Dutch team wins LMP2 class at LeMans
Twenty years after Jan Lammers’s victory and 37 and 32 years after Gijs van Lennep’s achievements in 1971 and 1976 respectively, the team Van Merksteijn Motorsport by Equipe Verschuur has written a new chapter in Dutch motor racing history by becoming the first-ever Dutch team to score a class victory with a prototype in the Le Mans 24 Hours. In the 76th running of the endurance classic at the 13.629 kilometers long circuit, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Peter van Merksteijn and Jos Verstappen took their Porsche RS Spyder to victory in the LMP2 category in front of 258,500 spectators. For Porsche, this success was historic, too: ten years after the brand’s last overall Le Mans win with the 911 GT1, the Le Mans debut of the Porsche RS Spyder now ended with a commanding class win thanks to the Dutch team.
|(L to R) Jos Verstappen, Jeroen Bleekemolen, and Peter van Merksteijn|
“I still can hardly believe it, this is just fantastic. This is what we have all been waiting for”, uttered team owner, Peter van Merksteijn after the checkered flag dropped just after three o’clock in the afternoon and the Dutch team was confirmed as the class winner with the Porsche RS Spyder. “Of course, we had hoped for this, but in such a long race, anything can happen, so that you can never be sure. We had to cope with changeable weather conditions and quite a lot of rain during the night and the early morning hours, and again in the closing stages of the race. However, together with everyone involved, the team has done a tremendous job! Porsche has given us a great car and Michelin provided us with the best possible tires for these conditions.”
Jeroen Bleekemolen, who just like van Merksteijn raced for the third time at Le Mans, called it “the biggest success of my career”. At the start of the race, Bleekemolen had taken care of the first stint and convinced during the race with his consistency. Ex Formula 1 driver, Jos Verstappen, raced at Le Mans for the very first time. “Taking part in such a race is a very special experience. There is nothing you can compare this with: the differences in speed, the length of the track, driving at night…”
A VIP guest on Saturday evening: Prime Minister Balkenende came to visit the team
On Saturday evening, the team welcomed a VIP guest: Dutch Prime Minister, Jan-Peter Balkenende, who is known as a great motor sport addict, relished at the chance to visit the Le Mans 24 Hours, having been invited by his French counterpart, François Fillon. In the team’s pit box, the Prime Minister spoke with drivers Peter van Merksteijn and Jos Verstappen and team manager Frans Verschuur and promised to lend the team his support. This obviously helped!
In the first six hours of the race, the Dutch Porsche had a fascinating battle with the identical car of the Danish Essex team, swapping positions on the first two places in class several times in between them. The team Van Merksteijn Motorsport took the lead in the LMP2 class when the Danish Porsche suffered from a puncture of the left rear tire just after 21.30 h and had to pit for an extra tire change. The repair made the Danish team drop back a little bit and after that, Jos Verstappen drove as fast as he could during a quadruple stint to extend the margin. After that, Jeroen Bleekemolen was in for a triple stint. During Peter van Merksteijn’s subsequent stint, some vibrations occurred in the car, but this problem could be solved quickly. At about the same time, around four in the morning, the Danish Porsche lost five laps due to a lengthy repair in the pits, which gave the Dutch car a dominant lead.