Aston Clinton’s Mark Webber was thwarted in his attempts to win the world’s most famous endurance race at the weekend as mechanical problems dashed any hopes of victory in the Le Mans 24-Hour Race.
There was, however, contrasting fortunes for Prosche’s second car driven by Neel Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas as they scooped the manufacturer’s 18th victory at Le Mans in their 919-Hybrid.
Running in second position with just two laps remaining,hopes of a Porsche victory appeared remote as the number 5 Toyota TS050-Hybrid in the hands of Japanese racer, Kazuki Nakajima, was controlling the race.
Amazingly, with just one lap to go, the Toyota slowed due to a sudden loss of power, allowing Porsche to sweep past and into the lead. The Toyota did not complete the slowing down lap of the race, and despite completing the same number of laps as the race winner was not classified in the race results.
But for Webber, and his team-mates Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard, the was left to reflect on a difficult day in the office with their world championship holding number 1 car.
Second fastest in qualifying, Bernhard took the race start for the team which took place under Safety Car conditions due to heavy rain and adverse weather.
When racing started after an hour, the number 1 car looked strong in second position and by the fourth hour was leading the race.
Hartley took over driving duties in the car from Bernhard, with Webber climbing aboard third in the rotations, but as midnight approached troubles hit and the 919-Hybrid was soon being wheeled into its pit box for work on its cooling system.
Rising engine temperatures resulted in the team replacing the car’s water pump, and with other issues also causing concern, it was many laps before the car was again seen on-track.
With the rain that blighted the race’s early laps moving away, the pace picked-up resulting in fast lap times set by the leading runners. With the number 1 car stranded in the pits and losing ground to rivals all the time, the car plummeted down the leaderboard.
By the time the car returned to action it had dropped nearly 40 laps on the race leader, and despite setting fast times for the rest of the race, they found it difficult to claw back much of advantage against the LMP1-Hybrid class cars.
Webber said: “We lost lots of time in the pits and in race like this that is the last thing you need. Basically we were out of the running at that point, but you just never give up.
“You keep pushing and driving hard for the team, your team-mates, everyone at the Porsche factory who is working towards this race and the fans here at Le Mans. It is very important to just keep pushing.”
At 3pm on Sunday afternoon, Webber and his team-mates had driven their car to an 11th place finish and fifth in class to claim valuable FIA World Endurance Championship points. Webber added: “Le Mans is a round of the WEC and because of that reason you just have to keep driving your socks off. Points mean prizes, and we have many rounds of this championship remaining and it is always vital to score Manufacturer Championship points.”
Reflecting on the victory of Porsche number 2, Webber continued: “The guys did a great job to win the race. They were close enough to Toyota so when the number 5 car had a problem, they could pounce and grab the lead.
“It was thrilling and you couldn’t write a film script like that as people would say it was too unreal. Well done to them, obviously we are all disappointed with our luck, but we look forward to the next race and we will fight again.”