Kevin Estre scoops a prize but no podium at Le Mans

Kévin Estre - Le Mans 2015
Kévin Estre - Le Mans 2015


83rd edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours, 8-14 June.

Kevin Estre made a convincing debut in the Le Mans 24 Hours with two other rookies, Laurens Vanthoor from Belgium and Chris Cumming from Canada. Their no. 34 OAK Racing-entered Ligier JS P2-Honda shod with Dunlop tyres looked on course for a fourth-place finish in its category until a gearbox problem forced the trio to retire in the 23rd hour. However, Estre left the circuit with the Jean Rondeau Prize awarded to a young French future star on his maiden outing in the greatest endurance race in the world.

He has been a works McLaren GT driver since the 2013/2014 winter and has accumulated a vast amount of experience in endurance events. By adding Le Mans to his tally he has taken part in all the major long-distance races on four of the six continents. On the other hand, it’s the first time he has been racing at the wheel of a sports prototype. Although this car is slightly less powerful than the dream cars he has been driving in the grand touring category for several years, it is lighter. In addition, the LM P2s have much more aero downforce so it was necessary to call himself into question before getting behind the wheel of such a car on the Sarthe circuit that really sorts the wheat from the chaff! This year the overall level in the baby prototype category was higher than ever before. The organisers selected 19 cars and several pundits put no. 34 on the long list of potential victory candidates.

The Frenchman arrived in the Sarthe directly from Zolder where he had raced in the Blancpain Sprint Series and had an unlucky weekend at the wheel of his McLaren 650S GT3. Fortunately, the Monday and Tuesday devoted respectively to scrutineering and the autograph session helped him to get back into sparkling form. There was no letup in the Le Mans week with official practice on Wednesday and Thursday and the Drivers Parade on Friday. “Practice was a bit difficult as we had problems finding clear laps between the neutralisations and the traffic on the circuit. We had the potential to do a lot better than seventh on the grid in the category.”

Laurens Vanthoor took the start of the race with a double stint before handing over to Estre who did a triple. “After that we triple stinted with two quadruple stints during the night,” explained the Frenchman. Just before 18h00 he had a big scare when he came up behind a group of cars whose drivers had lifted off on the approach to Indianapolis as they thought they were in a slow zone. Loïc Duval was taken by surprise and slammed into the guardrail after tagging a Ferrari. Kevin slipped through a tiny gap between the Italian GT and the guardrail, and this reflex saved him and helped him to get out of the situation without damage.

After four hours racing the no. 34 Ligier JS P2-Honda was in second place in the category. ”We lost two minutes because of a vibration which turned out to be a false alert. Then Chris went off into a gravel trap. The car wasn’t damaged but it required a thorough clean-out. In the seventh hour we were in tenth place three laps behind the leaders. Chris had an unpleasant experience when another car almost stopped in front of him, and the ensuing contact required a front bonnet change. We pushed very hard to make up places and we were lying fourth four hours from the finish, which would have been a very good result at that level. Unfortunately, in my final stint the gearbox began to make a whistling noise, and when Laurens took over it let go one hour and twenty minutes from the flag.”

Despite this big disappointment Estre was able to draw a lot of positive lessons from his first Le Mans 24 Hours. “I’m pretty happy with my race as I didn’t make any mistakes. Chris, Laurens and I got on well together. It was a great experience. I learned a lot in a fantastic team and I was awarded the Jean Rondeau prize. It’s an honour when you know the story of Jean Rondeau at Le Mans and the list of the previous winners.” This prize perpetuates the memory of Jean Rondeau (1946-1985), the only driver in the history of the Le Mans 24 Hours to win the race (1980) in a car bearing his own name.

Kevin will be racing in France again this coming weekend as he will be taking part in the third round of the Blancpain Endurance with Rob Bell and Nico Lapierre, winner of the LM P2 category in the Le Mans 24 Hours, as co-drivers.