Along pit road at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, eagle-eyed observers at Petit Le Mans can spot a row of banners displaying the overall winners for each of the respective editions of the Georgia endurance classic.
It takes you all the way from Risi Competizione’s Ferrari, the first overall winner, through to Audi, Peugeot, Rebellion’s Lolas and the Michael Shank Racing Ligier. As you’d expect, they’re all top class prototypes – until you get to 2015. There, the picture of a Porsche 911 RSR is a quiet reminder of one of the greatest racing upsets of the past decade.
In today’s modern era of multi-class sportscar racing, it is practically impossible for a GT car to claim overall honours in a major endurance race.
The pace deficit to the prototypes is simply too big and modern sportscars are simply too reliable. Yet, on one rain-soaked Saturday in Georgia in October 2015, Porsche somehow pulled off the impossible.
The story of the 2015 edition of Petit Le Mans is one of unbelievable downpour, technical expertise, a little bit of luck and superhuman driving.
Starting from the very back of the grid after failing post-race scrutineering, the best Nick Tandy could realistically hope for was a class win.
However, things would play out rather differently. By lap 9, the Briton was tenth overall. Seven laps later, the Porsche was running in the top five.
The Porsches, running on Michelin’s wet-weather specification tyres in the torrential downpour, were simply far better equipped to deal with the conditions compared to the Daytona Prototypes, which were on Continental tyres.
After some five hours, following numerous cautions, the race was red flagged. After an hour of waiting, the field was released once again. Among them was the #911 Porsche, with Tandy back behind the wheel.
In a brief spell of green-flag racing, the Porsche moved to third before the safety car was brought back again. After another restart, Tandy found himself second.
Standing inbetween him and an unlikely victory was the #31 Action Express Racing Corvette DP, with Eric Curran behind the wheel. Under normal circumstances, Curran would leave Tandy behind without breaking much of a sweat.
This time, however, things were different. In a stunning display, Tandy wrestled his way around the outside of the Corvette into turn 1, taking the lead overall.
From there, Tandy simply never looked back and was out front when yet another safety car was called. With conditions not improving, the race was called two hours early, and Tandy made history alongside Patrick Pilet.
“We wrote history today,” said the head of Porsche Motorsport, Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser. “Porsche wins Petit Le Mans for the first time, we clinch the first overall victory with a GT car at this classic, we win all three championship titles plus the GTD class – under such difficult condition you can’t get a better race result than this.”
“Nick and Patrick drove an absolutely flawless race over the whole distance, none of our competitors managed this. The way Nick grabbed the overall lead during the last stint after a phenomenal performance… words fail me.”
For Tandy, it was a unique double victory, as he won the 24 Hours of Le Mans overall with Porsche earlier in the year. More importantly, it was the first time ever a GT car had won Petit Le Mans overall and the first non-Prototype win in a major American endurance race since the 2003 Rolex 24 at Daytona.
It hasn’t happened since. Michael Shank Racing won the 2016 edition with a Ligier JS P2 and the race has been won a prototype every year for the part five years, with Cadillac currently on a four-year undefeated streak.
With GTLM embarking on its last race ever this Saturday, it’s a safe bet to say that Tandy, now in a Corvette, won’t repeat the achievement for a second time. But that Saturday night in October 2015 will stand in the history books forever.