A bizarre ending to the LMP2 class saw the No. 18 DragonSpeed ORECA take victory — despite the fact that Sebastian Saavedra’s crash directly impacted the race being stopped early.
With conditions deteriorating, Saavedra was leading in class when he crashed at Turn 1 and significantly damaged the front of the No. 18. But as the race was red flagged before two further laps could be completed, the 18 was still the leading car when the race was called.
The No. 81 car had started as the lead DragonSpeed, while Roberto Gonzalez picked up bodywork damage just 20 minutes into the race in the No. 18 car.
Despite that incident, the two DragonSpeed cars took control during the night. The No. 18 enjoyed plenty of spells in the lead until Ryan Cullen again hit trouble, losing time after a pit stop and then having to immediately return after picking up damage to both ends of the car.
The incident left the second car four laps down on the No. 81 with nine hours of the race to run, but it looked set to be a formation 1-2 for the DragonSpeed cars given their clear advantage over the only other two LMP2s in the class — the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports entry and the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen car.
Then disaster struck the leader in the final three hours.
Henrik Hedman was behind the wheel of the No. 81 and enjoying a comfortable lead when he lost the right rear wheel at the Bus Stop and had to stop on track, resulting in Saavedra taking over the class lead while Performance Tech moved into second place, four laps down.
With heavy rain falling just two hours from the end, Saavedra then went straight into the wall at Turn 1 and suffered heavy damage to the front. The incident brought out the caution, and just six minutes later the race was red-flagged. With Saavedra having been able to get moving again, it ensured the 18 was classified as LMP2 winner.
“After I jumped into the car I saw the conditions were pretty detrimental,” Saavedra said. “It was already getting to the stage where we should not be running out there. When I did put it in the wall, everything came into my mind, thinking ‘Yes we do have four laps to second, but this could be it.’
“Every single lap there was a new factor to play in your survival. When that happened, of course your first thing is thinking that you’ve let down this amazing group of people and this amazing crew that have pushed through 48 hours. I think people don’t understand that it’s not a 24-hour race for our mechanics, it’s much harder than that. So it was a little bit heartbreaking.
“When I saw the engine turn on and I was able to point it at such an angle that not much damage was done, we were able to come back. I did not expect it to go red and I think that was our saving moment, but we were ready to go out there and continue doing what we were doing.
“It was the nose [that was damaged] so I must thank the ORECA team because that car’s a tank! It was pasted with glue by the end of the race, we had gone through four different noses throughout the event. It was a very harsh event.”