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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Following four more cautions periods that led into the extended red flag, IMSA prepared to wave the green flag after six hours and 37 minutes of the 10-hour race had elapsed. With sunset on the horizon, the daunting task of night racing, with heavy water spray and a slippery racing surface to contend with, became a factor for the remaining survivors. As the field prepared to go racing again, some began to wonder if the event would reach its intended 10-hour distance. For Tandy, whose No. 911 Porsche was shuffled behind a pair of GTLM Corvettes, and the No. 31 Action Express Corvette DP, a sense of urgency was felt at the Lap 178 restart.

TANDY: “We could see what was happening and the fact that we have this red flag and the fact that there was another caution and another caution. I was in the car at the time and I do remember thinking this could be ended at some point soon. I’ve got no idea how the two Corvettes ended up in front of us. Maybe there was a pit cycle. But then, we’ve got this (BMW) behind us that we’re fighting for a championship. So for example, if we go green and I get caught up with the Corvette, and the BMW gets past us, it could be the end of the race. It could be the end of a year, because that’s the end of the championship. So we managed to get past both Corvettes. And yes, you know the race could be ended anytime soon, but at the same time it could have gone on for another two hours.”

After quickly clearing the Corvettes, Tandy set his sights on whomever was next. It happened to be overall leader Eric Curran in the AXR Corvette DP.

TANDY: “The plan was we go as fast as we can, try our best to do our best to beat the cars that were (in) our championship, and if we happen to be quick enough, to pass prototypes and move up the overall order, great. You know, if we get an overall podium, great. As long as it helps our chances of winning (the three GTLM) championships.”

By the end of Lap 180, Curran’s prototype had 8.1 seconds over Tandy’s Porsche 911 RSR. Seven laps later on the 187th tour, the GT car swept by in a daring pass to reclaim first, and by Lap 190, an advantage of 9.9 seconds was built to the plummeting DP.

TANDY: “We were catching, catching, catching and luckily, we were able to go flat out, down the back straight. I managed to get close enough under braking, and with our traction, I was able to get on the inside on the exit of Turn 10, because this is where we were really strong. So I just managed to get it done. So yeah, this was pretty cool. And then you start to realize, well, yeah, now we’re actually at the head of the field. This is good, but let’s see what happens. There’s potentially another two hours still to go.”

Owing to the race moving into the final hours, and the rainfall refusing to slow, taking the No. 911 to the top of the timing and scoring screen held a new significance for the Porsche GT Team. Despite leading a few times earlier in the race, Tandy’s charge to first after the red flag let his teammates and pit crew start to dream of an epic upset.

PILET: I was in the driver lounge — I was not in the pit because it was pouring and I just tried to relax, because I was supposed to jump in the car after Nick. So I was with Nick’s wife, Brittany in the lounge, and the moment Nick takes the lead and I hear everybody so happy from (the pit box) who is like 100 meters away. And also, on the radio, Gary comments, ‘Good job, keep going and stay focused’ and everything.

“A few laps later, when there is another caution, and I was like, ‘Ah, again. We did all the job and we have to do it again and again and again.’ And I stopped to think, OK, I need to be ready, because maybe in a few laps, I will have to jump in the car again. And then this magic flag arrived.”

Expecting more cautions and more restarts behind prototypes in his future, Pilet was stunned as the race’s next development was revealed. Tandy’s push to take the lead by Lap 190 would prove fateful; after seven hours and 51 minutes, IMSA unfurled the checkered flag to wave on Lap 199.

PILET: “I just didn’t realize at the beginning. Brittany told me, ‘You won, you won overall!’ And I was like, ‘No, no way. It’s not over. It’s not possible.’ You know, like I can believe it. They said, no, look it’s is a checkered flag. I was totally shocked. It was really a magic moment.”

TANDY: So, we had this final yellow, and I get the call, ‘Caution’s out, caution’s out,’ and you’re like, ‘Oh, OK, here we go again.’ And I think I was probably on the back straight somewhere and yet we came around the corner, and we’ve got no idea it was the last lap, no idea the checkered flag was coming out. And the first I knew that the race was being checkered was I came around the corner and I saw the flag man waving the flag, and I think I radioed it to the team and said, ‘It’s over. We’ve won it. We’ve won it.’ Even before anyone else had realized.

The still not quite believing winners celebrate. Image courtesy of Porsche North America

“So then all the celebrations started. We’ve completed our goals for a season’s worth of racing, to go out there and win the manufacturers’ championship, teams’ championship and the drivers’ championship. We’ve completed everything that we’ve set out to do, so the emotion of that is huge enough, but then when you realized that you’ve just won this race overall. This historic race that numerous teams and drivers try years and years to have results in and go there for special reasons to try and win this race. We’ve just gone out and bloody won it in a 911 against all these prototypes! So, it was just amazing and it was definitely the best cool-down lap that I’ve had.

“And yeah, seeing everyone’s faces in the pit lane, it was just amazing. Jumping out of the car and seeing Patrick and Richie, just the faces of people, it was like shock mixed in with pure emotional enjoyment. But also there was this sense of relief that we’d got through this torturous time, this torturous race, cleanly and we’ve managed to come out as the winners.”

PILET: “This year was really special and we called the dream year and the dream team, also. It was just the achievement of so many people working on this and I remember like it was yesterday.”

A conversation with one of Porsche’s legendary drivers helped Pilet to fully appreciate the meaning of their overall victory.

PILET: “The emotion was totally crazy, but to be honest, I still didn’t realize maybe until it Rennsport, I met Vic Elford, and he talked to me about this race. He said, ‘I watched this race, and you didn’t realize because you’re doing your job and then you just winning another race, but it was the one and only overall victory for Porsche at Petit. It was something unique and especially doing it with the GT cars is still something unbelievable and nobody can take this away from us.’ When you have a legend like Vic, to tell you that, you just realize it even more how big was this moment. It was something unique.”

TANDY: “The beauty that we have now is that older races, they’re always going to be available online and I’ve watched the race more than five times. Whenever I’m feeling low for whatever reason, I can always go on YouTube and I can watch the day when we made history. You get to see that we were very lucky, that it is documented like this now. It’s just as Patrick said, you don’t kind of realize the enormity of what happened.”

Spot the outlier. Image by Michael Levitt/LAT

The gravity of Porsche’s 2015 Petit Le Mans win was immortalized by the Road Atlanta circuit when it added graphics along the front straight to honor the event’s overall winners. Among the prototypes, a misfit GT is found.

TANDY: “We’ve got Audis and Peugeots, and then you see a 911 in there as well. There’s just one, just mixed in among all these very different-looking (prototypes), and you look at that and you think, wow! I was part of the thing that did that. It’s something that history can never change. Careers can change and racing can change, but the fact that we were there on that day and managed to complete what we did as a group of people can never be taken away from us. I mean, I can feel the energy now, just talking about it, bringing it all back. The emotion that went into that day and the kind of the effort that went into that race, it was, I’m pretty, sure the most emotional time I’ve had within motorsports.”

Only two mistakes were made on Porsche’s perfect day five years ago at the aquatic Petit Le Mans.

HOLLWARTH: “I made a bad decision to bring new shoes to the race. The first thing I did when I arrived at the hotel, I threw them in the trash bin. I wasn’t equipped with proper waterproof shoes, and from my viewpoint, the worst thing that could happen at a racetrack is if you have wet feet. Arriving at the hotel room, I was so mad at this pair of shoes that this was the first thing I did — throw them away!”

A cherished trophy, even if it doesn’t quite tell the story… Image courtesy of Nick Tandy

While Hollwarth’s problem was easily resolved, the Briton and the Frenchman have an enduring gripe to reveal.

TANDY: “Well one point I will say, because I was sorting my trophies out the other day, possibly the only bad thing about the weekend is the fact my trophy says, ‘First, GTLM.’ We never got a trophy that said ‘First, Overall.’”

PILET: “Yeah, that’s true. You’re totally right, I still have the trophy in front of me and they say ‘First Place Driver, GTLM.’”

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