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BERNHARD: Le Mans Debrief

Porshe’s Timo Bernhard files his latest Sportscar365 column after Le Mans…

Photo: Porsche

Photo: Porsche

I remember the first time I raced at Le Mans back in 2002. I had just turned 21 and raced in a Porsche 911 GT3 RS and won the GT class – what a great debut!

Eight years later in 2010 I was on loan to Audi for the 24-hour race and together with Romain Dumas and Mike Rockenfeller we won in the Audi R15 which was an incredible experience.

Everyone who’s been at La Sarthe before, whether as a fan or involved in the race knows it’s nothing like anything else in the world.

It’s a week-long celebration of motorsport and racing and for a driver it’s a test both mentally and physically which pushes you above and beyond what you think you’re capable of.

To come here last year as part of Porsche’s return to top motorsport racing was very special. I’ve been involved in their LMP1 project from the very beginning in 2013 and it was exciting to finally see the mission come to life.

The traditional scrutineering on Monday before the race is the official kick off to the week. The cars are presented to the officials in the city center and you get a sea of fans all cheering on the drivers. Tuesday is filled with engineering meetings and the official signing session for the fans – it’s amazing to see so many fans at the track early on in the week.

They embrace the event and come to support us. We also had a team dinner that night at the track and it’s nice to get everyone together before it all kicks off.

After one practice session on Wednesday morning there are three qualifying sessions, one on Wednesday afternoon and two on Thursday and the best lap time achieved in these six hours is the one that decides each car’s grid position.

I happened to put in our fastest lap on Wednesday afternoon and qualified second, with our sister car No. 18 getting on pole and No. 19 in third.

On Friday there was no action on track, we had a press conference in the newly build Porsche experience centre and then we went into the city centre for the traditional drivers parade.

All the drivers sit in the back of open top old-timer cars and we drive through the city which is packed with fans and we sign tons of autographs and pose for pictures. That evening it was early lights off to top up on sleep before the marathon began.

Saturday is an early start with the warm up at 09:00 and from then until the race starts at 15:00 time literally flies with the final meetings and starting celebrations.

To start the race at Le Mans is something else – the grid is buzzing and you get so many people wanting to have a last look at the cars before they go out. I got ahead of our No. 18 sister car shortly after the start as they had some issues and we found a good rhythm and were defending a one-two for Porsche.

I handed over the car in P2 to Brendon and him and Mark later on at night did a great job. Unfortunately we got a stop and go penalty which lost us a lot of time and dropped us down to fourth.

After the nightshift I jumped back into the car just after 09:00. We were pushing hard to move up the ranks. The car ran well and we managed to close in on the Audis.

Their number 7 had a long pit stop which helped us improve to second. Brendon took over for the final stint and brought the car home in second – with a photo finish with our #19 sister car to complete a double victory for Porsche!

I’m very proud of the whole team, they did an awesome race, with great pit stops and the car ran perfectly. We had a good team effort, congratulations to our sister car No. 19. The victory would have been a dream but it’s a double victory which is very special for the team.

It will be a Le Mans we all remember. I personally never had a race like that where I pushed that hard, it really was like a sprint race. The cars in the end basically running nose to tail was really motorsport on the highest level.

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