2017 racing season – a legend is born!
2017 was the year in which the Porsche 919 Hybrid finally became a motorsport icon and endurance legend. It was its last season in the LMP1 prototype class of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC). Despite the successes of the previous year, the 919 Hybrid started the last nine world championship races of its motorsport career with innovations in the areas of aerodynamics, the chassis and the drive train. The line-up of drivers was also new: the Porsche bearing the number 1 was driven by the reigning world champion driver Neel Jani with André Lotterer and Nick Tandy. The sister car was driven by Timo Bernhard and Bendon Hartley along with Earl Bamber, who replaced the retired Mark Webber.
The enhanced 919 Hybrid made its first high-profile public appearance at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza race circuit in Italy on 31 March 2017. The first real big test came two weeks later in Silverstone. The result was very impressive: Earl Bamber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley crossed the finish line in second place. The trio of Jani, Lotterer and Tandy secured third place. At the Spa-Francorchamps race circuit, Hartley recorded the fastest lap of the race and managed to finish in third place with his teammates Bamber and Bernhard despite having a slow puncture. The sister car secured a fourth-placed finish.
Then the big day came: On 18 June 2017 the whole world of motorsport once again looked with excitement to Le Mans to see the 85th staging of the world’s biggest and toughest motor race. And the winner was the 919 Hybrid. Bamber, Bernhard and Hartley secured the 19th overall victory at Le Mans for Porsche. But it was a hard-fought victory because in the middle of the race an unscheduled pit stop initially left the Porsche bearing the number two a long way behind. The repair lasted an interminable 65 minutes. Once back in the race, in 54th position, the car had to make up a deficit of 19 laps. It managed to achieve the seemingly impossible though. Timo Bernhard took the lead in the 347th lap at 1.57pm on the Sunday afternoon and went to the top of the overall standings. 20 laps later, he crossed the finish line as the winner. For a long time, all the signs pointed to victory for the sister car. It drove confidently in first place for more than ten hours (166 laps). Then damage to the engine abruptly shattered the dream for Jani, Lotterer and Tandy. The lead at this stage was an incredible 13 laps!
In the fourth race of the season, at the Nürburgring, both Porsche cars then managed to finish the race: Bamber, Bernhard and Hartley won ahead of Jani, Lotterer and Tandy. After 2015 and 2016, this was the third victory in a row at the Nürburgring! And Porsche also secured first and second places in Mexico City and in Austin. In Fuji, Porsche ended up in third and fourth places. In the penultimate race of the season in Shanghai, both Porsches again claimed a podium finish, coming in second and third places. This secured the drivers’ world championship for Bamber, Bernhard and Hartley. After 2015 it was the second drivers’ world championship title in the WEC for Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley. Twelve race victories together made this pair the most successful WEC endurance drivers of all time. In addition, Porsche’s total of 303 points after Shanghai secured its third manufacturers’ world championship in a row. Both Porsches again finished on the podium in the season finale in Bahrain. Bamber, Bernhard and Hartley came second; Jani, Lotterer and Tandy came third.
The record of achievement at the end of the 919 era was 34 races entered, 20 pole positions, 17 victories, 13 fastest laps, three manufacturers’ and three drivers’ world championship titles as well as three Le Mans victories in a row. One delightful aside was that the cup for the 24 Hours of Le Mans – which is really a challenge cup which changes hands – remained permanently in Porsche’s hands thanks to the hat-trick of victories. An elegant reminder of one of the most successful chapters in Porsche’s motorsport history.