Andrew Watson enjoyed an excellent debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans as he claimed fifth place in the LMGTE Am class with the Gulf Racing team.
Taking charge of the #86 Porsche 911 RSR, Andrew and his Gulf Racing teammates, Ben Barker and team owner Michael Wainwright, qualified an impressive sixth in class and ran in the top-five for much of the latter stages of the race.
Running behind closed-doors for the first time in history, the race was rescheduled to September as a result of the coronavirus pandemic but still boasted a 59-car grid.
The team began the weekend in fine fashion, posting the fourth fastest time in the opening practice session on Thursday with a 3:57.344. They continued their impressive performance with third place in the second session of the day.
In qualifying, Ben Barker’s efforts of a 3:52.970 were worthy of third place in class and meant the team would progress through to the inaugural Hyperpole session, in which the fastest six cars from each class would enter a 30-minute shootout for pole position.
Friday’s Hyperpole session was a hotly contested affair with the six LMGTE Am runners separated by just a second. Ben assumed the role of qualifying in the session and posted the sixth fastest time, meaning the team lined up in an excellent sixth place out of 22 cars in class for the race.
Looking forward to the race, the team also elected Ben to take the start of the 24-hour marathon. A tricky opening hour for the team meant they dropped from sixth to 12th and a lap down on the leading GTE AM entrant.
Undeterred and with 23 hours of the race still to run, the team set about climbing back through the field. By the fourth hour, the team had gained two places back to 10th.
Ten hours in and, with Andrew having completed his first stint in the car, the team had re-established their presence inside the top ten, running in seventh just 12 seconds behind the #66 JMW Motorsport entry in sixth. At the halfway mark of the race, the team had cleared the #66 car and recovered to their original starting position.
Progressing through the night, the team continued to lap cleanly and consistently with their efforts rewarding them with fifth place as dawn broke in the 16th hour.
From there the team continued to circulate without issue, navigating traffic and keeping the car on-track and taking the chequered flag in an excellent fifth to round out a hugely successful debut for Andrew at the revered race.
“I’m delighted with everything we achieved this weekend," Andrew said. "My first Le Mans has been an amazing experience that I will never forget. Right from the off we had front-running pace and knew we would be in for a good result if everything went well. It’s such a close and competitive field so to come away with fifth place is incredible - as a team we were flawless all weekend and I can’t thank everyone enough for all their hard work.”
With just one race remaining in the 2019-20 World Endurance Championship, Andrew and the team occupy ninth place in the Drivers' Standings with 70 points as the series heads to the Middle East for the 8 Hours of Bahrain from 12-14 November.
Image courtesy of Porsche Customer Racing.