In the “Spirit of Le Mans” Pack for Project CARS 2 are the three LMP1s that gave the world one of the most thrilling 24-Hour battles in history back in 2016, the year Audi, Porsche, and Toyota fought it out to a finish that remains, to this day, almost unbelievable.
And to spice up the Pack even further, two of the most legendary cars from an era forever captured by actor Steve McQueen’s “Le Mans” movie are also included, alongside a faithful recreation of the Circuit de la Sarthe precisely as it was for the 1971 24 Hours of Le Mans.
That was the year the “Classic Le Mans” circuit was changed forever; for 1972, Maison Blanche was no more, replaced by the Porsche Curves, and the classic track, forever captured by McQueen’s iconic Hollywood movie, is finally yours to experience in Project CARS 2.
That track was changed as response to the phenomenal speeds that were being reached by the shrieking Ferrari 512s and Porsche 917s with their fire-breathing 5-litre lumps. Both cars were trapped at over 360kmh in the 1971 race (it would take almost 20 years before those records were beaten) and both are in the “Spirit of Le Mans” Pack.
Those two years at Le Mans, 1970 and 1971, have gone down into the history books as perhaps the greatest era of sportscar racing―a moment in time when Porsche and Ferrari duked it out for the world title in a series of races known as the “Battle of the Titans”.
Not until 2016 would we see manufacturers again enter Le Mans with so much resting on their performance: in 1970, Ferrari were half-a-decade away from their last win, and Porsche were hunting for their first.
Ferrari’s hopes rested on their new purpose-built car―the Ferrari 512 S (the 5 for 5-litres, the 12 for the mighty V12 that was developed in late 1969)―a car that, for many, remains the most beautiful, primal racing Ferrari Maranello has ever built.
And Porsche? The German automaker debuted their Le Mans contender at the Geneva Motor Show that same year, 1969: a car they named the 917.
Suddenly, almost out of nowhere, two 5-litre monsters were ready to do battle at Le Mans.
Ferrari’s confidence was demonstrated by the eleven 512 Ss that lined up for the start. Porsche (who would learn a lesson from that and fill the field themselves in years to come) came with seven 917s in various configurations.
Meanwhile, a Hollywood actor who’d spent much of the season competing in his 908/03 came along for the ride―and with McQueen came an entire film crew.
This was the first Le Mans race not to feature the traditional start that would see drivers sprint across the track to leap into their cars and remain unbuckled until they reached the Mulsanne where they’d fumble about with the safety belts at speeds approaching 300kmh.
The race itself would turn into an absolute classic: intense, treacherous, and incident filled. For Ferrari, the misery would begin barely seven laps in when the factory car of Giunti/Vaccarella broke down. That was just the start of the mayhem that unfolded when a dense thunderstorm rolled in just before 6pm. That’s when Swede Reine Wisell, in his 512 S, hit mechanical problems down into Maison Blanche: Nursing a seriously sick Ferrari, Wisell pulled offline and tried to get back to the pits. Derek Bell, unsighted by the rain and the spray, burst onto Wisell’s car a few seconds later. In a flash, Bell managed to miss Wisell’s Ferrari, his quick reactions provoking a tank-slapper as his rear-end stepped out at 270kmh. Bell corrected it all, and kept his foot in.
He’d been a lucky boy. How lucky was demonstrated moments later when Clay Regazzoni’s factory Ferrari struck the Wisell Ferrari at full whack. Regazzoni went off in a hail of pain, sound, and splintering metal, haplessly spinning down the road before he was collected, in turn, by the 512 S of Mike Parkes in the sister factory car. Parkes smashed headlong into Regazzoni before bouncing off into Wisell, taking the Wisell Ferrari into the barriers. Then Parkes’ 512 S exploded and burnt to a cinder.
Half a lap later, Bell’s 512 S began to blow massive trails of ominous black smoke; in avoiding Wisell, Bell had taken too many revs and soon enough, Bell, too, was out.
Three factory 512s and two belonging to privateer outfit Filipinetti were all out of the race.
That left Ferrari’s hopes in the sublime hands of Jacky Ickx. And when the rain really began falling hard with the night, it seemed as if Ferrari’s luck was in. The 512 S in the rain was handling well, and in Ickx, Ferrari had the best wet endurance driver in the world. Ickx began pushing and just after midnight, he’d miraculously driven his factory Ferrari into second place, gaining inexorably on the leading Porsche 917.
That run, which could so easily have ended in triumph, ended in tragedy instead when, unseen in a night thick with rain and fog, Ickx lost control of his 512 S at the Ford Chicane and had a heartbreaking accident. Less than nine hours into the event, then, Ferrari had now lost most of the eleven 512s entered, and half of those to accidents. It was that kind of Le Mans.
With dawn came not sunshine but more rain, and the slick surface continued to bite drivers. By the time it was all over, only 16 cars of the 51 entered would actually finish the race, and of those, only seven were officially classified. A dozen of those 16 cars were Porsches including the winning 917 and, quite astonishingly, the number 29 Porsche 908/02―otherwise known as the movie camera-car for McQueen’s film (sans McQueen himself who’d been prevented from racing due to the film’s insurers).
It was quite a day for Porsche; not only did the Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood 917K capture Porsche’s first overall Le Mans, but a Porsche had won all four classes and finished 1,2,3. Hermann himself quit racing that very afternoon, and there was something providential about a man who’d won Porsche’s first major race at the Panamericana a decade before, and who’d promised his wife he’d quit the day he won the “big one”, giving Porsche its first-ever overall win.
Porsche went on to claim the Championship of Makes by winning every round of the championship bar Sebring. By early autumn, Ferrari, whose 512 S was close but just couldn’t overcome the 917s, responded by redeveloping the 512 S into the 512 M―M for modificato.
This, too, is in the “Spirit of Le Mans” Pack.
The 2016 24-Hours of Le Mans race has gone down as one of the great classic editions of the world’s most beloved endurance race. Not surprising, given this was the year Porsche came to defend their title with a wholly revamped 919 Hybrid, Toyota brought their brand new TS050 Hybrid, and Audi―that had made Le Mans their own for much of the 21st century―pinned their hopes on the significantly redesigned 2016-spec R18.
All three are in the “Spirit of Le Mans” Pack for Project CARS 2.
Millions spent on state-of-the-art hybrids that were on the absolute cutting edge of technology, and for each manufacturer, so much to race for: Toyota desperate to finally break their jinx at Le Mans after finishing runners-up on no less than five occasions; Porsche looking to deliver back-to-back wins with their 919; and Audi, looking to cement their Le Mans pedigree that had seen them win 13 times in 16 years by defeating arch-rivals Porsche.
Each manufacturer that year came with a car that had been significantly upgraded, and each had its advantages and weaknesses; the pure power of the Audi, the drivability of the Toyota, and the proven reliability that is synonymous with Porsche.
Which would win out?
The Contenders in the “Spirit of Le Mans” Pack: Porsche 919 Hybrid
If you don’t count the RS Spyder, a prototype that was made alongside Penske to run in the American Le Mans Series back in ’05, Porsche―up until the 919 Hybrid―hadn’t built a top category sportscar since the Porsche 911 GT1 back at the tail-end of last century. Porsche’s announcement, then, that it was returning to Le Mans―this back in 2012―to win with a car whose name was a throwback to the all-winning 917 sent the sportscar world went into a frenzy.
The 919 was developed between 2012/’13 and debuted at the 6-Hours of Silverstone in 2014. That season was all about fine-tuning the package―including the 2.0 L direct-injected turbocharged V4 engine with a then-unique energy recovering lithium-ion battery.
The 24-Hour of Le Mans that year saw the 919 show some impressive speed with ex-F1 driver Mark Webber pushing the winning Audi R18 e-tron quattro hard until reliability issues cropped up. But that was as good as it got for the 919: a season chalked up to learning as they finished the championship in a distant third place, behind the all-conquering Toyota TS040, and Audi R18. The season, though, did end on a high when they took their first win in the modern hybrid era at Sao Paolo.
Then they went back to Weissach and spent the winter reworking the entire car.
By the time the evolution of the 919 entered the first race of the 2015 season, over 90 percent of the hybrid Porsche featured new parts, and weight-saving saw it top the scales at 870kgs―precisely the minimum weight allowed in WEC. Power, meanwhile, was up around 900hp from its two energy recovery systems when combined with the V4 turbo. The twin recovery systems claim braking energy from the front axle, and exhaust energy from the exhaust tract. This is all stored in the battery which then powers out over 400hp to the front wheels on demand, making the 919 into an all-wheel drive at full-boost. The use of the lithium-ion batteries was used first by Porsche, and it proved so successful that both Audi and Toyota soon followed suit.
The monocoque on the 919 is a carbon-fibre “sandwich” construction―and along with the engine and transmission, is actually one single unit in order to create an exceptionally rigid design.
Still, despite the massive overhaul, 2015 didn’t begin according to plan; both Porsche cars were well beaten in the opening rounds of the championship at Silverstone and Spa by the Audi R18.
And then, at Le Mans, things suddenly came good for the 919: a 1-2 finish giving Porsche their first Le Mans overall win this century, and the first since 1998 when rookie Laurent Aïello won at his first endurance race: in 2015, F1 driver Nico Hulkenberg did the same.
Inspired by their first Le Mans win this century, the 919 then went on to win every race that season en route to the championship.
New to the 919 was its three-downforce package―medium for Silverstone, low for Le Mans, and high downforce for the remaining rounds of the championship. Coming to Le Mans in 2016, then, the 919 was clearly the car to beat despite having lost to Audi at the second race of the championship at Spa.
The Contenders coming to the “Spirit of Le Mans” Pack: R18 (Fuji) and R18 (Le Mans)
The Audi R18 first saw action back in 2011, and it stormed to the championship and Le Mans wins right off the bat. The further evolutions of the R18 won the championship and Le Mans four consecutive years―2011 through 2014.
The model that comes in Project CARS 2 in the “Spirit of Le Mans” Pack is evolution six of Audi’s prodigious race winning hybrid that first broke cover in late 2015―this in response to Porsche’s winning 919 effort.
The new R18 was a significant evolution; aero was upgraded with the front-end now resembling the raised noses from the pre-hybrid F1 days, and there was a big change to the KERS system with the previous flywheel system swapped out for a lithium-ion battery. The power unit remained unchanged, the ultra-reliable Audi 4-litre V6 turbodiesel, but the power was now close to 1,000hp with its front-axle-mounted KERS unit. Astonishing as its power output was, though, even more astounding was the gains Audi claimed for fuel efficiency of its new engine―a staggering 32 percent less than the engine that powered the 2011 R18. And when compared to the original turbo diesel in the Audi R10s that dominated Le Mans back in the early ’00s, fuel saving was almost 50 percent up, while lap times were down almost 20 full seconds.
The new 2016-spec R18 won on debut at Silverstone (though it was later disqualified due to an irregularity with the undertray), and followed that up with a win at Spa: coming into Le Mans for 2016, then, Audi were looking almost unbeatable.
The Contenders in the “Spirit of Le Mans” Pack: Toyota TS050 Hybrid
The Toyota TS050 Hybrid was the successor to the 2014 championship-winning TS040. But calling it an evolution is like comparing a chicken to a dinosaur.
When it debuted at Paul Ricard in the spring of 2016, Toyota surprised the world by unveiling a whole new engine for their new challenger: Gone was the sweet-sounding normally-aspirated V8 and in was a twin-turbo 2.4-litre V6. Combined with its unique front and rear hybrid motors, the TS050 was pushing out around 980hp―this in a carbon fibre composite with a polycarbonate windscreen weighing under 900kgs.
And like the Audi R18 and Porsche 919, the new Toyota featured a lithium-ion battery.
It finished second at its debut race at Silverstone and was leading at Spa when both cars fell out with engine problems attributed, post-race, to the enormous Gs pulled through Eau Rouge. Still, coming to Le Mans in 2016, there were many who believed this would be Toyota’s year to finally bury a jinx that had followed the Japanese automaker for almost 50 heartbreaking years.
Le Mans 2016: 180 seconds from glory
The 84th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans began under a remorselessly leaden sky―so wet that the field sat in formation behind the safety car for almost an hour, following one another through a gloomy day punctured by lights piercing the heavy spray.
The top-end of the grid had qualified in OCD-friendly formation; two Porsches followed by two Toyotas followed by two Audis. Qualifying, too, had been blighted by rain, but the times suggested this was going to be a close race―only three seconds separated the Audi in sixth from the pole-winning Porsche. Toyota, meanwhile, were less than a second off the pole pace and had looked very strong during free practice runs.
Once the track had dried, the safety car peeled off and the race was on for real, and in no time at all, the front runners demonstrated why this was going to be one of those classic Le Mans races. Audi, Toyota, and Porsche all swapped places and the lead through the first few hours, the pace searing as the cars jostled for position on a quickly drying track.
Soon enough, though, it was clear the Audis didn’t have the pace to keep with Porsche and Toyota. As they fell away, the Porsche 919 of Brendon Hartley began stretching both its legs and its lead from the chasing pack. Veteran Le Mans fans took note when the Porsches came in on lap 13 for fuel, the Toyotas able to stretch to lap 14. One lap doesn’t make a big difference in a two-hour sprint event―but over 24 hours, that kind of fuel economy wins races.
As the summer afternoon slowly turned to night, the two Porsche 919s and the two Toyotas had run away from the ailing Audis. And then the drama began on the ninth hour when the lead Porsche stuttered. The Hartley/Webber/Bernhard car pulled into the pits and, in the glow of the lights, it was quickly pushed into the garage. It would reappear some time after, then fail again, and would eventually finish in a distant 13th position.
Porsche’s hopes now turned to the pole-sitting Jani/Dumas/Lieb car. Through the night, it kept the lead, barely ahead of not one but two chasing Toyotas. Dawn came and in the new light of day, fans awoke and took note of the positions: Porsche, quickly followed by the two Toyotas that remained very much in striking distance.
Those who were watching the lap times would have noticed Toyota’s Anthony Davidson’s times begin to pick-up just after breakfast; lap after lap he began to close on the leading Porsche until, at around 11am, the Toyota got into the Porsche’s slipstream and went around it down the Mulsanne.
Everyone expected the Porsche to fight back; it didn’t happen. The Toyota was flying, pulling out a gap and now, with Davidson head-down in the cockpit, it began to wrench out a lead. Four hours to the checkers, and a half-century of Toyota failure at Le Mans was about to be put right; and not only that, they were about to win by beating the two most winning manufacturers in Le Mans history, Audi and Porsche.
Back in third, the TS050 of Kamui Kobayashi was now also pushing hard and exerting serious pressure on the Porsche right up until Kobayashi lost it through the Porsche Curves in a very big way. He’d manage to crawl back to the pits and get the car repaired, but that was it for the number 2 Toyota. With two hours left, it was now a two-horse race―a straight-up fight between Toyota and Porsche.
Kobayashi’s error pushed the Audi of di Grassi up into a podium position, but the Audis had been suffering throughout the race with reliability issues. It was one of those days for Audi, and a podium flattered them in the end.
With less than five minutes on the clock, the lead Toyota with Nakajima now at the wheel had extended its lead to just over a minute. Nakajima was on his serene way to Toyota’s first-ever Le Mans win. The TV feed tuned in to the Toyota pits, and there were the mechanics and team managers with tight expectant smiles as the clock ticked, inexorably, toward the 24th hour.
Except, of course, that Nakajima was anything but serene: in the cockpit, the Japanese driver was desperately shouting down the radio, a transmission which was somehow not picked up by the team back in the pits. By the time the delayed transmission was picked up, it was all too late.
With four minutes left in the race, the Porsche had slashed the gap from a minute to just over 30 seconds. Was Nakajima just protecting the car? That’s what everyone assumed. And that’s when the pits finally picked up Nakajima’s transmission that was over three minutes old; the Japanese driver wasn’t slowing to keep it all together. Quite the reverse; Nakajima’s Toyota TS050 was failing after 23 hours and 57 minutes of racing.
At 2.57pm―with 180 seconds left of the 24-hour race―Nakajima hiccupped onto the front straight and coughed to a standstill in front of the main grandstand and beside the pit wall.
Around the track, a quarter of a million fans went silent. And around the world, pictures on the TV zoomed to the stricken Toyota TS050, then the Toyota team, standing in abject, disbelieving silence; hands in hair, heads crestfallen, tears in cloudy, misted eyes, scarcely believing the feed on their monitors.
And then the TV panned to the Porsche pit the moment the Porsche 919 of Jani swept past the stricken Toyota: drivers Lieb and Dumas jumped into each other’s arms in astonished acknowledgment that somehow, somehow, they had just won the greatest endurance race of them all.
Davidson, some hours later, when the grandstands stood empty and a summer’s evening took root at Le Mans, summed it all up when he told reporters: “You couldn’t have written the way it ended; no one would ever have believed a movie if it ended like this. To actually live through the experience is pretty hard to take.”
It was, undoubtedly, a moment of drama such that motorsport had never before seen. And those with a memory of Toyota’s Le Mans jinx could do little but shake their heads―truly, this could only have happened to Toyota at Le Mans. All they needed was 180 more seconds to end 50 years of bad luck; and instead …
For 2017, at Le Mans, Toyota returned and this time they came with not two but three cars. Circumstances had changed over the course of the year, and much of it to their advantage; Audi was no longer there, and it would now be a two-horse race between Toyota and Porsche. In qualifying, the TS050 of Kobayashi ripped the record books apart by clocking the fastest ever speed at la Sarthe since the chicanes were placed down the Mulsanne in 1990.
Still, that speed was not enough, and nor were the three cars―only one finished, way off the pace, as accidents and reliability put pay, yet again, to Toyota’s hopes.
For 2018, the three manufacturers that gave the world one of the most enthralling endurance race battles ever in 2016 have been whittled away to one: Toyota, as Porsche has followed Audi into Formula E.
The form book would suggest Toyota will never have a better opportunity for a Le Mans win … and yet …
The Audi R18 in both normal and LM trim, the Porsche 919 Hybrid, and the Toyota TS050 are in the “Spirit of Le Mans” Pack, to join the LMP2s and GTs all already in Project CARS 2.