911 RSR. At times the car had held the lead but was forced to pit for 41 minutes with a fuel pressure problem. The car ran seventh, 31 laps off the class leader, at the race's midpoint.
Lietz, Tandy and Patrick Long (Playa del Rey, California) team in the full-season of North America's TUDOR United SportsCar Championship as drivers in the two-car Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR program. Denmark's Michael Christensen joins them throughout the year, sharing a car with Long. Bergmeister and Pilet race in the endurance events of the IMSA-sanctioned series with Porsche North America. The pair campaign the full season in the WEC for Porsche Team Manthey.
The best-placed Porsche customer team in the GTE-Am category is Proton Competition. The number 88 Porsche 911 RSR with Porsche junior Klaus Bachler (Austria), Christian Ried (Germany) and Khaled Al Qubaisi (Abu Dhabi) is currently running in fourth place.
The No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSR prepared by ProSpeed Competition of Cooper MacNeil (Hinsdale, Illinois) and Jeroen Bleekemolen (Netherlands), has had a challenging Le Mans week. An accident on Thursday totaled their original entry necessitating a new car. The team's originally entered third driver, Bret Curtis (Lake Sherwood, California), who was in the car at the time of the incident, was not cleared to drive for medical reasons. After a diligent search, no suitable driver was found to replace Curtis. The team opted to take the challenge of racing in the endurance race with only two drivers - something which has not been undertaken since the mid-1980s. With no "amateur" driver entered in the car, the team also had to move up into the GTE-Pro category making their task even more difficult. Two different cut tires have hampered the team but they made steady progress throughout the evening and currently hold sixth in the class.
The final Porsche with direct North American connections, the Dempsey Racing - Proton Porsche 911 RSR driven by racer/actor Patrick Dempsey (Malibu, California), Joe Foster (Atlanta) and Porsche factory driver Long were serious GTE-Am class contenders before a pit lane penalty forced them to stay stationary in their pit stall for three minutes - roughly the length of a full lap of the 8.469-miles (13.629km)/38-turn road course. At mid-race, the team ran sixth in class, four laps out of the class lead.
Richard Lietz: "We switched to soft tyres a little too early. They suffered badly in the warm temperatures at the start and we slid around quite a bit. Well, we tried and it didn't work. Now we definitely know better next year. The traffic in Le Mans is always bad, but because there are more LMP1 cars on the track this year and they lap you more often, the track marshals are really nervous. We're constantly getting blue-flagged even when we don't have a faster car behind us. They should be a little more restrained."
Nick Tandy: "The car ran well during my time in the cockpit. We're lacking some speed. It's a shame that we've lost so much time in the pits."
Cooper MacNeil: "The WeatherTech Porsche is running strong, especially on old tires. The ProSpeed guys have the car handling well and we can drive it on old rubber and it is still very comfortable. Traffic has seemed to settle down, everyone is pretty spread out. We are following our plan to run our own race with a focus on the finish. We are looking good running in sixth."
Patrick Dempsey: "My first double stint was good. I didn't make any mistakes, drove consistently and took good care of the car. It's great to have the first stint behind me. Coming back to the pits afterwards is a great feeling."
Joe Foster: "We learned a lot about the tyres in the first hours and we will benefit from this over the rest of the race. We're very happy with our car, it's running really well. No problems. Now I'm looking forward to my night stint. I like the night-time at Le Mans, it's somehow really peaceful out there."
The 24 Hours of Le Mans can be seen live on the FOX Sports family of networks with the checkered flag falling at 8:30 a.m. ET Sunday morning. Regular updates can be found on Twitter at @PorscheRaces and @Porsche.
About Porsche Motorsport North America
Porsche Motorsport North America (PMNA), located in Santa Ana, California, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Porsche AG and the sole sales and service provider for the German sports car maker's North American customer sports programs. Porsche is the largest manufacturer of race cars with a wide range of products from the 911 GT3 Cup car to the ultimate 911 GT3 RSR. PMNA sells these models to customer teams in North America and provides them with parts, service and expertise in between races and at the track. The PMNA service truck is a fixture at most race tracks in the U.S. and Canada, staffed by factory engineers to service all of Porsche's customer teams.
About Porsche Cars North America
Porsche Cars North America, Inc. (PCNA), based in Atlanta, Ga. is the exclusive U.S. importer of Porsche sports cars, including the Macan and Cayenne SUVs and the Panamera sports sedan. Established in 1984, it is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Porsche AG, which is headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, and employs approximately 270 people who provide parts, service, marketing and training for 189 dealers. They, in turn, work to provide Porsche customers with a best-in-class experience that is in keeping with the brand's 66-year history and leadership in the advancement of vehicle performance, safety, and efficiency.
At the core of this success is Porsche's proud racing heritage that boasts some 30,000 motorsport wins to date.
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