LE MANS: Porsche floored Hong Kong actor and stuntman Jackie Chan’s audacious bid for Le Mans glory as Toyota suffered fresh torment in a gripping 85th edition of the 24-hour endurance race on Sunday.
Timo Bernhard overtook Ho-Pin Tung in Chan’s LMP2 class Oreca-Gibson with less than an hour to go to claim a 19th Le Mans title for the German constructor.
While Bernhard, who won with Audi in 2010, and his New Zealand co-drivers and childhood chums Earl Bamber and Brendon Hartley were celebrating, Toyota’s agonising wait for a maiden title continued.
As night fell on Saturday Toyota, who made their Le Mans debut in 1986, were sitting pretty with the car of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Stephane Sarrazin holding a comfortable lead.
But with Kobayashi — who had set a record lap for pole — behind the wheel his hybrid car limped out of contention with clutch problems.
A little later, the Toyota of Japanese rookie Yuji Kunimoto, Nicolas Lapierre and Jose Maria Lopez was also kyboshed after a shunt in the Dunlop Chicane.
“Le Mans is a truly ruthless race,” said Pierre Fillon, president of race organiser Automobile Club de l’Ouest.
That twin disaster left Toyota with one car still out on the track, driven by Sebastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima.
Last year Nakajima’s Toyota had the race at his mercy only for his car to give up the ghost on the final lap, handing victory on a plate to Porsche.
He and his co-drivers had to settle for ninth this time around.
The impish Le Mans gods that wreaked havoc on Toyota also poked fun at Porsche, the constructor’s No.1 car with Andre Lotterer driving breaking down with a massive 13-lap lead and only three hours to run.
As Lotterer — teamed up with last year’s winner Neel Jani and Nick Tandy — climbed out of his stricken machine and broke down in tears, Chan was dreaming of a historic first ever Le Mans success for a privately entered team.
But the remaining Porsche 919 Hybrid, stone last on Saturday evening, reeled in the film star’s surprise leader, pouncing to seize control on the fastest section of the fabled Sarthe circuit on lap 348.
As a bleary-eyed and sun-baked 250,000 crowd watched on, Bernhard crossed the line with a lap to spare over Dutch-born Tung with Nelson Piquet Junior in another Oreca in third.
Quite a reversal of fortune for Porsche’s No 2 car after a one-hour pit stop on Saturday.
“I was driving at the time when I heard it go ‘bang’ and I thought it was our race done,” Bamber, the 2015 winner, told Eurosport. “I brought it back to the pits and the guys looked into it, and we were back out in under an hour.
“It was a matter of fighting back into the top five at first, then that became a podium and then a podium became a win.”
This was Porsche’s third successive win in endurance racing’s Holy Grail, first staged in 1923.
“They never gave up and this is their reward,” tweeted Porsche as Toyota vowed to return next year.
“You don’t choose to win Le Mans, Le Mans chooses you. We hope one day it will choose us. We’ll be back,” said Toyota.
Chan, who was absent, is the latest silver screen star to be seduced by Le Mans after Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and Patrick Dempsey.
Published in Dawn, June 19th, 2017