Late clutch drama denies Louis debut podium at Le Mans

Louis Delétraz impressed on his 24 Heures du Mans debut this weekend, just missing out on an overall podium in his Rebellion Racing LMP1 car.

The 23-year-old proudly represented the Swiss team during its final endurance racing event and partnered Romain Dumas and Nathanaël Berthon in the #3 Rebellion R13 – Gibson chassis.

Despite having never driven at the 13.6 km Circuit de la Sarthe in France before, Louis quickly adjusted to his new surroundings and topped the Free Practice 3 time sheets.

He also set the second fastest top speed in FIA World Endurance Championship history when he hit 349 kmh on the Mulsanne Straight.

When the race started at 14.30 on Saturday, Louis was the third driver to take the wheel during each stint. And was at the controls when the lead Toyota encountered turbo problems and dropped time early on Sunday morning.

Unfortunately, Louis also lost valuable time himself when a large rabbit collided with the front of his car in the darkness. The incident caused significant bodywork damage and the Swiss driver had to visit the pits for unplanned repairs which cost a lap.

Despite this setback, Louis and his team-mates held P3 with the end of the race fast approaching. And a debut podium looked a strong possibility – despite having to manage various clutch, gearbox and brake ailments to get to the finish.

But with an hour left to run, Louis was powerless to prevent a brief off-track excursion – courtesy of a long brake pedal.

And, in another cruel twist, as Louis attempted to leave the pits after some minor repairs, his #3 car refused to start. With air in the clutch system, he had to be rolled back into the garage so the system could be bled.

The crucial time that was lost dropped the car down to P4 at the finish, missing the podium by just 69 seconds after 24 hours of hard racing.

“Of course, I really enjoyed my first Le Mans experience – it was tiring but fantastic,” Louis said. “I think we did amazing as a team. But it’s definitely frustrating to miss out on what looked like an easy podium.

“On my final stint, I had alarms all over the car and it was very tense. I had to take extreme action to ensure we finished the race.

“Losing the brake pedal was unfortunate, but it’s something that can happen at Le Mans. However, to then have the car refuse to start in the pits because of air in the clutch system, that was painful. There was nothing we could do.”

Louis’ #3 Rebellion car completed 381 laps in total – a distance of 5181 km – and the F2 regular spent just under 11 hours in the cockpit.

“It was an incredible honour to be part of the Rebellion Racing line-up for its final race, so sincere thanks to Alexandre Pesci [president of Rebellion Corporation] for believing in me and giving me this chance,” Louis added.

“What he and his team have achieved in motorsport is hugely impressive and I’m glad I could help to write the final chapter in this Swiss team’s Le Mans story.

“Reflecting on my own debut, Le Mans was an amazing experience and I definitely want to come back. I think we have unfinished business.”