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Le Mans 24 Hours of Le Mans

Porsche drivers claim rivals were sandbagging before Le Mans 24 Hours

Porsche drivers Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen believe rival teams didn’t show their hand before the Le Mans 24 Hours, as it slipped behind Ferrari and Toyota in the race.

Porsche was deemed by many as the favourites to take victory in the 92nd edition of the French endurance classic, having won two of the three previous World Endurance Championship rounds at Qatar and Spa, and also looked rapid in testing and qualifying at La Sarthe.

Toyota’s technical director David Floury was even quoted as saying that Porsche would have done a “pretty bad job” if it didn't end up winning the race, so impressed was he with the pace of the 963 in testing.

And although the expanded three-car factory Penske-run squad enjoyed a number of stints at the front in the race, including in the afternoon on Sunday, there seemed a clear disparity in performance to LMH cars from Ferrari and Toyota.

In the end, fourth was the best result Porsche could manage on its second appearance at Le Mans in the Hypercar class, as Estre, Laurens Vanthoor and Andre Lotterer narrowly missed out on a podium finish in the #6 963 LMDh machine.

Speaking after the finish, Estre hit back at the comments made earlier in the week by Toyota, claiming that it was the Japanese manufacturer who had underachieved by losing the victory fight to Ferrari.

“It makes me laugh, the Toyotas saying after the Test Day that if we don't win this race, it's because we've messed up. Today, they're the ones who messed up,” Estre told Motorsport.com.

“In the end, we were flat out from the first day, and I don't think they were. We didn't have false hopes, we were hoping for a good race and we had it. We gave everything we had, but it wasn't enough.”

#4 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963: Mathieu Jaminet, Felipe Nasr, Nick Tandy

#4 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963: Mathieu Jaminet, Felipe Nasr, Nick Tandy

Photo by: Rainier Ehrhardt

Christensen also suggested that Toyota and Ferrari turned up the wick during the business part of the race week, allowing them to overhaul Porsche and engage in a straight duel for the win.

“I think the others turned up the pace,” Christensen, who came home in sixth in the #5 Porsche he shared with Frederic Makowiecki and Matt Campbell, told Motorsport.com.

“The others turned up the pace when it mattered and we gave everything from the start.”

Porsche motorsport boss Thomas Laudenbach wouldn’t be drawn on other manufacturers hiding their true pace prior to the race. However, he did concur that the pecking order was very different to what was seen in practice.

“I can only say we went through our programme in practice,” he told Motorsport.com. “We did everything. We thought it was the right thing to do and we showed we can do. If other competitors didn't want to show everything in the practice that's of no meaning to me.

“We do what we consider to be right and that's our programme. Yes, in the race it did look a bit different to the practice but that's not a problem to me.”

#6 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963: Kevin Estre, Andre Lotterer, Laurens Vanthoor

#6 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963: Kevin Estre, Andre Lotterer, Laurens Vanthoor

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

Straightline speed deficit holds back Porsche

The Porsche Penske squad, like other teams, did make some costly strategic mistakes as the weather remained unpredictable for much of the enduro. However, it also lacked the pace to consistently challenge Ferrari and Toyota, particularly in the final two hours as rain returned at La Sarthe.

Porsche’s LMDh director Urs Kuratle revealed that the 963 LMDh suffered from a mysterious lack of top speed, a problem that is compounded at Le Mans by its long straights and rapid acceleration zones.

“We were lacking speed on the straight,” Kuratle explained in an interview with Motorsport.com. “That's something we need to understand where it's coming from, from acceleration, from aero efficiency, I don't know.

“We are not talking much, we are 2 or 3km/h [down], so that's not really a lot. But these gaps or these differences at Le Mans are even worse. The straights are bigger than on normal race tracks. It's something that we will analyse.”

Kuratle said he was proud of the effort put in by Porsche Penske Motorsport on its second appearance in the Hypercar class at Le Mans but conceded that the squad was “simply not good enough” to take the win.

“Not the result we wanted,” he said. "I’m proud of the team and that includes all the drivers, engineers, mechanics, everybody involved.

“It's the highlight of the year for us in the WEC and if you come fourth that's not what you want. Maybe you ask why [we finished only fourth], we were simply not good enough that's what it was.

“One or the other [strategic] decision we would have made differently but that is the same for all the teams. And at the end of the day 40s or however many seconds were missing to the victory, which is amazing after 24 hours.

“At the end of the day it wasn't enough.”

Additional reporting by Ben Vinel

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