The 20th anniversary of the 1998 24 Hours of Le Mans

The 20th anniversary of the 1998 24 Hours of Le Mans

By all accounts, the 1998 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans was sensational with as many as six official constructors in the race: BMW, Chrysler, Toyota, Mercedes, Nissan and Porsche (winner).

Date: 6-7 June 1998

Number of competitors: 47

Number of retirements: 24

Spectators: 190,000

Start given by Bill Campbell, the major of Atlanta, Georgia


Key facts:

Six official manufacturers participated in the race. Porsche (GT1) - participating since 1996 - faced new opponents like Toyota (GT One), Mercedes (SLR), Nissan (R390 GT1) and BMW (V12 LM in association with Williams F1). Chrysler (Viper GTS-R) was fielded in the GT2 class. Panoz, with its Esperante GTR-1s powered by Ford, made its first appearance at Le Mans and one could always count on McLaren, winner in 1995. The 1998 edition of the 24 Hours is considered one of the races of the century, like the 1967 (Ford/Ferrari duel) and 1999.


Brief overview of the race:

Very early on, Mercedes and BMW were forced to retire with various technical problems. The action quickly distilled into a duel between Toyota and Porsche. With the #27 GT One (delay) and #28 GT One (retirement) out of the game, the #29 driven by Thierry Boutsen-Ralf Kelleners-Geoff Lees took turns in the lead with two Porsche 911 GT1s (#25 and #26). The Nissans and McLarens had difficulty keeping up with 911 GT1s and the Japanese car. Two hours from the checkered flag, the #29 Toyota was still in the lead when it slowed at Mulsanne, then stopped at Arnage with a broken gearbox. Porsche won the edition thanks to the #26!


Key figures and anecdotes:

- The start was given at 14:00 due to the Roland Garros finale and the World Cup

- The race was won by rookie Laurent Aiello

- With McNish, Aiello and Ortelli, the average age of the winners was 28.33, most likely the youngest in 24 Hours history

- Porsche's 16th win until 2015

- Porsche one-two with second place for the #25 Porsche 911 GT1 shared by Bob Wollek, Jörg Müller and Uwe Alzen

- Oshino-Suzuki-Kageyama at the wheel of the #32 Nissan R390 GT1 finished third as the first all-Japanese driver line-up to reach the podium

- Four cars led the race: #28 Toyota GT-One, #29 Toyota GT-One, #25 Porsche 911 GT1, #26 Porsche 911 GT1

- Elf Haberthur Racing fielded a Porsche 911 GT2 signed by deceased Charlie Hebdo illustrator Georges Wolinski

- The Jean Rondeau Award (best French hopeful) was given to Franck Montagny

- The Escra Award (best technical support) went to Moretti Racing's #3 Ferrari 333 SP

- The Communication Award was won by Fiona Miller, Panoz Motorsports press attaché

- Best time: 326 km/h for Nissan in qualifying and 324 km/h for BMW in the race

- Mauro Baldi won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring the same year (1998) after winning the 1994 24 Hours

- 10 October 1998: first running of Petit Le Mans in the U.S. at the Road Atlanta circuit, with the mayor of Atlanta in attendance


The winners:

Overall: #26 Porsche GT1 driven by Allan McNish, Laurent Aiello and Stéphane Ortelli

Gap: The second place finisher trailed by one lap (13.654 km)

Distance: 4,783.781 km at an average of 199.324 km/h 

Fastest time at Test Day: Allan McNish (Porsche GT1) in 03:37:687

Pole position: #35 Mercedes CLK drive by Bernd Schneider in 03:35:544

Best in-race lap: Martin Brundle at the wheel of the #28 Toyota GT One in 03:41:809

Win in LMP1: Doyle Risi Racing's #12 Ferrari 333 SP shared by Wayne Taylor, Eric van de Poele and Fermin Vélez (the last victory for a Ferrari prototype at Le Mans) 

Win in GT2: #53 Chrysler Viper GTS-R shared by Justin Bell, David Donohue and Luca Drudi (the American marque's first win)


Source: Infos-Course