FIA WEC: Great Cars that didn’t win at Le Mans – Part Four

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The No.2 Toyota GT-One leads the way at the start of the 1999 24 Hours of Le Mans. © John Brooks

With the teams and drivers making their final preparations, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is not too far away.

And as the anticipation builds towards the start on Saturday, here are six more cars that failed to win at Le Mans.

If you haven’t already, you can read part three of this mini-series here.

Panoz Esperante GTR-1: 1997-98 24 Hours of Le Mans

The DAMS-entered Panoz Esperante GTR-1 during the 1997 24 Hours of Le Mans. © Laurent Chauveau

The late Donald Panoz was a well respected figure within endurance racing and helped start up the American Le Mans Series.

In addition, he was also responsible towards the convergence of the Automobile Club de l’Quest (ACO) and Le Mans.

During 1996, Mr. Panoz wanted to develop a GT car for the inaugural season of the FIA GT Championship.

The Italian-American entrepreneur enlisted the help of Reynard Motorsport and the two came up with the Panoz Esperante GTR-1.

Loosely based off the road car of the same name, the Esperante GTR-1 went against the opposition by placing the engine at the front.

The engine of choice was a naturally-aspirated Ford V8, which produced 600 bhp @ 8,000 rpm.

Although the car proved to be successful in North America, Europe proved to be a complete contrast.

A lack of development in comparison to rival teams and engine problems saw Panoz struggle to compete. These points were emphasised during their maiden voyage to Le Mans.

With three cars entered between David Price Racing and DAMS, Panoz were hoping to stay in touch with the front-runners.

However, the race proved to be nothing short of disastrous, as two cars retired through reliability issues and the third car didn’t qualify.

Panoz Explore Hybrid Technology

The Panoz Espernate GTR-1 Q9 Hybrid at the Circuit de la Sarthe during a test day in 1998. Image sourced from carmrades-blog.com

For 1998, Panoz made developments to their car and showcased these improvements on track.

In the FIA GT Championship, the DAMS GTR-1 was able to consistently challenge Porsche and regularly score points. However, they were no match for the all-conquering Mercedes.

Furthermore, Panoz teamed up with David Price Racing to develop the GTR-1 Q9 Hybrid for Le Mans.

Dubbed Sparky, the new car was developed with Zytek and used auxiliary electric motor alongside the existing V8 power plant.

Subsequently, the car produced 750 bhp and saw the battery pack placed alongside the driver to help with weight distribution.

The idea was that the car would use less fuel. As a result, the Q9 would achieve longer stints, and therefore make less pit stops during the race.

Speaking to Endurance-Info last year, Don Panoz explained how the collaboration was formed:

“In 1997 when I went to Le Mans for the first time with the GTR-1 car, I met an interesting character.”

“Bill Gibson, who had a company called Zytek, which produced motors, was talking about doing an electric motor. And, potentially, he explained to me what a hybrid car could be.”

“I was enchanted with what he told me and I said ‘Yeah, I think we could do that’ and we used our GTR-1 car and built a hybrid car.”

The Q9 Hybrid turned up for the test days at Le Mans alongside the standard GTR-1 entries.

While the original cars were 12th and 13th respectively, the Q9 hybrid found itself significantly slower in 31st due to the excess weight onboard.

The Esperante GTR-1 weighed around 890 kg, while the battery packs used for the Q9 Hybrid increased this to approximately 1100 kg.

Because of this, Panoz opted against running the car at Le Mans. However, before the project was eventually shelved, the car did race in the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.

Instead, they entered the original GTR-1’s for the 1998 event.

Although they couldn’t compete for the win, the trio of David Brabham, Andy Wallace and Jamie Davies claimed seventh for the American team.

Toyota GT-One: 1998-99 24 Hours of Le Mans

The No.27 Toyota GT-One driven by Ukyo Katayama, Toshino Suzuki and Keiichi Tsuchiya in the 1998 24 Hours of Le Mans. Image sourced from deskgram.net

After failing to claim the elusive win at Le Mans earlier in the 1990’s, Toyota returned with the GT-One.

The mid-engine V8 was fuel injected and produced 600 bhp @ 6,000 rpm. As a result, the car reached speeds of 214.3 mph (345 km/h) in practice.

For 1998, Toyota entered three cars on a grid that also featured BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan and Porsche.

The race was brutal in terms of reliability and saw several retirements caused by mechanical failures and accident damage.

While Mercedes and BMW dropped out early on, Toyota also suffered and saw two of their cars fail to finish.

Porsche were seemingly bulletproof at the front and claimed a 1-2 finish. In contrast, Toyota struggled and saw the No.27 car limp home in ninth place.

Tyre Troubles Derail Toyota

Despite its strong pace around Le Mans, problems with tyre management would prove costly for the Toyota GT-One in 1999. Image sourced from supercars.net

The following year, an updated GT-One provided more optimism for the Japanese manufacturer.

Their cars qualified first and second, with a pole position time of 3:29.930 and were favourites alongside BMW and Mercedes.

The race was setup to be a strategic classic. Toyota and Mercedes were the fastest over a single lap, while BMW’s fuel consumptions allowed for longer stints.

At the start, Toyota battled hard with Mercedes during the first couple of hours, with BMW not too far behind.

Then, issues with their tyre wear slowly disintegrated their challenge.

During the night, the No.1 Toyota of Martin Brundle suffered a high speed tyre failure at the first Mulsanne chicane.

The incident caused significant damage to the rear suspension and forced the Briton to stop at Arnage and retire.

Around two and a half hours later, Thierry Boutsen experienced the same problem in the No.2 car at the Dunlop Bridge.

The crash destroyed the car and needed the Belgian to be helped out of the wreckage after suffering a lower back injury.

This left BMW in control, only for their lead car to drop out with throttle issue and spin out at the Porsche curves.

With the chequered flag approaching, the sole remaining Toyota of Ukyo Katayama pursued after the No.15 BMW.

Subsequently, he pushed the GT-One to its limit and set the fastest lap of a 3:35.052

The gap had been reduced to one minute, only to suffer the same fate as the other two Toyotas.

Not too far from Indianapolis, Katayama  blew out one of the rear tyres.

Although he recovered to the pits for repairs, the victory had gone and had to settle for second place.

Audi R8C/R: 1999 24 Hours of Le Mans

The Audi R8R would pave the way for the dominant Audi R8 that triumphed at Le Mans five times in just six years. © Audi Motorsport Blog

In recent years, the Audi name has become synonymous with Le Mans.

With 13 race wins, the German marque played a vital part in helping Tom Kristensen to an unprecedented ninth victory.

Before this success, Audi entered two different specification cars in 1999. This was done to help them explore their options ahead of a proper attempt in 2000.

Because of this, the two cars ended up being complete contrast.

On one hand, there was the with the open-cockpit R8R, while the other presented the closed-cockpit R8C.

Both used the same turbocharged V8 engine, with the R8R producing 610 bhp and the R8C slightly more output at 640 bhp.

In addition, it was claimed by Audi that both cars were capable of hitting 217 mph (350 km/h).

When they arrived at Le Mans, the R8R was the fastest of the two and posted a lap time of 3:34.89.

Technology from the Audi R8C was used by Bentley for their victorious Speed 8 in the early 2000’s. Image sourced from historicracingnews.com

In comparison, the R8C was almost eight seconds slower and could only manage a 3:42.15.

During the race, the R8R’s took advantage of the problems that unfolded ahead of them to finish third and fourth respectively, behind BMW and Toyota.

The car was then used as a template for the Audi R8 the following year.

Over the next couple of years, the car dominated the Circuit de la Sarthe, winning five times between 2000 and 2006.

On the other hand the R8C’s proved to be more fragile in 1999, with neither car surviving the distance.

However, hope was not lost as its some of its parts and technology was used to develop the Bentley Speed 8.

Ironically, this was the same car that briefly ended the Audi R8’s reign at the top and claimed victory in 2003.

Mercedes-Benz CLR: 1999 24 Hours of Le Mans

A lack of aerodynamic grip at Le Mans caused several problems for the Mercedes CLR in 1999. © Frederic Le Floc’h

In 1998, the Mercedes-Benz CLK-GTR achieved a clean sweep in the GT1 class of the FIA GT Championship.

However, despite that success, one non-championship race eluded them – the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Germans had modified their all-conquering machine to make it compliant with the ACO regulations.

This produced the CLK-LM, which was  troublesome and saw both cars retire within the first three hours.

After the GT1 class was scrapped for 1999, Mercedes could solely focus on the gruelling endurance race.

They come up with the CLR, which produced 600 bhp from a mid-engine V8.

Furthermore, the bodywork was 10 centimetres (4 inches) than the preceding CLK-LM.

In addition, the car was competitive and was only slower than the Toyota GT-One’s in qualifying.

However, a major design flaw caused monumental problems for Mercedes.

On two seperate occasions, the No.4 Car of Mark Webber flipped over at Indianapolis and the Mulsanne straight.

Unsurprisingly, many raised concerns over the safety of the CLR, with Mercedes adding winglets to try and overcome this.

During the first couple of hours of the race, the No.5 car of Peter Dumbreck was running behind one of the Toyota’s.

As the pair went over one of the bumps before Indianapolis, Dumbreck’s Mercedes CLR went airbourne.

Consequently, the Silver Arrows flew over the barriers and into the trees by the side of the track.

Although Dumbreck was uninjured by the accident, Mercedes had no choice but to withdraw on safety grounds.

Courage/Pescarolo C60 Hybrid: 2005-06 24 Hours of Le Mans

The Pescarolo C60 Hybrid goes through the Dunlop Bridge during the 2005 24 Hours of Le Mans. © Bob Chapman

The Courage C60 first entered Le Mans in 2000, but no match for the likes of Audi and Bentley.

After five attempts, the car could only manage a pair of fourth place finishes in 2001 and 2004 respectively.

For 2005, introduced the C60 Hybrid and ditched the Peuegot power in favour of a Judd.

The mid-engine V10 produced 640 bhp @ 7,800rpm and instantly improved their chances.

Entered by Pescarolo Sport, the C60 Hybrids qualified on the front row in 2005, with a pole time of 3:34.715.

In addition, Pescarolo were helped by the addition of air restrictors to the Audi R8’s, as they didn’t meet the hybrid regulations.

During the race, the No.16 car was in control, and at one stage lapped five seconds faster than the Audis.

Unfortunately, a gearbox failure and overheating issues forced the car to continue at a limited pace.

As a result, the Pescarolo finished two laps behind the R8. This allowed Tom Kristensen to claim a record-breaking seventh win at Le Mans.

The following year, the French team faced tougher competition from their German counterparts.

Audi debuted their diesel-powered R10 TDI, which comfortably claimed pole position in the dry.

However, during the first qualifying session in wet conditions, the Pescarolo’s were much faster.

When race day arrived, the track conditions favoured Audi and saw Pescarolo struggle to keep up. Unsurprisingly, the Germans claimed their sixth win in seven years.

Behind them, the trio of Sébastien Loeb, Éric Hélary and Franck Montagany were four laps down in second.

Lola Aston Martin B09/60: 2009-10 24 Hours of Le Mans

The Lola-Aston Martin B09/60 sporting the famous ‘007’ at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. © motors.all-free-photos.com

By 2009, Peugeot were the strongest threat towards the Audi monopoly at Le Mans.

That same year though, Aston Martin Racing announced a full works entry for the LMP1 class with the B09/60.

The car was developed in partnership with Lola and used a mid-engine V12 that produced 650 bhp @ 7,500 rpm.

In its first attempt the car entered three cars, with the later being run by the Czech Charouz Racing Systems outfit.

While the two works B09/60’s faultered, the Czech car did well and eventually finished fourth behind Peugeot and Audi.

2010 was harder for the Lola-Aston Martin alliance, as they fell to fourth in the pecking order behind the privateer Oreca.

This wasn’t helped by a lack of development to the car over the winter break.

On top of this, teething problems with reliability hampered their efforts and saw the 008 and 009 cars both fail to finish.

Although the 007 machine managed to come home in sixth place, it ended up being a massive 32 laps behind

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