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2019 24 Hours of Le Mans
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Super Season Super finale
The 87th annual 24 Hours of Le Mans served as the Super Finale of the 2018/2019 FIA World Endurance Championship Super Season. The extra long championship spanned well over a year culminating with this weekend's 'Super Finale'. This unusual schedule was chosen, so that from now on the FIA WEC will have the 24 Hours of Le Mans as the final race each edition. As this year's race was part of the championship as the 2018 Le Mans, pretty much the same cars were entered. Thanks to several art car liveries, the grid fortunately did not quite look identical. The most striking colours were chosen by the Rebellion Racing team for the R-13 LMP1 cars, while Ford opted to run retro liveries to mark the conclusion of the works GTE program. Thanks to the addition two pit boxes, the field for the 2019 Le Mans was also larger than ever before with 62 sports prototypes and GTs taking to the track for the first practice on Wednesday.
We had ace photographer Bob van der Wolf on the ground with this action-packed 230-shot gallery as the result.

The build up
After the traditional scrutineering in the Le Mans city centre, the action got under way in earnest on Wednesday afternoon with a four-hour free practice session. This was followed by three two-hour qualifying sessions; one on Wednesday evening and the other two on Thursday evening. There were few surprises in the opening session and the biggest news was the hefty shunt of Tracy Krohn with his Porsche 911 RSR. The American driver would ultimately not be cleared to race and as a result the team decided to withdraw the car, even though it was rebuilt around a new shell. At the end of the practice and qualifying sessions, the pre-race favourites, the works Toyotas set the fastest times but the gap between the privately entered LMP1 cars was remarkably small. In the highly competitive LM GTE Pro class, the pole position was set by the #95 Aston Martin Vantage. The car was promptly awarded with a Balance of Performance (BoP) adjustment, which did not help the team to pursue a class win exactly 60 years after Aston Martin scored their first and only outright victory at Le Mans to date.

The race
In front of a 252,500-strong crowd and at exactly 3pm on Saturday afternoon the 87th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans was started by H.S.H. Charlene of Monaco. The #7 Toyota that had been placed on pole by Kamui Kobayashi in Thursday quickly took off, while the sister car and defending champions built a comfortable gap over the non-hybrid powered LMP1 field. Toyota's repeat victory really was never in doubt. As most of the other LMP1 cars hit trouble, it was the #11 SMP Racing entered BR Engineering BR1 that clinched third overall, some six laps behind the winners. In good Toyota tradition, there was some last minute drama for the leading #7 car as a puncture dropped it behind the sister car. The team had briefly considered to reverse the order but out respect for the race, the #8 car crossed the line once again making Sebastian Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso repeat winners.
Whereas the LMP2 field once showed a very high rate of attrition, the current generation cars, powered by a spec engine are very reliable. The days of a GT car placing in the top ten are a distant memory. By staying out of trouble, the Signatech fielded Alpine A470 scored a repeat victory in the junior prototype class.
The most hotly disputed is usually LM GTE Pro with factory backed teams and hugely talented professional drivers. This year was no certainly no exception. Unfortunately, the BoP adjustment left Aston Martin struggling but still the fight for top honours was on between the Porsche, Ferrari, Corvette and Ford teams. At the end of the 24-hour race, there were still five cars on the lead lap with the #51 AF Corse Ferrari taking top honours beating two Porsches and two Fords. Unfortunately, the fastest of the two Fords was disqualified due to a fuel tank size issue. That same fate was bestowed on the single privately entered Ford GT, which had taken top honours in the GTE Am class. The following day, however, the Team Project 1 Porsche 911 RSR was promoted to the first position in class as the Keating Motorsports Ford was scratched from the results.

Final thoughts
Of the 61 cars that had started the race 24 hours before, an incredible 49 managed to cross the line on Sunday afternoon. This underlined the strength of the cars after a full season of racing as Le Mans today is not so much an endurance race as a 24-hour sprint. During the weekend new prototype regulations were announced for the 2020/2021 season, which should open the door for more competition at the sharp end of the field. For the coming 2019/2020 season, which will start in less than a month the current regulations are still in effect, so we can expect many of the same faces. Missing, however, will be the works Ford and BMW LM GTE Pro efforts as both programs came to a close at Le Mans this year.


Report by Wouter Melissen and images by Bob van der Wolf for Ultimatecarpage.com