Bernhard column: How Porsche pulled off Le Mans comeback

In his latest Motorsport.com column, Timo Bernhard explains how the #2 Porsche crew bounced back from early mechanical gremlins to take a memorable win in the 85th running of Le Mans 24 Hours.

Bernhard column: How Porsche pulled off Le Mans comeback
#2 Porsche LMP Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Earl Bamber, Brendon Hartley takes the win
#2 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Earl Bamber, Brendon Hartley takes the win
#2 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Earl Bamber, Brendon Hartley
Timo Bernhard, Porsche Team
#2 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Earl Bamber, Brendon Hartley
#2 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Earl Bamber, Brendon Hartley
#2 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Earl Bamber, Brendon Hartley
#2 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Earl Bamber, Brendon Hartley
#2 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Earl Bamber, Brendon Hartley
Timo Bernhard, Porsche Team
#2 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Earl Bamber, Brendon Hartley
#2 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Earl Bamber, Brendon Hartley

On Saturday evening, three and a half hours into the race, when our car lost its front axle drive, it looked like it was game over.

But a little under 21 hours later, I lifted the Le Mans winners' trophy for the second time in my career on the podium in front of a never-ending sea of fans, after a rollercoaster of a race.

Everyone who’s been at Le Mans before, whether as part of a team or as a fan, knows that there is nothing quite like it.

It’s a week-long celebration of motorsport to which over a quarter of a million fans come from different corners all over the world. The race is brutal and demands a great deal from man and machine.

However, there is also something magical about Le Mans, especially if you’re in the car at night or when the sun rises over the Dunlop arch.

The build-up to the race

The week kicked off with scrutineering in the centre of Le Mans, where thousands of fans came to watch the official proceedings with the cars and the team and driver presentations.

After the official commitments early in the week, we finally got down to business on Wednesday with the free practice sessions and then straight into the three qualifying sessions, which all went well for us.

We were able to optimise the car set-up in different track temperatures and gain important data with regards to the tyre choice for the race.

Qualifying at Le Mans is always a bit of a lottery. It’s quite a challenge with 60 cars on track. In the end I didn’t have a free lap, but our car balance was really good and we were in good shape to start the race from the second row.

After the drivers' parade on Friday, I had an early night to get as much rest as possible before the very long day ahead.

Disaster strikes early on

The grid at Le Mans is always packed – last-minute interviews, handshakes and well wishes. When finally the door closed behind me, I could get down to business and fully focus on the job!

We had a pretty uneventful start and remained in fourth until I handed over the car to Earl [Bamber] after 38 laps.

At 6.30pm, he had to come to the pits for an unplanned stop as our 919 Hybrid had lost its front axle drive. Our mechanics did a mega job in swiftly deciding what needed to be done and after an hour and five minutes the car was ready again.

Brendon joined the race 19 laps down and in 56th place overall. It was crucial that all three of us as well as the pit crew kept up the motivation.

In such a situation you have to blank out negative emotions and fully focus on the job to the get the maximum out of it.

The recovery

When two of the three Toyota’s retired after midnight, our sister car took over the lead. At that point we had moved up into 17th overall and we were able to further improve throughout the night.

When I got back into the car at 5.13am, we were already in 13th. I was able to make good progress through the traffic and handed over the car to Earl in 10th overall and second in the LMP1 class at 8am.

The race took a dramatic turn when our sister car had to retire from the race just after 11am. At that point we were the highest placed LMP1 car and suddenly our race had a different outlook.

I took over the car just after midday for the long last stint. At that point we were a lap down on the leading LMP2, the #38 DC Racing Oreca, and 20 laps before the end I was able to pass him.

The final bit was brutal. It was all in our hands but considering everything that had happened, nothing was certain. We did another pitstop for fuel seven laps before the end, and at 3pm, we achieved what had seemed unachievable.

I’ve always dreamt of becoming an overall winner with Porsche at Le Mans. I can hardly describe how I was feeling. It was the first time I cried on a cool-down lap.

I am so grateful to Porsche, the team and of course my brilliant teammates Brendon [Hartley] and Earl. It was an incredible moment which I will never forget.

Le Mans is the biggest and hardest endurance race in the world. When you crack it, you get handsomely rewarded for all your hard work.

shares
comments
Opinion: Was Le Mans '17 the beginning of the end for LMP1?
Previous article

Opinion: Was Le Mans '17 the beginning of the end for LMP1?

Next article

Jota boss "didn’t dare to dream" of overall Le Mans victory

Jota boss "didn’t dare to dream" of overall Le Mans victory
Load comments
The remarkable fixes Toyota used to avert another Le Mans disaster Prime

The remarkable fixes Toyota used to avert another Le Mans disaster

The 1-2 finish achieved by Toyota at this year's Le Mans 24 Hours was a result that will have surprised few, given its status as pre-event favourite. But the result was anything but straightforward, as worsening fuel pressure concerns required the team's drivers and engineers to pursue "creative fixes" on the fly. Here is the full story of how it reached the end without a lengthy pit visit

Le Mans
Nov 3, 2021
Inside the Le Mans finish too barmy for Hollywood Prime

Inside the Le Mans finish too barmy for Hollywood

Team WRT has been at the forefront of GT racing for years and made a successful move to prototypes for 2021, capped by an LMP2 win on its Le Mans debut. It could've been even better had the race been one lap shorter, when its cars ran 1-2, but the stranger-than-fiction reality has spurred the team to reach greater heights.

Le Mans
Oct 16, 2021
Why Toyota's Le Mans victory was not as simple as it looked Prime

Why Toyota's Le Mans victory was not as simple as it looked

Toyota scored its fourth Le Mans 24 Hours victory and a 1-2, with the #7 car of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez beating the #8. But although it looked straightforward from the outside, Toyota faced serious problem that had to be solved with some quick-thinking and ingenuity.

Le Mans
Aug 24, 2021
What we've learned from the Le Mans 24 Hours so far Prime

What we've learned from the Le Mans 24 Hours so far

The new dawn for the FIA World Endurance Championship has arrived at Le Mans, as Hypercars prepare to duel for victory in the world's oldest endurance race. Motorsport.com picks out the 10 things we have learned in the build up to the race.

Le Mans
Aug 21, 2021
Le Mans 2021: The team-by-team guide Prime

Le Mans 2021: The team-by-team guide

After a two-month delay due to the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 Le Mans 24 Hours is set to get underway with the start of the Hypercar era at the Circuit de la Sarthe.

Le Mans
Aug 21, 2021
The ex-F1 drivers making a name for themselves in LMP2 at Le Mans Prime

The ex-F1 drivers making a name for themselves in LMP2 at Le Mans

Kevin Magnussen will make his Le Mans 24 Hours debut this weekend alongside father Jan in LMP2. But the Danes won't be the only ex-F1 drivers to appear in the hotly contested category this year.

Le Mans
Aug 20, 2021
Can Toyota's #7 crew break its Le Mans curse? Prime

Can Toyota's #7 crew break its Le Mans curse?

One Toyota, normally with the number 7 on the side, always seems to attract the bad luck in the Le Mans 24 Hours. Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez are hoping for a change in fortune this time around, but face significantly more unknowns than in recent years

Le Mans
Aug 19, 2021
How to prepare an amateur for Le Mans sensory overload Prime

How to prepare an amateur for Le Mans sensory overload

The 23-car GTE Am field promises to be one of the most open in this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours, with the added jeopardy of managing the enthusiasm of amateur drivers to boot, as Absolute Racing Porsche driver Marco Seefried explains

Le Mans
Aug 19, 2021