Porsche scores 19th overall win in France!

The 85th running of the Le Mans 24 Hours offered buckets of drama as it underlined the endurance element of the event, Porsche just managing to bag its 19th overall win ahead of a bunch of LMP2 cars after Toyota yet again fell to the wayside. The 2017 edition of the world’s most famous endurance race should have been a success story for Toyota and their better-than-ever TS050 prototype. The car, winner of both the Six Hours of Silverstone and the Six Hours of Spa, was finally bettering Porsche’s 919 Hybrid in most areas and, with three cars, the Japanese giant was confident that it would snatch Mazda’s title as the only automaker from Japan that has won the fabled round-the-clock race.

Toyota first wanted to prove their superiority in qualifying which was divided into three sessions: two in total darkness on Wednesday and Thursday and one, in between, on Thursday afternoon. Toyota was already first after Q1 on Wednesday but ex-Formula 1 racer Kamui Kobayashi felt there was more in the 1000-horsepower TS050. That there was, as he duly showed in Q2, but it was the way he did it that left everyone awestruck. First of all, it wasn’t in Q3 when all the other three pole laps were decided and, second of all, Kobayashi was on medium rubber and on his first flyer. Granted, he got a full clear lap, but that doesn’t take anything from the fact that he was on the ragged edge in each of the 33 turns that make up the 8.48-mile-long track, which he covered in 3:14.791 minutes – a new record.

Continue reading for the full story.

The Qualifying

The lap was quicker than Neel Jani’s night-time flyer in his Porsche 919 which made it the fastest post-1989 lap of the Le Mans track and one of the quickest ever, quicker even than the monster 1:14.800 managed by Klaus Ludwig in Joest’s 956B in 1985. Now, the only record still standing is the all-time quickest lap (meaning pre-1989) which was set way back in 1971 by Jackie Oliver who hustled a Porsche 917LH to a scarcely believable 1:13.900.

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The mood in the Porsche garages suddenly went dim as the No. 8 Toyota also put a super quick lap and went second fastest.

The mood in the Porsche garages suddenly went dim as the No. 8 Toyota also put a super quick lap and went second fastest, although the Germans were fully aware of the TS050’s upper hand in pure pace; they simply didn’t anticipate such a hefty margin at the end of the day. As a footnote, the ByKolles (the only non-hybrid car) was able to surpass all of the LMP2s thanks to Marco Bonanomi’s lap in the 1:24’s.

Records were meant to be bettered in the lower categories as well. Sebring 12 Hours winner (on his IMSA racing debut) Alex Lynn was the fastest in LMP2, managing a low 3:25 in qualifying that was over seven seconds quicker than the previous record. This, however, wasn’t that much of a surprise with the new LMP2s running the fastest top speeds on the Test Day and benefiting from more power than the internal combustion engines of the P1 Hybrids.

Records were meant to be bettered in the lower categories as well. Sebring 12 Hours winner (on his IMSA racing debut) Alex Lynn was the fastest in LMP2, managing a low 3:25 in qualifying.

Times stumbled in GTE-Pro during the third and final qualifying session as first Ryan Briscoe for Ford and then Antonio Garcia for Corvette went quickest. Finally, it was Aston-Martin who took pole via a record-breaking 1:50.837 while Garcia eventually ended up sixth. The first four were all below the previous record as all 13 cars were divided by less than two seconds. Aston-Martin Racing was also close to a 1-2 in qualifying but AF Corse’s James Calado was a tenth quicker than Richie Stanaway and went on to start on the front row of the factory-backed GT category for Ferrari.

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Aston-Martin Racing seemed set to also take the GTE-Am pole thanks to the hot-shoe in the class favorite, the No. 98 Vantage of Pedro Lamy.

Aston-Martin Racing seemed set to also take the GTE-Am pole thanks to the hot-shoe in the class favorite, the No. 98 Vantage of Pedro Lamy. The Portuguese ace’s best time was, however, bested by returning Brazilian Fernando Rees who went four tenths quicker in the No. 50 Larbre-entered Corvette and also set a new record within his category, maybe making his former employers, AMR, doubt their decision of dropping him from the official driver roster of the British brand.

The Race

LMP1

The TS050 was said to be able to pull marginally longer stints than Porsche which was an older target for the team. However, it wasn’t strategy that decided this year’s victor but, instead, survivability.

The paddock was buzzing before the race with discussions about strategy. The talk of the town was ambient temperature which, if they were to climb past 32 C (90 F), could trigger a rule that was potentially threatening Toyota. It was a rule built on safety grounds which stated that, in the case of cars lacking A/C, a driver could spend no more than 80 minutes in the car, with 20 minutes between stints. This would have fallen right in the middle of a double stint for Toyota and it would have forced the Japanese team to change drivers at every fuel stop. Porsche, on the other hand, benefitted from A/C and did not have to bend to the additional rule if it were the case.

Toyota Gazoo Racing had, however, a potential ace up their sleeves as well. The TS050 was said to be able to pull marginally (by a lap) longer stints than Porsche which was an older target for the team. As it happened, though, it wasn’t strategy that decided this year’s victor but, instead, survivability.

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The race got underway at 3 PM local time with the 60-car field going under the French flag waved by F1 supremo Chase Carey.

The race got underway at 3 PM local time with the 60-car field going under the French flag waved by F1 supremo Chase Carey. It wasn’t a really clean start with the ByKolles already showing signs of a puncture as the No. 9 Toyota had damage to its right front headlight which suggested the two cars made contact. The puncture caused some suspension trouble for the No. 4 that came into the pits for a new nose section. It was then sent back out but the engine began to overheat so the Austrian team decided to retire the car altogether in fear of an expensive engine failure. The Toyota it came in contact with was also pitted for repairs but later on in the race.

Three hours in and some patterns were beginning to emerge: in the hot ambient weather Porsche was able to pull similar times to Toyota, the two manufacturers going at it flat out, a fact further underlined by the first flying laps that were under 3:20. The fuel tanks seemed to be emptying quicker than expected with Porsche doing a couple of 13-lap stints in spite of a few slow zones that should have helped the cars to save fuel as they drove around at 50 mph.

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Toyota were the ones to draw first blood in the fourth hour when the No. 2 Porsche went into the box with an apparent failure of the hybrid harvesting motor.

Toyota were the ones to draw first blood in the fourth hour when the No. 2 Porsche went into the box with an apparent failure of the hybrid harvesting motor on the front axle. The team went to work and change everything, including the front suspension for precautionary reasons, in just 65 minutes. By that time, though, the leading Toyotas were a full 18 laps ahead. Brendon Hartley was, at the time, admitting defeat saying that he could only now hope to get inside the top five to score some vital championship points. The failure was a mystery for Porsche themselves, team principal Andreas Seidl stating that the failure was a first.

As the sun set and temperatures began to drop Toyota’s advantage grew even more, but they were hit by major trouble as well. Sebastien Buemi radioed back to his engineer, while running at a reduced pace under the first safety car period, that he was able to pick up weird noises inside the cockpit. Telemetry was not giving his engineer any clue of a malfunction so the Swiss was urged on and, when he finally pitted, the team discovered they were faced with the failure of the front axle hybrid motor. The failure had also cost the car’s battery and the whole operation to get the car in proper working condition took almost two hours, double than that of Porsche’s. Vasselon argues that they’d never encountered a problem with the frontal MGU-H unit, so it was not a component designed to be easily replaced. What is more, the process of replacing the battery took by itself some 40 minutes. The Frenchman also pointed out that, if they had elected to keep the existing battery in the car, the No. 8 wouldn’t have lasted the whole 24 hours.

In comparison to all that misfortune in the eighth hour, some delays on the No. 9 which needed a new illuminated number panel (that always seems tricky to replace), were perceived as a walk in the park.

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With ten hours in the books, and during the race’s second safety car period, Toyota called in Mike Conway for fuel and a driver change.

With ten hours in the books, and during the race’s second safety car period, Toyota called in Mike Conway for fuel and a driver change. The No. 7 TS050 was taken over at that point by Kamui Kobayashi, the Japanese driver enjoying a healthy one-minute lead over the nearest rival. As per the rules, the car got going using its electric motors and so it rolled towards pit entry where it was stopped by a marshal doubled by the red light at the end of the pits. That’s because, at Le Mans, there are three safety cars and Kobayashi was made to wait for the next safety car queue that was coming by. Then, out of nowhere, another person, believed by the driver to be a marshal, seemed to signal the No. 7 to go onto the track. The team rapidly messaged Kamui that the lights at the end of the pits were still red as the safety car hadn’t passed yet.

In what Pascal Vasselon, Toyota Gazoo Racing’s technical director, describes as ``the most amazing problem`` Kobayashi used the clutch a number of times to attempt to get going, lost in the confusion of the moment. By the time he finally started rolling again and got in the safety car queue the car’s clutch had been stressed beyond its point of breaking. That’s because Toyota did not design the clutch to be able to get the car going from a standstill, which is the job of the electric motors and, as it happened, the torque of the combustion motor, proved too much for the clutch.

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While going up towards the Dunlop chicane, Nicolas Lapierre encountered a sudden fuel cut that slowed his No. 9 Toyota – the last with a shot at the win.

The team back in the pits were oblivious to this and the whole situation only become apparent when, at the end of the safety car period, Kobayashi came out of the last chicane to enter a new lap and found himself unable to shift up from first gear. The car thus crawled along, stopping a few times on its way as Kobayashi was forced to put all his hopes in the hybrid system. It proved to be unfit for the job and the car stopped not long before Arnage with its battery drained. It was to be the end of the No. 7’s race and Toyota were not even near at the end of their streak of bad luck!

Less than 30 minutes later, while going up towards the Dunlop chicane, Nicolas Lapierre encountered a sudden fuel cut that slowed his No. 9 Toyota – the last with a shot at the win. Simon Trummer was following close behind the No. 25 Manor Racing ORECA, and he proceeded to strike the TS050 as he was surprised by the P1’s sudden loss of speed. The right side of the P2 ORECA hit Lapierre’s left rear corner, and both cars slid into the sand to the left of the track. Trummer remained beached, but Lapierre muscled on with damage. The Frenchman, who was making his return to Toyota after two seasons in the P2 ranks, rushed to get to the pits since his car was already a lap down on the (now-leading) Porsche No. 1. His pace on what should have been an in-lap was, however, inappropriately high given the damage. He reportedly went over 60 mph on the Mulsanne straight and, by doing so, he ruined his chances. That’s because pieces of the shredded tire damaged gearbox hydraulics while they disintegrated chunks of bodywork. An oil line was also cut which was the cause of a small fire by the time the car was finally crawling around Indianapolis.

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Toyota’s raft of bad luck was in favour of Porsche which had the No. 1 almost 15 laps ahead of the pack of LMP2 cars that filled the top five overall.

This left Lapierre without the internal combustion engine and gearbox so he, just as Kobayashi before him, was forced to nurse the car around on electrical power only. The No. 9 did make it further through the lap, Nicolas even being able to see the pit building but he never got there, pulling over at the exit of the Porsche curves. He exited the car in the full darkness of the night which saw the tables turn in just half an hour.

Toyota’s raft of bad luck was in favour of Porsche which had the No. 1 almost 15 laps ahead of the pack of LMP2 cars that filled the top five overall. The car, driven by Nick Tandy, Andre Lotterer and Neel Jani, seemed on its way to victory but fate had other plans.

Four hours were still left on the clock when Andre Lotterer slowed down going through Tertre Rouge. “No oil pressure” he said to his engineer, to which came the answer: “cut the engine”. Slower than both Kobayashi and Lapierre in the still of the night, Lotterer hurdled along Mulsanne but didn’t go far. The team, said Andreas Seidl, advised him to park the No. 1 919 in the woods when they realized the issue was terminal. This is when the focus switched to the No. 2 which was 11 laps behind the second placed ORECA.

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The old days of endurance racing, when drivers used to constantly drive with an eye on the car’s state, were reenacted in full force last weekend when all five of the factory-backed prototypes hit trouble.

Thus, any delays caused by Lotterer trying to coax his car home, were reducing the chances of his team-mates to catch up. In reality, Porsche’s worries were unnecessary and Timo Bernhard passed Ho Pin-Tung for the overall lead with over two hours left to run. From then on, he was instructed to not go below 3:26 for the sake of making it to the end. That’s exactly what he and team-mates Earl Bamber and Brendon Hartley did as they cruised to a one-lap lead over the No. 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECA of Ho Pin-Tung, Oliver Jarvis, and Thomas Laurent.

The old days of endurance racing, when drivers used to constantly drive with an eye on the car’s state, were reenacted in full force last weekend when all five of the factory-backed prototypes hit trouble (as did the privateer one). Only two of them finished and both did so after stints in the garage that went past the hour mark for Porsche and the two-hour mark for Toyota, respectively. Toyota’s No. 8 finished a lowly 9th overall (seventh among the WEC runners) and was given points accordingly (12 to Porsche’s 50) which means the German marque is now ahead in both the Driver’s and Manufacturer’s standings – but even here there’s a twist I’ll detail below.

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Akiro Toyoda, Toyota’s CEO stated that maybe the hybrid cars are too advanced to run in a 24-hour competition.

Akiro Toyoda, Toyota’s CEO who was present at Circuit de la Sarthe, and Hugues de Chaunac, ORECA chairman and adviser of Toyota Gazoo Racing, both stated in the wake of this test of survival that, maybe, the hybrid cars are too advanced to run in a 24-hour competition. The ACO and FIA seem to have already disagreed with Toyota as they released before the event the rules for 2020 which feature plug-in hybrid technology which will be able to do what the systems we saw on this year’s cars can’t: complete a full lap of Le Mans (at small speed) on electrical power only.

So far, the only car that’s been able to achieve this feat was the Nissan Zeod RC which competed as a Garage 56 entry in 2014. If this year’s P1-H cars were able to do this we would have had an entirely different Le Mans 24 Hours. As it was, Porsche bagged its 19th victory and, by all accounts, both manufacturers will duke it out again in 2018 – Porsche in search of the 20th win (it’s great for PR!) and Toyota still with the aim of getting its first.

LMP1 Class Results

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LMP2

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Vaillant Rebellion Racing and Jackie Chan DC Racing dominated the LMP2 class in this year’s running of the Le Mans race.

Vaillant Rebellion Racing and Jackie Chan DC Racing dominated the LMP2 class in this year’s running of the Le Mans race. Admitedly, it was an all-ORECA affair but the battles between the multiple 07 P2s were quite entertaining and their reliability made them a real contender for the overall victory - which would have been a first in itself!

The polesitter in the class was actually the first casualty and it all took place in the opening hours. Coming through the Porsche Curves, Roman Rusinov collected the No. 88 Porsche 991 GTE of Khaled Al-Qubaisi which was driving almost 40 mph slower and had no time to react to Rusinov trying to pass him on the outside. The two cars collided and hit the barriers on either side of the track resulting in the immediate retirement of both No. 26 and No. 88. Rusinov was found to be at fault for the incident, which wasn’t the first for the Russian.

In light of all of this, the stewards decided to `award` the G-Drive crew a three-minute stop-and-go penalty which will be taken at the next FIA WEC round where Alex Lynn will be replaced by Laurens Vanthoor.

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With the TDS Racing-run G-Drive-sponsored No. 26 out of the picture, the No. 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing car took over the lead.

With the TDS Racing-run G-Drive-sponsored No. 26 out of the picture, the No. 38 (known as `Mighty 38`) Jackie Chan DC Racing car took over the lead. Jarvis led until a starter motor issue slowed the progress of the trio down. More time was lost when the young Thomas Laurent outbraked himself at Indianapolis and beached the car. This led the way for a Rebellion 1-2. The No. 31 and No. 13 led the way for most of the middle part of the race before losing time with a number of penalties and other mechanical gremlins.

This meant that, by the 17th hour, Jackie Chan DC Racing was back in the mix and the best-placed Rebellion was one lap down. Then, with four hours to go, Jackie Chan DC Racing became the first LMP2 team to lead overall at Le Mans after Lotterer’s retirement. Jarvis, Laurent and Pin-Tung held station until Bernhard passed them some two hours later. Regardless, they went on to win their class and finish second overall, one lap ahead of the No. 13 Vaillant Rebellion car. The latter lost time in the last bit of the race due to starter motor problems of its own.

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With the penalty enforced, Jackie Chan DC Racing’s 1-3 finish becomes a 1-2.

In short, the team had to use a big piece of metal which they would hit with a hammer, the metal piece in turn hitting the solenoid of the starter motor (through a hole cut out in the rear bodywork) and this would start the engine. The method worked and it got the Swiss squad to the finish but the clever `fix` was deemed illegal by the stewards post-race. They argued that by cutting out a piece of the rear bodywork, they altered a mandated part of the car which was in breach of the rules and the penalty was the straightforward exclusion of the No. 13. The epic stints of Nelson Piquet Jr. in the race cannot, though, be ignored or forgotten as well as the consistent stints of Mathias Beche.

With the penalty enforced, Jackie Chan DC Racing’s 1-3 finish becomes a 1-2. This also promotes all of the cars behind it, including the seventh placed United Autosports Ligier which was the highest placed non-ORECA in the race. The highest placed Dallara, that of Cetilar Villorba Corse, will now be ranked ninth overall.

Now, this obviously means that the No. 8 Toyota is moved up a place to 8th overall and sixth in the WEC LMP classification. This is the twist I mentioned before as the Toyota will be awarded 16 points instead of 12. Still, they are behind Porsche in the championship.

On a different note, it’s worth mentioning that the only Riley-Multimatic in the race, that of Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ricky Taylor, entered by Keating survived the 24 hours to finish towards the back of the P2 pack. It did, however, have multiple problems and an almighty off after colliding with a GTE-Pro Porsche but it was the first ever race for this chassis so the result is encouraging in the view of plausible future Le Mans starts.

Top 5 LMP2 Class Results

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GTE Pro

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After the problems of 2016 where Ford ran away with the victory, 2017 proved to be a massive improvement.

After the problems of 2016 where Ford ran away with the victory, in spite of a monster challenge coming from the sole surviving Ferrari 488, 2017 proved to be a massive improvement. For starters, it was dead close in qualifying and it was like that in the race too.

Yes, Aston-Martin did lead most of the way but nothing was decided until the very end with many cars keeping within the lead lap which meant they still had a big chance at a good result if any misfortune struck those ahead. It was also great to see the cars showing their strengths in different parts of the track or in different moments of the race: the Corvette was quick in straight line, Ferrari great in the corners and the Aston-Martin was a bit of both with massive acceleration out of the turns. Then, as night fell, the Porsches started to come into their stride and they led – until No. 92 crashed out that is.

Ford, last year’s winners also progressed and were with three cars in the top 7 with a few hours to go. 2015 winners Corvette Racing had a complicated race with the No. 64 going out of contention during the night when a tire faild on the Tommy Milner-driven C7.R which rear-ended the wall as a result. This wasn’t the end of it though, Milner proceeding to spin into the gravel at pit entry and losing time before he was salvaged by a rescue vehicle.

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The Darren Turner-led crew was the one that faced off Corvette’s No. 63 after the final round of stops.

The incident left only the No. 63 Corvette in the hunt but this crew had its share of bad luck as well, an early puncture throwing it at the back of the field. It, however rebounded and would be in a position to take the victory at the end. The nemesis? Old rivals Aston-Martin!

The Darren Turner-led crew was the one that faced off Corvette’s No. 63 after the final round of stops. Having effectively lost the No. 95 after a vicious tire blow-out early on, the Britons had all their hopes in Johnny Adam and the #97. The Americans, in turn, put their hopes in Jordan Taylor who was the one to exit the pits in the lead. It was Corvette-Aston-Porsche-Ford-Ferrari until the No. 91 had to pit again in the final 20 minutes and lost any chance of a podium. Still, Taylor and Adam fought tooth and nail lap after lap and, with newer tires, it looked like Jordan will go on to win.

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Ferrari showed pace but lost out on pit strategy and on car count, the No. 82 not finishing.

The man that dominated IMSA this seasaon (with his brother Ricky) outbraked himself entering the second chicane on Mulsanne in the second-to-last lap which helped Adam to claw back the gap. With his tires affected, Taylor ultimately lost the lead coming out of the Ford chicane and also cut the Dunlop chicane as he picked a puncture that made him run wide and onto the grass in Tertre Rouge. The tire disintegrated on Mulsanne and it slowed the No. 64 so much that Harry Tincknell in the No. 67 Ford caught up and passed Taylor for second. This is the way they crossed the line, Aston-Martin first, Ford second and Corvette frustratingly third.

Ferrari showed pace but lost out on pit strategy and on car count, the No. 82 not finishing. It was through no fault of Risi Competizione or Pierre Kaffer, the German being taken out by an oblivious Matthieu Vaxiviere who turned into the Ferrari under braking. The P2 driver received a hefty seven-minute stop-and-go penalty but Giuseppe Risi’s car was still standing heavily damaged by the wayside so it’s hard to see the penalty as ‘setting things straight’.

Top 5 GTE Pro Class Results

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GTE-Am

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Ferrari still got their laurels and in full form. But it was in GTE-Am, a class the Pracing Horse dominated after the Aston-Martin No. 98 hit problems.

Ferrari still got their laurels and in full form. But it was in GTE-Am, a class the Pracing Horse dominated after the Aston-Martin No. 98 hit problems. The pre-race favorites, Paul Dalla-Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda, were leading when, out of the blue, a huge tire explosion on the right-front destroyed the fender and the chances of victory for the trio who was (and still is as a result) in a string of unlucky Le Mans outings.

After that 8th hour incident, JMW Motorsport took over the lead and they never let it go really. The all-rookie trio of Rob Smith, Dries Vanthoor and Will Stevens executed a stellar race to bring victory for them and the British crew who were at the very first race with their newly-acquired 488 GTE. The car, No. 84, did have to face some rivals but they all encountered troubles or, simply, weren’t fast enough to be able to keep up.

Polesitters Larbre Competition had a number of trips to the gravel as well as a penalty applied to them.

Polesitters Larbre Competition had a number of trips to the gravel as well as a penalty applied to them, all of which choked their chance of a win. The No. 90 TF Sport Aston was looking at a potential class podium (on the team’s debut) but it wans’t to be after a spin late in the race. This helped the Spirit of Race No. 55 car of Marco Cioci, Aaron Scott and Duncan Cameron to pick up second which is where they finished. Third went the way of last year’s winners Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler who were partnered by Cooper MacNeil. It was a half good/half bad Le Mans for Scuderia Corsa as the No. 65 crew was delayed during the night then suffered a late-race puncture after being hit by the Larbre Corvette. The Porsches meanwhile lacked pace and had some problems (beyond the crash of the No. 88).

Top 5 GTE Am Class Results

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This year’s Le Mans 24 hours race will go down in history as a potential turning point in the WEC’s path. If next year’s surge of new LMP1-L machinery will not take place and if the two manufacturers will decide to leave through the back door due to costs and the apparent reliability woes of the hybrids, we might find ourselves at a moment when the P1 class will be no more – after it also left the American scene at the end of 2013 and the European scene (ELMS) at the end of 2011.

Full Results

You can check out the full results here.

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