Born in 1998, Thomas Laurent is considered by many to be the first young driver produced by the endurance pyramid that has now come into its own. After winning the world karting championship title in 2015, Laurent moved straight to endurance without taking the more “traditional” route via the single-seater formulas. He made an immediate impact by winning the inaugural Road To Le Mans in 2016. This race, held on the full 13.6-km Circuit des 24 Heures, has become an important fixture during Le Mans week in the build-up to the main event. It is the season’s highlight in the Michelin Le Mans Cup, the first level in the endurance pyramid that also comprises the European Le Mans Series and Asian Le Mans Series and culminates in the world championship.
In 2017, Laurent joined the LMP2 class in the FIA World Endurance Championship, sharing the wheel of the #38 Oreca fielded by Jackie Chan DC Racing with Ho-Pin Tung and Oliver Jarvis. The rookie set himself three targets with increasing difficulty for his début appearance in the 24 Hours: (i) finish, (ii) challenge for the LMP2 podium, and (iii) win the class. The final outcome, however, exceeded his wildest dreams.
As the race progressed, a long head-to-head broke out as the two Orecas of Jackie Chan DC Racing and those of Swiss outfit Vaillante Rebellion fought for the LMP2 crown. When various issues began to plague the five hybrid prototypes of Porsche and Toyota at the front of the field, it became clear that a place on the general classification podium was potentially there for the taking.
Laurent and his teammates led the LMP2 pack from the 13th hour of the race with only the Porsche 919 Hybrid of Neel Jani/André Lotterer/Nick Tandy in front of them in the general classification at that point. Shortly after 11 o’clock on Sunday morning, Lotterer pulled up at the edge of the track and retired with engine failure.
Nineteen-year-old Thomas Laurent in the #38 Oreca suddenly found himself leading the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The second Porsche 919 Hybrid of Timo Bernhard/Earl Bamber/Brendon Hartley trailed some way behind after having its front electric motor replaced after just three hours of the race. It had rejoined the track at 19.56 on Saturday evening in 56th position, 18 laps behind. However, at 13.53 – just 67 minutes from the chequered flag – Bernhard inevitably reeled in Laurent and the #2 Porsche swept to victory.
Laurent, Tung and Jarvis in the #38 Oreca secured the class win and second place overall, the best result ever recorded by an LMP2 at the 24 Hours. It was a particularly triumphant occasion for Jackie Chan DC Racing as Alex Brundle, Tristan Gommendy and David Cheng (the “DC” of Jackie Chan DC Racing) in the sister car rounded out the general classification podium.
Since then, the endurance pyramid has continued to flourish with the likes of Phil Hanson, Mikkel Jensen (future Peugeot works driver in 2022), Salih Yoluc (first Turkish winner at Le Mans, in LMGTE Am in 2020) and Job van Uitert looking to forge a long-term career in the discipline. They compete alongside an array of skilled youngsters from single-seater feeder series, such as Gabriel Aubry, Louis Deletraz, Ferdinand Habsburg, Yifei Ye, Tom Blomqvist, Franco Colapinto, Roberto Merhi and Matthieu de Barbuat. A new generation for whom Thomas Laurent was the undisputed trailblazer in 2016 and 2017.
Undoubtedly the upcoming season and the burgeoning projects in Hypercar and all the other classes, with the Centenary of the 24 Hours of Le Mans on the horizon in 2023, will undoubtedly reveal other budding talents. We look forward to seeing them on the racetrack very soon but, in the meantime, Happy Holidays to all!
PHOTOS (© ACO ARCHIVES): LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 2017 24 HOURS OF LE MANS – At the wheel of Jackie Chan DC Racing’s #38 Oreca, 19-year-old Thomas Laurent became the second-youngest driver in Le Mans history to claim an outright podium place behind Ricardo Rodríguez. In 1960, the Mexican was also a runner-up in a Ferrari, at the age of 18 years and 133 days.