Last year’s winners leave their mark
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Last year’s winners leave their mark

One of the highlights of the 24 Hours race week is the moment when the bronze plaque containing the handprints of the previous year’s winners is laid in the pavement in Le Mans city centre, thereby leaving an indelible mark of their success in La Sarthe. This year, Romain Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb are joining a prestigious array of Porsche drivers in the Le Mans hall of fame.

Romain Dumas is the third French driver to have won the 24 Hours of Le Mans at the wheel of a Porsche after Yannick Dalmas in 1994 and Laurent Aiello in 1998. He already entered the race’s record books in 2010 when he and his German teammates Timo Bernhard and Mike Rockenfeller set a new distance record.

Marc Lieb joins an eminent line-up of German drivers who have won in a Porsche at the Circuit de la Sarthe: Hans Herrmann, who partnered Richard Attwood in the marque’s maiden victory in 1970; driver-cum-engineer Jürgen Barth, who coaxed a Porsche 936 with an ailing engine to victory in 1977; three-time winner Klaus Ludwig (1979, 1984 and 1985); two-time winner Hans-Joachim Stuck (1986 and 1987) and holder of the average lap speed record in qualifying (1985); and Manuel Reuter, who won in 1996.

When Neel Jani joined the Porsche LMP1 factory team in 2014, he joked that although he could no longer be the first Swiss to win Le Mans following Marcel Fässler’s triple triumph with Audi in 2011, 2013 and 2014, he still hoped to become the first from his homeland to win the 24 Hours in a Porsche. Mission accomplished in 2016.

Jani is proud to leave his mark in the Le Mans pavement: “I’m really looking forward to the ceremony as I’ll be joining some great names from the history of motorsport. I talked about it with Helmut Marko [1971 Le Mans winner, holder of the distance record until 2010, and current head of Red Bull’s driver development programme]. Like Graham Hill and Jacky Ickx, each and every one of us has written our own story in winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans and each year brings its own challenges.”

The current clutch of Porsche drivers features a newcomer who knows all about the drivers’ handprint ceremony. André Lotterer has already won the race three times with Fässler and Benoît Tréluyer. “It’s an unforgettable moment,” he recalls. “There’s an immense feeling of pride as we walk down, thinking about the race and the victory. Winning three times is incredible enough in itself. We never think about emulating the six wins of Jacky Ickx or the nine of Tom Kristensen.”

We shall soon discover who will be adding their handprints to the collection with the 2017 race winners leaving their mark in a plaster mould following the podium ceremony on Sunday 18 June.

 

Photo: Nick Tandy, André Lotterer and Neel Jani (from left to right), the only driver line-up consisting exclusively of former 24 Hours of Le Mans winners.