Porsche took a stunning, historic victory in the 83rd running of the Le Mans 24 Hours as Formula 1 star and race debutant Nico Hulkenberg helped take the German manufacturer’s 17th win in the famous French race.
Hulkenberg, joined by fellow rookie Earl Bamber and one of the stars of the race, Nick Tandy, produced a virtually flawless performance in the #19 Porsche 919 Hybrid to see off a determined challenge from Audi Sport as well as their own team-mates to secure the win in only the second year since Porsche returned to top-flight prototype racing with the two-litre V4-engined Hybrid.
The victory came on the 45th anniversary of Porsche’s first win at Le Mans in 1970, when Hans Hermann and Richard Attwood famously won in the now iconic red and white 917K. It also marked 17 years since Porsche last won the race.
For Hulkenberg, it was a dream debut as he became the first contemporary F1 driver to win since Johnny Herbert and Bertrand Gachot won with Mazda in 1991 and along with Kiwi Bamber, the first debutant to win at Le Mans since Laurent Aiello triumphed for Porsche in 1998.
The #19 machine led for more than half the race and by sunrise had a two-minute advantage over team-mates Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and former winner Timo Bernhard in the #17 car (painted in tribute colours to the 917). By this stage Audi’s trio of R18 e-tron quattros had already run in to various problems.
Toyota meanwhile was bereft of the pace that made it such a potent force in 2014.
Porsche began the week with a pace advantage over its key factory rivals Audi and Toyota. Indeed Neel Jani set a record 3m16.877s pole time that represented the sixth fastest lap of all time around the legendary La Sarthe circuit – and the fastest of all since chicances were installed on the Mulsanne straight.