If the 24-hour race in Le Mans was once the realm of monstrously powerful, noisy and guzzling race cars that traveled on straights with a speed of over 400 km/h, then race cars today are hybrids that are equally fast, more powerful and certainly more eco-friendly.
This year Audi, Porsche and Toyota teams were joined by Nissan and, once again, the winners proved that environmentally-friendly and technologically-advanced racing, even though we're talking about a 24-hour event, can be extremely interesting. Certainly more interesting than F1, despite the fact that we could watch almost an entire season of it in a 24-hour period.
Though Toyota had high expectations, both of their Hybrid TS040s lagged behind the Audi and Porsche. This year, unlike last year, when repairs ate their time in the pit stops, they were able to focus on fueling and tire changing.
A 24-hour race is draining. Like the two other drivers on his team, Nico Hulkenberg, of the winning Porsche 919 Hybrid, sought relaxation in massages, light meals and short breaks.
With each team conducting as many as 30 pit stops within a 24-hour period, flawless performance is a must to win a Le Mans race. Sometimes all that's needed is refueling, while every three to four pit stops a new driver and new tires are required. Of course, there is no shortage of repairs, either. This year, Audi mechanics did a remarkable job by repairing Loic Duval's crashed car in only four minutes.
Despite 30 pit stops, and occasional slow driving due to safety car interventions (deployed in case of a crash), the average speed of the winning Porsche was 247 km/h. The top speeds on straights were even higher, around 350 km/h. While the Porsche 919 Hybrid was the overall winner, the fastest race lap was achieved by one of the Audi R18 e-trons.
A 24-hour race is exhausting, not only for the drivers, but also for the rest of the team. While the drivers are allowed to leave the pits to rest, the mechanics and the engineers must stay put, because their driver might pull in any time with car trouble. Their only respite is in short naps on chairs, or on the ground. And if two of your drivers fail to make it across the finish line, as was the case with Nissan, then things can get very grumpy, indeed.