Porsche vs Audi: Serial Le Mans winners lead fight for 2015 victory

2015 Le Mans 24 Hours preview

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Fernando Alonso may be directing a few jealous glances in the direction of the La Sarthe circuit this weekend.

Twelve months ago he waved the flag at the start of the Le Mans 24 Hours. According to reports earlier this year, he subsequently tried to land a place in Porsche’s driver line-up for this year’s race, but was prevented from doing so by Honda.

While debate rages about the merits of today’s fuel-sipping, tyre-nursing Formula One, Alonso is far from the only recent driver to find the WEC an alluring prospect. For the first time in six years an active Formula One racing driver – Nico Hulkenberg – features on the grid.

He is at the wheel of one of the Porsches Alonso might have driven, as is fellow WEC convert Mark Webber. And the build-up to the race has indicated the German manufacturer may have a race-winner on their hands.

Porsche returned to Le Mans last year still as the most successful constructor in the history of the race, having taken 16 victories between 1970 and 1998. But two years after its last victory Audi took its first – and has piled them up at an astonishing rate since then.

Heading into the 2015 edition of the world’s greatest endurance race, Audi has won the last five in a row and amassed a total of 13 wins in just 15 years. But they and Porsche have faced each other relatively infrequently on the track.

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This year will be another chance to savour the fierce rivalry between the Volkswagen Group stablemates: a competition which appears to have propelled them beyond the reach of their LMP1 rivals.

In qualifying the trio of Porsche 919s seized the top three places on the grid. Neel Jani lopped the best part of five seconds off last year’s pole position time. The three Audis will line up next followed by the Toyotas.

The Japanese marque may have won the World Endurance Championship with their TS040 last year but Le Mans success continues to elude them. Their German rivals have clearly surpassed them in outright performance since the season began.

The updated TS040s ended qualifying over six-and-a-half seconds off the flying 919s, and their best chance in the race appears to be playing the ‘tortoise’ to the Germans ‘hares’. They are outgunned in numbers as well – just two Toyotas will go up against three cars each from Porsche and Audi.

But Toyota’s trials are nothing compared to that of fellow Japanese manufacturer Nissan, which is making its return to the top category at Le Mans for the first time since 1999. Comparing their plight to Honda’s in F1 would do McLaren’s engine partner a disservice: Nissan’s LMP1 contender was over 20 seconds off the pace in qualifying, more than 10% slower than the Porsches, and one of them will start behind the LMP2 pole sitter.

This was far from unexpected. Nissan’s American arm, which is running the project, has been beset by problems while preparing the GT-R LM NISMO for its La Sarthe bow. Undeterred by the setbacks encountered with their radical ZEOD RC last year, which completed just five laps, Nissan designer Ben Bowlby has produced another unconventional machine, albeit one which satisfies the LMP1 rulebook.

Technological diversity is a great strength of the WEC. Audi, Porsche and Toyota all have significantly different power trains. But Nissan’s car is a paradigm shift: front-engined and front-wheel-drive, its layout is intended to maximise the potential of its hybrid powertrain and take maximum advantage of the limited aerodynamic freedom offered by the rules.

However the car was not ready in time for the first two WEC races, and is running without its full complement of hybrid propulsion systems. Nonetheless Nissan has shown up with three of them, and painted one in the colours of the R90CK which set pole position in Mark Blundell’s hands 25 years ago. Even so their 2015 participation is likely to be more a case of preparing for their 2016 return with what they hope will be a much more competitive car.

Nissan’s comeback has boosted the LMP1 contingent to 14, and the LMP2 field remains healthy with 19 cars. The rest of the 56-cars field is made up by GT entrants, including works Ferrari, Corvette and Aston Martin entries, though the professional class numbers just eight following the withdrawal of of the number 63 Corvette due to Jan Magnussen’s crash in qualifying.

As always a myriad of different storylines will play out over a race the duration of which is more than twice what the F1 field has spent racing so far this year. But as always it will be the fight at the front which commands the greatest attention. The chance to see the two most successful teams in the history of the sport duke it out for victory is not to be missed.

F1 drivers in the 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours

Anthony DavidsonToyotaTS0401Reigning World Endurance Champion and former Minardi, Super Aguri and BAR racer
Sebastien BuemiToyotaTS0401Shared the WEC title with Davidson last year, is also in contention for the Formula E title
Kazuki NakajimaToyotaTS0401Injured his back after crashing into an Audi at Spa, Kamui Kobayashi is on standby if needed
Alexander WurzToyotaTS0402Won with Peugeot in 2009, two years after leaving F1, hasn’t been on the podium since then
Stephane SarrazinToyotaTS0402Single start for Minardi in 1999, runner-up for third time last year.
Tiago MonteiroBykollesCLM P1/014Took a podium while driving for Colin Kolles in F1, ten years later they are reunited at Le Mans
Andre LottererAudiR18 E-tron Quattro7Single F1 start with Caterham last year for three-times Le Mans winner and 2012 WEC champion
Lucas di GrassiAudiR18 E-tron Quattro8Runner-up at his second Le Mans last year, Di Grassi is also a Formula E front-runner
Nick HeidfeldRebellionR-One12Hugely experienced F1 drivers lacks the necessary hybrid power to fight for outright victory
Mark WebberPorsche91917Nine-time F1 race winner was in the hunt for victory last year race before anti-roll bar failure
Nico HulkenbergPorsche91919Force India racer shares his Porsche with GT racing graduates Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber
Max ChiltonNissanGT-R LM NISMO23Former Marussia driver turned Indy Lights racer makes his Le Mans debut with Nissan
Karun ChandhokMurphyORECA O3948Ex-HRT and Lotus driver tangled with one of his LMP2 rivals last year. This is his fifth Le Mans
Giammaria BruniAF CorseFerrari 458 Italia51Shared class victory with AF Corse team mates Fisichella and Toni Vilander last year
Giancarlo FisichellaAF CorseFerrari 458 Italia51Has driven for Ferrari ever since finishing his 14-year F1 career with five races for them in 2009
Jan MagnussenCorvetteChevrolet Corvette C7R63*Has taken class wins four times at Le Mans and the Corvette should be quick enough for another
Olivier BerettaAF CorseFerrari 458 Italia71Shares his car and 20 years’ experience with former GP2 drivers Davide Rigon and James Calado
Pedro LamyAston MartinVantage V898Won the first two GTE Am WEC races with Niki Lauda’s son Mathias and Paul Dalla Lana

*Withdrawn following qualifying crash

NB. Christian Klien is in the line-up of one of the reserve cars, the #49 KCMG ORECA-Judd 03R LMP2 entry.

Le Mans 24 Hours gallery

How to watch the Le Mans 24 Hours

In the UK, Eurosport is broadcasting the entire race live from start to finish, mostly on Eurosport 1 and occasionally switching to their second channel. The programme begins at 1:15pm and the race starts at 2pm.

As usual we’ll be following the whole thing on F1 Fanatic Live so join us from half an hour before the start of the race.

Over to you

Will Toyota or Porsche finally break Audi’s grip on Le Mans? And can Nissan meet their goal of getting a car to the chequered flag?

Who has caught your eye in the other classes? And are you crazy enough to try to stay awake from start to finish?

Have your say in the comments.

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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43 comments on “Porsche vs Audi: Serial Le Mans winners lead fight for 2015 victory”

  1. I think the battle for overall win is destined to go the way of #7 Audi. It is increasingly becoming one of the greatest crews in endurance racing history, and Andre Lotterer is increasingly becoming the undisputed finest sportscar driver of the modern era. With the 919 likely to suffer bouts of unreliability together with greater tyre degradation than the R18, and with the TS040 bog slow, I would be amazed come Sunday morning to see any car other than the R18 leading. Their label as Le Mans favourites does rather beg the question why they would be tempted to take the F1 leap if they can be assured of WEC, DTM and GT victories on a near weekly basis.

    The focus of my attention will be squarely on the efforts of two men: Nico Hulkenberg and Harry Ticknell. Hulkenberg’s WEC debut at Spa was thoroughly difficult to judge, and beyond his La Source lock-up in qualifying than saw him lap slower than teammate Nick Tandy, his efforts were probably worthy of being seen as highly respectable. Le Mans, a track Nico has no experience of, will likely be more telling as to whether he has the makings of a future sportscar star. On the basis of what single seater fans know he is capable of, it would perhaps be logical to assume that with experience and plenty of testing he has the capacity to pry the title of Porsche’s fastest driver from Neel Jani’s grasp.

    However for Harry Ticknell, this weekend represents more than a curiosity-fuelled outing. Some years ago, after solid if not spectacular showings in European F3, Ticknell sacrificed the dream of F1 stardom for the dream of P1 stardom. This weekend he will make his LMP1 debut with the Nissan GT-R LM as last year’s Le Mans LMP2 victor and as the indisputable fastest LMP2 driver in circulation. His speed does not just derive from McNish’s backing, but from the earliness of his switch to the sportscar arena. With his Jota Sport replacement Mitch Evans likely to make a similar move for 2016, should F1 be fearful that there is now such a strong alternative career path for the young and talented?

    1. …not that Harry has been driving a car remotely faster than the P2s. Nissan have made so many odd decisions. Technically, they are treating a different approach as a prerequsite. It is a strong rationale, since a comparable interpretation of the regulations could not have hoped to beat the incumbent P1 marques with least three years of development behind their creations. Equally though, the idiom “throw the baby out with the bathwater” may equally be applicable.

      That said, their more long term technical strategy does appear more rational than their driver choices. With “super” rookies like Kobayashi, Frijns and Bird available, as well as experienced names like Heidfeld and Lapierre, the decision to promote three GT Academy winners appears highly commercial. The decision to stand down Marc Gene, probably their best signing, in favour of Mark Shulzhitskiy, who has anonymously contested LMP2 and GT seats in previous years, verges on the irresponsible.

      1. @countrygent, I am not surprised that the decisions that Nissan have made appear to be far more strongly motivated by their marketing potential.

        The author of the Mulsannecorner website has spoken to a number of Nissan’s engineers in private, and those engineers admitted that the “Garage 56” ZEOD entry last year was designed purely to garner the maximum publicity possible, as the car was a total technological dead end.

        Their current car seems to be driven by much the same idea – Bowlby has admitted that the car was designed purely with the Circuit de la Sarthe in mind and will be even less competitive at other circuits and, given the way in which Nissan’s publicity for this car has been structured, makes you wonder whether the publicity budget was larger than the development budget.

        Speaking of Nissan, Keith, the section on Nissan’s entry needs to be updated – because none of Nissan’s cars managed to set a time within 110% of the pole sitting LMP1 car, which is the minimum qualifying time, the ACO has sent all of their cars to the back of the prototype field (that is both the LMP1 and LMP2 fields). Nissan’s cars will now start in 30th, 31st and 32nd places respectively. http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/119441

        What I find a little questionable, though, is that the ACO’s regulations state that they can only allow a car to start if they think it could have reached the minimum time – now, although the fastest car might just have been able to do that (Harry was apparently on a lap which would have just been within 110% until he had a yellow flag), none of the drivers in the other two cars looked like they could have reached that threshold.

    2. looks like Tickell will be fighting for LMP2 honours again, what with the lack of pace of the Nissan so far in LMP1.

    3. @countrygent Surely a great opportunity for Porsche would have been to have Webber/Alonso/Hulkenberg in the ‘F1’ LMP1? No wonder Alonso was frustrated in Montreal, Honda PU still isn’t at 100% and they’d rather continue with their KERS over McLaren’s!

      I agree that creating ‘Porsche vs Audi’ seems to be a strategy of ‘increase WEC’s maximum exposure’, i.e. we will win with eithe,r but it makes it a lot more appealing commercially this way :P and petrol/diesel are dually developed.

      Nissan.. looks like a GT/LMP hybrid to my untrained eye! So much for ‘aero freedom’! But yes, it looks likely that Lotterer will be the next Kristensen, of that there is no doubt.

      1. @fastiesty Alonso has been openly courting the WEC for over a year now. He even waved the tricoloure at Le Mans last year! He has certainly started to think about his career in more lateral terms since it has become apparent he is unlikely to win a third world title. Who is the better driver: a four time F1 champion, or a two time champion who has also won Le Mans? If Alonso makes the decision to try and add a Le Mans victory feather to his cap, Audi and Porsche will be desperate to sign, and no contract breach tribunal will stop him. With Alonso’s skill, and Alonso’s brain, and Alonso’s versatility, I’m not sure if there are many drivers better suited to the task of winning Le Mans.

        In terms of Audi and Porsche, I think they are shaming the other two manufacturers this year. Toyota plain underestimated the step up in performance in 2015, and in trying to retain the TS030’s handy ability to double-stint tyres failed to strap enough performance to their 2015 machine. And then there’s Nissan. In light of the fact that the 919 was on the podium on its debut, on pole for its second race and leading Le Mans with two hours to go, I can only think Nissan is using its first year as a commercial excercise. They have made a car that was promptly placed on the cover of Autosport and in plenty of TV adverts, but don’t stand a chance of beating the LMP2 leader home on Sunday. For Nissan 2015 is clearly about publicity, knowing that a “cool” looking car driven by former gamers might catch the attention of people who might not know or care who won Le Mans. Clever. Let’s hope 2016 starts being about results.

        In terms of your last point, I would argue Lotterer is fastest than Kristensen ever was, and Tom is a fast racing driver – stunned the Williams team in his sole F1 test in 1999. However Lotterer enjoys a competence advantage over the rest of the P1 field larger than Kristensen ever had. The fact that he can scare a driver as good as Romain Dumas off the road as he did at Silverstone, or that he can make a teammate as good as Benoit Treluyer looks average is simply incredible. He only requires a few more years and some competitive machinery and he could be the greatest ever at Le Mans. I rather hope he doesn’t drag the genuinely average Marcel Fassler with him. Lotterer-Treluyer-Alonso?

      2. it was Honda i believe that put an end to Alonso’s attempt at lemans this year- and i think that is absolutely dreadful to be restrained by a “brand” from competing for another brand “Porsche” – when it is in a totally different sport. the pole qualifying lap this year in lemans, in average speed over the whole lap, i believe was faster then any f1 car does on any f1 track, barring maybe monza.

        1. Yes, but with Honda’s cash in his bank account Fred will be able to buy a team and do Le Mans as a hobby when he retires from F1.

      3. I wonder if Porsche would have had both Alonso and Hulkenberg if they could – or Fred was the first choice and Nico the second. Doubt they’d want to break up their full-season crews either (Webber, Hartley and Bernhard or the other three), as they’ll probably both have a shot at the WEC title.

        Loud raspberry to McLaren for wrecking both Alonso’s and Kevin Magnussen’s chances of racing at Le Mans (even if Kevin’s dad’s now stuffed the car he’d probably have competed in)!

  2. FlyingLobster27
    12th June 2015, 12:45

    I was blown away by the Porsche’s qualy speed: just shy of the 250 km/h average mark!
    Next year, the cars will be slowed (not that it’ll be a problem, because the WEC doesn’t bad-mouth itself), so P1 is peaking right now. If the weather stays good – it’s not expected to, sadly -, we could have a distance record. Dare I say it, this could be the pinnacle of this year’s motorsport.

  3. Jan Magnussen Corvette Chevrolet Corvette C7R 63* Has taken class wins four times at Le Mans and the Corvette should be quick enough for another

    Sadly it won’t participate.

    1. @xtwl As noted.

      1. @keithcollantine As if I dare suggest you left out a thing! ;)

    2. Graham (@guitargraham)
      12th June 2015, 18:17

      just glad he got out ok, looked nasty

  4. i was watching the qualifying practices & the commentators were awful, didn’t seem to know what part of the track things were going on at despite claiming to have been to le mans for a few decades, constant mid-identifying of cars & making stupid mistakes. not to mention that eurosport seemed to take ad-breaks every few minutes.

    the actual competition is fine but the tv presentation & on-air crew are atrocious.

    1. Mute the tv, put on Radio Le Mans. They are much better commentators. They usually do the TV stream but unfortunately not for Le Mans.

    2. Eurosport Player online has an extra channel with none of their awful ads or commentary – just glorious engine sounds and a bit of team radio. The trackside cameras are going all night this year aren’t they – so that plus Radio Le Mans plus things to drink plus things to eat should do the job.

  5. Wait, what? Judd still exists? Good to know, then.

    1. Judd does indeed still exist, but if the ACO presses ahead with its planned changes for 2017, Judd and all independent engine manufacturers like AER or HPD will be banned from the LMP2 category (only road car production derived engines will be permitted in that category).

      Given the fact that privateer entries for the LMP1 category have vanished, the ACO’s decision pretty much ensures that independent engine manufacturers in the WEC are likely to become increasingly marginalised, if not disappearing altogether.

      1. That’s been the rule in WEC for quite a while now. Judd has a very well developed BMW derived V8 for this rule. I have no doubt that AER also has a production derived block in the wings whilst HPD already uses the production-based HR28TT twin-turbo V6 engine.

        So if the ACO goes down this road, I don’t expect any dramatic changes. Judd engines seemed to power about half the grid at one stage, but the days of the (relatively) lazy 5 litre + Judds seem to be over unfortunately and I don’t think they have the infrastructure to develop the current crop of complex hybrids…

  6. Surely I’m not the only one questioning why people criticise F1 for having “Noah’s Ark” formations on the grid, but it’s totally fine when WEC does it.

    1. Yeah, same here. I argued earlier about WEC having a much easier time in the public eye than F1 does, just by hiding its weaknesses well (and by having a much smaller, less hysterical fanbase).

    2. @ciaran @atticus-2 its the same with stuff like car management, tyre management & fuel saving.

      people claim wec is a sprint race & makes f1’s lift & coasting look silly, yet there is just as much lift & coast in wec… the eurosport commentators spent several moments yesterday talking about how car, tyre & fuel management was a big factor & discussed lift & coast…. even pointed out when people were doing it as practice for the races.

      i also see indycar get a free pass for some of the management & especially lift & coast.

      1. spafrancorchamps
        12th June 2015, 16:35

        Who says WEC is a sprint race? It’s called the World ENDURANCE Championship for a reason you would assume. People are fine with the amount of fuel saving and tire management going on in WEC, since it plays a huge factor in that sport, it always has been.

        In F1 it shouldn’t play such a big role. F1 should be about the fastest cars in the world, with the best drivers of the world driving on the edge of the cars capabilities lap by lap. If I hear one argument the most against current F1, it is that it is starting to look way too much like LMP1.

        1. Not a sprint race? I guess you missed the Silverstone 6hr earlier in the year then?

      2. ColdFly F1 (@)
        12th June 2015, 17:12

        I like WEC (and will watch some this weekend) but it has many weaknesses like F1 as well, without the same criticism it seems.
        Noticed that 30% of LMP1 cars did not even make the 107% being used in F1.

        1. well that is fair considering they weigh 18% more, yet on some tracks they are within 105% of f1 pole.

          1. and they are only allowed to use like ~94/93 kg/h max fuel vs 100kg/h for F1. Rules are there to keep the status quo, can’t have WEC cars getting to light or fast that they make F1 look like a contrived snooze fest.

        2. FlyingLobster27
          12th June 2015, 18:15

          Technically, the ByKolles whatever-they-call-it and the Nissans didn’t qualify – and they’ve been sent to the back of the Prototype grid. I guess it’s not so much of a bother as long as you’re faster than the GTs.
          EnduranceInfo (French site) ran an article explaining that there are two qualifying thresholds at Le Mans: 110% of class pole and, for all categories except GTE Am, 120% of the overall pole.

    3. @ciaran
      Qualifying isn’t as big a deal in endurance racing, and as odd as it sounds, neither is single lap pace or outright speed.
      You can have the fastest car in qualifying but that doesn’t mean you’re going to do well over the 24 hours, and vice versa.

  7. Due to work, I’m having to miss the first 7 hours of the race, but I’ll make up for that by staying up through the night. Extremely excited about this one — Porsche have the speed but Audi have consistency and efficiency. Of course, that won’t matter if reliability is as big a factor as it was last year, and the first two WEC races indicate it could be. For that reason, you can’t rule Toyota out.

    Personally, I’m picking the #7 Audi for the win.

  8. Meh meh meh.. It’ll be great to watch but the winner is meaningless. It’s like a RBR v Toro Rosso race. Porsche and Audi come from the same stable so I’m pretty nonplussed about the whole thing

    1. They’re owned by the same group but they’re two totally separate teams, competing to beat one another. The philosophy behind the two cars is totally different.

    2. why is it meaningless?? both teams have put in a great effort.

    3. as @mazdachris mentions, its not at all like RBR and STR race eachother. Its more like two siblings competing and going to great lengths to one up the other on track to prove who is the better of them.

  9. Just sat in my tent at the moment, back from the supermarche stocking up on supplies for the race.

    I have to say I’m 50/50. Porsche clearly have a pace advantage but I can’t help but feel like you can’t rule out Audi. Particularly the #7. Sitting in Panorama on Wednesday for QP1, the Audi still looks by far the smoothest through the corners and is very steady under braking. And while the Porsches and Toyotas were bottoming out, the Audis just glide through with no drama. As Toyota pointed out, a second per lap advantage at Le Mans equates to about seven minutes over the course of the race, but last year the winner spent nearly half an hour in the pits at one point. That’s where the quality of Audi really shines through.

    Nissan are a complete disappointment. Not only were their fastest laps miles off the pace, they were often running very slowly and doing very short runs. I don’t know whether any of them will make it to the finish.

    Great to see a Viper on track again this year, bringing the thunder. Speaking of which, the weather this week has been horrendous. I suspect it’ll play a part in the race. Last night there was a huge electrical storm for about two hours rolling around the countryside, and a forecast changing by the hour.

    If the weather stays clear though, this could be a year where all the records get broken. Can’t wait!!

    1. even if the porsche was bottoming out, what does it mean if they are still faster? there suspension and ride height might be different. i think their endurance is coming together, and they might win this year.
      i agree about Nissan, they are a huge flop, now they are saying they are working on a 2016 attack, but what sort of base is this to work from??? 20 seconds behind…. you can not make that time up in a year or 3 years, and the other teams will improve. and they have no reliability yet to race 3 hours let alone 6, 12 or 24. big headline, epic failure.

    2. FlyingLobster27
      12th June 2015, 18:30

      I understand you’re there, so enjoy it @mazdachris !
      I reckon it’s the race of the decade in terms of raw speed; after Jani flirted with the 3’15 barrier, everyone knows the P1s will be slowed down over the winter. I’ll be keeping fingers crossed that the rain stays away, at least so people like you don’t get wet and washed out (I was there two years ago and heard that some people had been badly bogged down), but also to see if we get a record distance.

    3. Enjoy the weekend @mazdachris, I hope to hear/see from you during the race :-)

  10. Keith, Chip Ganassi Ford GT will make a debut in 2016.

  11. So is it still Audi with better tyre management when it comes to double-stinting the tyres and Porsche with some straightline speed advantage?

    On another note, I’ll root for Webber and Hulkenberg massively. Especially Webber, to complete the second leg of the Triple Crown.

    1. On yet another note, there’s a free Le Mans 2015 issue available on the Racecar Engineering website (after a free registration), which offers nice insight into the specifics of each cars’ performance, strengths and weaknesses. I would say it certainly worth reading.

  12. For all interested in the list of drivers and cars as well as other important info for the Le mans 24 hours 2015.


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