RETRO: The day Porsche GT Team won overall at Petit Le Mans

Image by Marshall Pruett

RETRO: The day Porsche GT Team won overall at Petit Le Mans

IMSA

RETRO: The day Porsche GT Team won overall at Petit Le Mans

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With their Michelin rain tires at full force, the GTLM field motored forward as soon as the green flag waved. The Prototype class, the LMPCs and the GT Daytonas appeared helpless in the driving rain, and only one outlier — a GTLM Porsche 911 RSR sponsored by Falken Tire — was able to keep up with the factory Porsches, Corvettes, BMWs, and an independent Ferrari.

PILET: “The Falken (car) also was quick at this time. And I remember our engineer Gary (Davies) just tell me, ‘Oh, let the Falken go. You attack the (BMW)’ because the (BMW) was just in front of me. I knew it was not the moment to take any risk because the race will be long, it will be a lot of cautions and everything. And at one point I see the Falken struggling and I say to Gary, ‘OK, now I go,’ then I overtake the Falken. I overtake the (BMW). I just open the gap to him and I keep pushing. I overtake many cars, also Prototypes, because it starts to rain more and more. And the aquaplaning was even worse. And our car was OK — it’s still super difficult to drive because you can lose a car every moment.”

In a car filled with rainmeisters, Pilet kept charging until the only thing in front of the No. 911’s windshield was traffic to lap. It was at this point where the first thoughts of being able to capture an overall victory appeared.

PILET: “I was still pushing because if you don’t push, you are losing temperatures and it’s even more difficult. At one point, Gary said, ‘Patrick, how do you feel? You’re leading the race overall now.’ And I was like, ‘Gary, I don’t care about leading overall. I just care about where is the (BMW)?’ Because the (BMW) was also super quick. They are P3 or P4 overall at this time. But at this moment after the stint, when I jumped out, I realized, for sure the car was mega. But I realized that maybe there is a chance to win overall.”

The conditions not only made it impossible for the drivers to relax, but essential for them to keep pushing. Image by Marshall Pruett

With most of the opposition holding on to the best of their ability with inferior rain tires, spins and crashes became a routine part of the race. More than 35 laps were run under caution periods during the first 100 tours as the pace car was pressed into service five times. For the leading No. 911 Porsche, the prolonged cautions meant IMSA was obligated to run through a complex pit stop procedure where prototypes were given first access to pit lane, and once they were finished, GTs were allowed to complete their stops. Despite being at or near front, the wonky pit sequence rules, which did not account for GTs leading, meant Tandy, Pilet, or Lietz were forced to take the restarts behind all the prototypes they’d passed before the caution.

PILET: “Every time you have a safety car, the prototypes restart in front of you, in front of the GTs. So we have to overtake them again and again, every caution. So it was nearly impossible on paper, even if we are faster, because with the spread, with everything to overtake, it’s quite difficult. But I think after this first stint, I realized maybe there is a chance.

TANDY: “For me, it was more when we were passing prototypes, say, for the first three or four stints I was in the car, they were just a nuisance, because I knew I was just trying to get a gap to the GTLM cars that we were fighting for the championship. And yeah, there were two or three decent speed prototypes — I think there was a couple of the Action Express (Corvette DPs). But a lot of the time, you’d come up to a car, maybe it’s got a new driver in or something. And they were five, six, eight seconds a lap slower than we were, trying to find their feet. And of course, you’ve got to appreciate that as well. A lot of them, they were just in the way.

“So then you restart after the caution, there might be 10 or 12 of these really much slower cars in front of you. And the restarts are where it was really difficult. I remember getting stuck behind one guy. He was doing a fairly decent job, but we clearly had a lot more pace in the slower corners, but I couldn’t get past him. And then every time he got to the straight, coming out of Turn 7, he’d have enough speed down the straights to be able to pull past. And all the time, I’ve got the BMWs behind, trying to keep them behind. So, that there was still a focus for me up to right up towards the end. But we were still racing the GTLM cars, not the prototypes.

PILET: “Our job was just to stay focused, to avoid (the worst parts of the) downhill sections where every lap, you lose the car without aquaplaning. For me when I was in the car — and I think it was the same for Nick — there was no, GTD no GTLM, no prototype. It was just cars. And we just tried to move forward all the time, all the time, all the time.”

Conditions worsened as the day went on, and by the halfway point, the grass and dirt lining the 2.5-mile circuit surrendered. With the sides of the track unable to take on and hold more water, rain landing on the racing surface stopped draining away, which led to big rivers flowing across the tarmac. IMSA race director Beaux Barfield called for the first red flag, lasting nearly 90 minutes, to try and implement a few fixes.

TANDY: “When it becomes difficult and dangerous in the rain is when you have the standing water. And I absolutely remember watching folks going out and doing their best to try and clear the water and digging these great ditches. At one point the area around the track, it was completely waterlogged and there were places, like Patrick said earlier, down the esses, the water’s just running off the banks.

“And when you’ve got rivers all over the place; there was three or four on the back street, there was a big old river between Turn 5 and 6 over the crest and down in the dip. At that point, the speed that you can go is kind of out the window. It’s more about just trying to keep the car on the track and to be really fair, they did a good job and they red-flagged the race for a reason. It was time to do it because I think if they’d left it much longer, there would have been big crashes and probably half the field off the track.”

PILET: “I agree with Nick. I mean, it’s not so often you see a race director or going on track and checking by himself with a car, driving on track with a normal car to see the amount of water.”

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