While Mark Webber, freshly retired from Formula 1 at the end of 2013, was the highest profile ex-F1 star racing at the Circuit de la Sarthe this past weekend, the Le Mans field, as is so often the case, was graced by a heap of former-F1 talent, with 19 former racers competing in the 2014 event.
While there was ultimately heartbreak for Webber and the rest of the #20 Porsche crew on the marques return to Le Mans, as the car slowed from second overall late in the race, there was success for a number of other former-F1 stars up and down the field, with four ex-F1 racers on the overall podium and a GTE class win for two more.
Lucas di Grassi and Marc Gene – the latter standing in for Loic Duval, who was fortunate to escape with just cuts and bruises after a horror smash at the Porsche Curves on Friday – took the honours of being the highest placed ex-F1 racers at the chequered flag, with the pair, who shared driving duties alongside Le Mans legend Tom Kristensen coming home second overall in the #1 Audi, three laps down on the sister car of Benoit Treluyer, Marcel Fassler and one-time F1 tester Andre Lotterer.
Di Grassi spent just a single year in Formula One at Virgin Racing – now Marussia – during the team’s debut season in 2010 before joining Audi in 2012, while Gene – a Le Mans winner in 2009 with Peugeot – made his F1 debut in 1999 with Minardi, spending two years with the little Italian team before joining Williams as a reserve driver in 2001, later joining Ferrari in a developmental role.
Toyota’s polesitting #7 car – its line-up made up uniquely this year of former-F1 racers in Alexander Wurz, Stephane Sarrazin and Kazuki Nakajima – led for much of the race before grinding to a halt in the early hours of the morning with an electrical issue, forcing the trio onto retirement.
Wurz, a two time Le Mans winner – in 1996 and 2009 – made his F1 debut for Benetton in 1997, spending four years testing for McLaren before a switch to a similar role with Williams in 2006. The Austrian returned to a race seat with the team a year later, retiring from F1 for good after the 2007 Chinese Grand Prix.
Sarrazin, who started just a single grand prix in 1999 for Prost at the Brazilian Grand Prix, has appeared on the Le Mans podium five times, but is still yet to win the famous race, while Nakajima – son of ex-Lotus racer Satoru – raced in F1 for two full seasons for Williams between 2007 -2009, scoring nine points, with 2014 the Japanese racer’s third appearance at Le Mans.
In the sister #8 Toyota former-Super Aguri driver Anthony Davidson and ex-Toro Rosso racer Sebastian Buemi battled back from an early off by team-mate Nicholas Lapierre in the torrential rain to finish a creditable third for the Japanese manufacturer behind the two lead Audis, benefitting from the late retirement of both Porsches.
Nick Heidfeld, who raced in F1 between 2000 and 2011 – most famously alongside Robert Kubica at BMW – came home fourth overall in the all-new Rebellion R-One, in a car shared with Mathias Beche and Nicholas Prost.
One time Red Bull driver Christian Klien – sharing the #43 Newblood by Morand Racing Morgan with Gary Hirsch and Romain Brandela – was tenth overall, sixth in the LMP2 class, on what was the Austrian’s fourth appearance at Le Mans.
In the GTE category former-F1 racers’ Gianmaria Bruni, once of Minardi, and three-time grand prix winner Giancarlo Fisichella took a comfortable win for the AF Corse Ferrari team at the wheel of the #51 458 Italia alongside Toni Vilander.
Ex-Williams man Bruno Senna, sharing the #97 Aston Martin Vantage with Darren Turner and Stefan Mucke, ultimately finished a disappointing 35th overall – 19th in GTE – after the long-time class leaders lost time with a broken power steering hose.
90s F1 racers Jan Magnussen, Pedro Lamy, Shinji Nakano and Mika Salo all completed the race, while Olivier Berreta – of Larrouse fame – competing in his 19th Le Mans 24 Hours was an early retirement in the #71 AF Corse Ferrari.
Former-HRT and Team Lotus man Karun Chandhok failed to finish after crashing the #48 Murphy Prototypes ORECA out during the heavy rain that blanketed the Mulsanne Straight early in the race.
Images courtesy of Porsche Media Central and Scuderia Ferrari