The French connection: DTM at Le Mans
We’re in the drivers’ car park at the Misano circuit, it’s Sunday evening, a few hours after the DTM race, and the sun is slowly setting after a hot and busy weekend.
Assembled are four men: Loïc Duval, Paul Di Resta, Mike Rockenfeller and Philipp Eng. They squeeze their luggage into two cars and head for the small airport in nearby Rimini. There, they will board a chartered flight taking them directly to Le Mans, where they are to race in the famous 24-hour race the following weekend.
Joining them for the flight from the Italian Adriatic coast to the west of France is Frenchman Côme Lédogar, who raced (and won) in Misano’s French Porsche Carrera Cup support race, and was also hitching a lift to race at the French track.
Why the rush for a race that doesn’t start for another six days?
Le Mans is far more than just a race – it is a week-long festival of motorsport, which kicks off with scrutineering traditionally taking place in the city centre. On Tuesday, the long-standing autograph session takes place in the pit lane. On-track action finally starts on Wednesday with four hours of free practice, followed by two hours of qualifying late into the night.
Starting grid positions are then finalised during two further qualifying sessions on Thursday evening. Friday is the day of the drivers’ parade, again in the city centre, with the race starting on Saturday at 3pm.
Here is what the four DTM drivers, in alphabetical order, achieved in one of the oldest and most legendary races in the world:
Paul Di Resta (GBR)
Car #22 United Autosports Ligier JSP217-Gibson
Other drivers Phil Hanson, Filipe Albuquerque
Result overall 9th
Result in class 4th
In a field where the Oreca (or its re-badged Alpine and Aurus derivatives) is largely considered the benchmark, United Autosports held Ligier honours aloft with its fourth-place finish, just missing out on a podium result.
For the third consecutive year, the Anglo-American team was the best-placed Ligier outfit in the French classic. A drive-through penalty for a Safety Car violation on Saturday evening saw the #22 car lose some time. A furthger three minutes were lost after midnight when a door had to be replaced after a side window came adrift.
Over the final six hours, the car was involved in an entertaining battle for fourth place in which it ultimately came out on top.
“P4 is the ‘chocolate’ watch position. Everyone has worked so hard, the guys have been here for three weeks, never mind the preparation beforehand. It’s a shame to narrowly miss out on a podium – that was the ultimate goal.
“We lacked a bit of pace compared to the other guys. We can be satisfied with the job we’ve done with no mistakes like last year. It was hard work. The car balance proved to be quite difficult but we were always in the fight for P4-P8 the entire race. A great event to compete in.”
Loïc Duval (FRA)
Car #28 TDS Racing Oreca 07-Gibson
Other drivers François Perrodo, Mathieu Vaxivière
Result overall 8th
Result in class 3rd
The TDS team was a strong contender in the LMP2 class, its entry under the G-Drive banner led its category for a long time until a starter motor issue blew its hopes of victory. The TDS car that Loïc Duval shared with Frenchmen François Perrodo and Mathieu Vaxiviere wasn’t the fastest in class in terms of outright speed, but was always solidly within the top five and scored a strong podium finish.
“There was a fierce battle in the LMP2 class, like every year. Reliability of these cars has become really good over the years, which means that you have to be on top of it in every aspect, both as a team and as a driver.
“We didn’t really have any major issues, we just lost some time with Safety Cars. For me, coming from Chartres, Le Mans is my home race and being on the podium after this race is always something special. We also set the fastest lap-time in our class.”
Philipp Eng (AUT)
Car #81 BMW Team MTEK BMW M8 GTE
Other drivers Martin Tomczyk, Nicky Catsburg
Class LMGTE Pro
Result overall 47th
Result in class 13th
BMW’s pair of works-M8s were never in contention for a top result in what was their final outing in the FIA World Endurance Championship, something the factory partly blamed on a less-than-favourable ‘balance of performance’.
During the race, time was already lost due to shock absorber issues, Philipp Eng (who raced at Le Mans with a special helmet design in memory of Austrian racing driver Roland Ratzenberger, killed in an F1 accident at Imola 25 years ago) worked magic on the car as he managed to get it going again in the final hour of the race after electronic problems had brought it to a halt alongside the track. Eng still managed to bring the car home.
“Overall, that was another great week at Le Mans. It's a shame that we couldn't round it off with a good result. In general, the BMW M8 GTE drove well but unfortunately we just didn’t have the pace required on the straights. We had to drive right at the limit, which put the components under extreme stress. Many thanks to BMW Motorsport and BMW Team MTEK for allowing me to be a part of this project from the start.”
Mike Rockenfeller (GER)
Ca #63 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R
Other drivers Jan Magnussen, António García
Class LMGTE Pro
Result overall 28th
Result in class 8th
The GTE-Pro class again was the hardest-fought class at Le Mans, as the total number of 38 lead changes – involving six different cars – reflects. The No. 63 Corvette was in contention for victory for a long time and led the field for 107 laps, the second-highest number in class. An off-track excursion by Jan Magnussen blew the team’s hopes for success in what was Corvette’s 20th participation with its own factory team at La Sarthe. After extensive repairs, the team had to make do with an eighth-place finish.
“Le Mans is always something special, but it also shows that the race lets you win, as is often said, rather than the other way round. That was the case for us as well. We were doing really well and had a good pace, but unfortunately, there was a slight mistake and then our chances were gone.
“That’s endurance racing for you: everything has to be spot-on. Too bad, we could at least have finished on the podium, but things like that happen. Personally, I was very happy with my performance, that was the positive thing.”Photos: Bob van der Wolf