June 16 and 17th June
The 2007 24 Hours of Le Mans was the 75th Grand Prix of Endurance, and took place at the Circuit de la Sarthe, Le Mans, France from 16–17 June 2007. Four classes of cars raced together, with each class having honors for its highest finishers. The faster LMP1 and LMP2 classes were for custom-built Le Mans Prototypes (LMP), and the slower GT1 and GT2 classes were for modified grand tourer (GT) road cars.
The LMP1 class saw the first competition between the new diesel engined Peugeot 908 HDi FAP prototype and the diesel Audi R10 TDI, the 2006 Le Mans winner; the Audi once again achieved an overall victory. There was heavy attrition in the LMP2 class, in which only two competitors finished the race. In the GT1 class, Aston Martin achieved its first win over the Corvette since returning to the event in 2005. The GT2 class was a battle between Ferrari and Porsche, won by Porsche. The race was attended by over 250,000 spectators.The Circuit de la Sarthe (in black) as it appeared in 2007.
Between the 2006 and 2007 races, the Circuit de la Sarthe was upgraded, most obviously by the reprofiling of the Tertre Rouge corner. The new corner was moved inward, to create a long flowing curve instead of the single point apex it had been previously, shortening the lap distance by 21 meters to a revised 13.629 km. A new pedestrian tunnel – below the Mulsanne Straight, immediately after Tertre Rouge – was also built. The work had been planned to be carried out before the 2006 event, but it was delayed because of budgetary concerns.
Nine new garages were built at the end of the pit lane, replacing the four temporary garages that had been built a few years earlier. The additional garages allowed the ACO to increase the number of entries it could grant from 50 to 55. The paddock behind the garages was also re-organized with more facilities added for spectators, including more shops, new landscaping, and the Audi Tower monument.
The public roads from the Indianapolis corner to the Porsche Curves were re-surfaced. Run-off areas at the Dunlop Chicane, Tertre Rouge, Indianapolis, and Ford Chicanes were also partially asphalted in order to avoid gravel being brought back onto the circuit by cars which had gone off course. This also increased safety by allowing the cars to slow themselves more efficiently using their brakes and tyres on tarmac.
Several months before the event, the ACO announced rule changes for all Le Mans-based series (American Le Mans Series, Le Mans Series, and Japan Le Mans Challenge), effective in 2007 for all four classes: LMP1s with diesel engines had their fuel tank capacity decreased from 90 litres to 81 litres. LMP1s with petrol engines kept their 90 litre tanks. LMP2, GT1, and GT2 class cars had to be fitted with 5% smaller air restrictors than they had run in 2006, in order to decrease power. GT1 and GT2 classes were allowed to run ethanol and other alternative fuels if approved by the ACO.
The International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) initially decided to not abide by the LMP2 restrictor change for the American Le Mans Series, although that decision was reversed following Le Mans. SERO decided not to fully conform to the new ACO regulations in the Japan Le Mans Challenge until 2008.
The ACO also announced rule changes specific to Le Mans:
The number of invited entries was increased from 50 to 55, with this number to be increased in subsequent years.
All entries had to run Shell fuel in either diesel or petrol form.
The temperature inside closed-cockpit cars was not to exceed 32 °C in cars with air conditioning or 10 °C above the ambient air temperature in cars without. The ACO would monitor cockpit temperature, and stop any car in which those limits were exceeded.
Noise level regulation was revised: the noise emitted from the car had to be less than 113 dB (measurement taken at 15 meters from the edge of the track).
Older LMP900 and LMP675 class prototypes were not allowed to be entered. Only newer LMP1 and LMP2 class cars were allowed to compete.
It was also decided that the race would start at 3:00 pm local time, one hour earlier than the normal 4:00 pm, to allow French spectators more time to vote in the 17 June French legislative election.
Teams earned automatic invitations to the event from the ACO for winning certain races and championships in their respective classes. Teams were limited to no more than two entries. If a team had already earned its two entries, additional invitations were extended to the next best-performing competitor. Cars running outside of the ACO's rules were also skipped and the invitation given to the next competitor.
On 13 December 2006, the ACO released its official list of automatic entries from the multiple Le Mans backed series and races. On 22 December, the ACO announced that it would add four more automatic entries, this time chosen from the 2006 FIA GT Championship season's team champions and runners-up in each class, as part of an agreement between the ACO and FIA GT's SRO organisation.
All other teams had to apply to the ACO for an invitation. The ACO then decided on the remainder of the entry list based on each team's recent performances, as well as its originality in chassis and engine design.
Qualifying was held on 13–14 June, with two two-hour sessions each night; one run at dusk, the other in darkness. New drivers were again required to run a set number of laps to learn the circuit and be allowed to race: three in daylight and three at night. The best overall time from all four sessions determined the starting grid.
The first qualifying session began under the threat of rain, so most of the teams tried to set a good lap time before the conditions deteriorated. The Audis and Peugeots swapped the overall pole position several times, and at the end of the session the No. 1 Audi was fastest overall with a time of 3.28.301. The No. 33 Barazi-Epsilon Zytek led LMP2, after an earlier misfiring problem had been repaired. Oreca's Saleens were the fastest two GT1 cars, while Ferrari and Porsche were close to one another in GT2. The session was red flagged about halfway through because of an accident in which the No. 53 JLOC Lamborghini Murciélago, driven by Marco Apicella, hit the wall at the first Mulsanne chicane. The No. 25 Ray Mallock Ltd. Lola and No. 81 LNT Panoz were the only cars not to set a lap time before the session briefly returned to green as rain began. The ACO extended the session by fifteen minutes to compensate for the earlier red flag.
The second session started several minutes late due to the damp conditions from the earlier rain. A red flag briefly came out for the No. 5 Swiss Spirit Lola a few minutes after the session began due to the car being stopped at the side of the track. Although the track was drying, it was not until the last half hour that teams were able to improve on their first session times. The No. 2 Audi and No. 8 Peugeot swapped the pole position multiple times before the session ended with the No. 8 Peugeot claiming the top position on the final lap of the session with a time of 3:26.344. In GT1 the No. 008 Larbre Aston Martin took the class lead on the final lap with a 3:50.761. The LMP2 and GT2 classes saw very little improvement; the class leading teams remained the same.
It was later announced by the ACO that JLOC Isao Noritake would be allowed to use another Lamborghini Murciélago R-GT chassis, borrowed from the French DAMS team, but Marco Apicella was not allowed to drive in the race due to the head injuries he sustained in his accident during qualifying, leaving the team with two drivers.
The first session on Thursday began in heavy rain. Although some cars attempted to carry out wet weather testing, the conditions forced all the teams back to their garages. Once the rain began to slacken off cars returned to the track, but the rain continued throughout the entire session. No one was able to improve on their qualifying times from the previous day.
The rain continued throughout the second session, so most teams concentrated on their wet weather setups in preparation for a wet race. About halfway through the session the No. 7 Peugeot in the hands of Marc Gené missed the turn at Arnage and hit a tire barrier. The car was unable to return to the pits and was taken behind the wall by the marshals. This was soon followed by the No. 73 Luc Alphand Corvette missing the same turn as well, but it continued on without significant damage. The No. 70 PSI Corvette had a minor accident in the last five minutes of the session, bringing out the only red flag of the day and ending all of qualifying.
Audi led the wet sessions with a 4:01.257 time for the No. 1 car, followed by the No. 3 Audi and No. 8 Peugeot within a second. No. 33 Barazi-Epsilon again lead the times for the second day in LMP2, while the No. 54 Oreca Saleen continued to show strong pace with the fastest time in GT1. The No. 93 Autorlando Sport Porsche was the fastest GT2 class entry in the rain.
Class leaders and the fastest lap time on each day are in bold. No cars set a faster time on the second day.Race
A group of Le Mans Prototypes at Mulsanne Corner during the early laps.
The race began at 3:00 pm local time (GMT+1), with the track still damp following a wet morning warm-up. Sébastien Bourdais's Peugeot 908 HDi FAP led the field into the Dunlop Chicane, which he overshot, handing the lead to the No. 2 Audi R10 TDI. The three Audis took over the lead during the opening hour, before pit stops began.
The rebuilt Lamborghini of JLOC Isao Noritake was the first retirement of the race when the gearbox failed on the Mulsanne during its second lap of the race. Shortly after the first hour of the race had been completed, heavy rain resulted in the safety car being brought out again.
Soon after the field was released, the safety car was once again required after an accident in which Mike Rockenfeller spun his No. 3 Audi R10 TDI on the exit from Tertre Rouge, hitting the safety barriers on the Mulsannes Straight backwards. While crews fixed the barrier, Rockenfeller attempted to repair his Audi, but he was finally forced to retire. This caution period also saw an early retirement for the No. 64 Corvette when a part of its drivetrain broke while following the safety car. Oliver Gavin attempted to return to the pits using battery power but was stopped by the marshals, forcing him to abandon the car. The race eventually continued after nearly an hour under caution.
As dusk began to fall on the drying track, the No. 8 Peugeot suffered from rear wheel hub failures which required two lengthy visits to the garage.
The start/finish complex and pit exit as the sun sets.
This allowed the No. 1 Audi to take over second place. Jacques Villeneuve's No. 7 Peugeot also lost time, which dropped it to two laps behind the No. 2 Audi. The No. 1 Audi had its own brief moment when the No. 63 Corvette clipped the Audi's rear end. The Corvette was forced to take evasive action through the Dunlop Chicane's gravel trap, and the Audi required replacement rear bodywork on its next pit stop.
A third safety car period was caused by the Creation Autosportif entry, which ran into the tire barriers at the Porsche Curves and needed to be extracted. The Creation returned to the pits but eventually retired. The Kruse Motorsport entry also suffered problems when it briefly stopped at the pit entrance during the caution period, blocking other cars attempting to make their own pit stops. The Kruse entry eventually succeeded in getting to its garage.
As the night continued and the race neared its halfway point, many cars suffered mechanical failures, putting them out of the race. They included a large number of the LMP2 class cars such as Team ASM and Ray Mallock Ltd., both of which had led the class at one point. In GT1, the two factory Aston Martins led the lone remaining factory Corvette by one lap, while the No. 97 Risi Competizione Ferrari had a two lap lead in the GT2 class.
In the early hours, fluids were spilled on the track by the leader in GT2, the Risi Competizione Ferrari. This caused numerous competitors to spin, and required the Ferrari to undergo major front-end repairs, resulting in the car falling several laps behind.
Early dawn at Mulsanne Corner.
The biggest problem of the morning though occurred shortly before the completion of the 17th hour, when the race-leading No. 2 Audi of Rinaldo Capello lost a left rear wheel at high speed at the Indianapolis corner. Unable to control the car he went straight on into a tire barrier. Although Capello attempted to get the car back to the pits, it was too badly damaged to be drivable. Television footage had recorded the No. 2 Audi being dropped off its airjacks before the left rear wheel was attached on the prior pit stop, but Audi claimed that this was likely not the cause of the wheel coming off at speed.
With two Audis out, this left the lone No. 1 Audi to take over the race lead, with the two Peugeots four and six laps behind respectively. Just before to the No. 2 Audi's accident, the GT1-leading Aston Martin had also come off the track, damaging its front splitter. The necessary repairs led to the car spending eight minutes in the garage, dropping it to fourth in class. The lone factory Corvette gained a place to take over second in class. Scuderia Ecosse's Ferrari briefly took over the GT2 lead after Risi's problems, but it too broke down on the track, handing the lead to the IMSA Performance Matmut Porsche.Binnie Motorsport's entry had a sizable lead in its class, having not suffered the many problems its LMP2 competitors had.
After having held off for most of the race, the rain began to fall once more during the final three hours. This caused numerous incidents, including the No. 93 Autorlando Porsche missing a Mulsanne chicane and plowing through a temporary tire barrier. The No. 7 Peugeot made an unscheduled garage stop and retired one lap after re-entering the race, claiming oil pressure problems.
The rain eventually became heavier, making the conditions treacherous and bringing the safety car back out. This put a temporary stop to the battle between Aston Martin and Corvette for first and second place in the GT1 class. The second place Corvette had been quicker in the wet conditions, but it was not allowed to further close on the Aston Martin during the safety period. After problems for both of the Barazi-Epsilon LMP2s, Binnie Motorsports brought its class leading LMP2 car to the garage to ensure that the car was prepared for the weather and could hold on to the lead until the finish
The No. 009 Aston Martin DBR9, winner of the GT1 class.
After over an hour behind the safety car, the field was released to race one last time with only twelve minutes remaining. With no close contests between the competitors, the field continued to run at less than racing pace, in preparation for the finish. The No. 8 Peugeot of Sébastien Bourdais briefly went into the pits, before returning to the track. To ensure that the Peugeot finished the race, and did not break down before crossing the finishing line behind the winner, Bourdais stopped at the Ford Chicanes on the final lap. Once the No. 1 Audi had gone past to take the checkered flag, Bourdais restarted the Peugeot and finished as well. The No. 16 Pescarolo finished the race in third, the highest placed petrol car.
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