Aston Clinton’s Mark Webber saw his hopes of winning last weekend’s Le Mans 24-Hour Race dashed just two hours from the finish line when the powertrain of his Porsche 919-Hybrid failed while the Australian was leading.
Webber and his team-mates, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard, found themselves leading the 82nd running of the Grand Prix d’Endurance late on Sunday morning after the two leading Audis had encountered problems.
Hopes for Webber and the Porsche factory team, making a return to the main class of the event for the first time since the late 1990s, were high and as the race progressed, the German manufacturer looked set to claim another historic victory.
During the 20th hour, the number 20 Porsche took the lead with Timo Bernhard at the wheel and at 12.36, he handed the car to Webber for a stint that would take the car to the end of the race.
However, less than 20 minutes later, Webber was forced to slow the car as his powertrain failed and he had to retire from the race.
The second Porsche 919-Hybrid, driven by Romian Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb ran well, but like its sister car, also ran into powertrain problems. The car was not classified by race organisers despite finishing.
Afterwards, Webber said: “That was tough for everyone.
“It would have been such an amazing achievement to go through to the finish. I think we never expected to be in such a great position towards the end of the race.
“What Porsche did is a big feather in its cap. Few people know how hard it is to get the cars to this point in the race. I’m really sorry for the guys.
“There is never ever a good retirement in Le Mans, but today is one of the best you could probably have in a way because we went so far and we learned so much.
“If you stop early you learn nothing and it’s tough. When you stop with a lap to go it’s probably even more brutal. It was our first time here at Le Mans and we were very close to the podium.“
Webber and the Porsche team will now focus on the remaining rounds of the World Endurance Championship, of which Le Mans was a double point-scoring round.
The race was won by the number 2 Audi R18-etron quattro driven by Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler. The number 1 Audi R18 of Marc Gene, Tom Kristensen and Lucas di Grassi finished second, with the Toyota TS040 of Anthony Davidson, Nicolas Lapierre and Sebastien Buemi completing the podium.
Aylesbury’s Alex Kapadia was also in Le Mans as a reserve driver for the Hertz Car Sales Murphy Prototypes team. The local racer drove the team’s Oreca 03-Nissan during the pre-race test but was not required to drive during the actual Le Mans event.
The youngster has hopes of driving for the team in the remaining rounds of the European Le Mans Series (ELMS). He said after the weekend: “Joining the team for the Le Mans weekend has been a great experience and I hope I will be in a position to be back here next year to drive in the actual race.”