Aston Martin Racing factory driver Sam Hancock endured a heartbreaking exit to this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours after retiring from the petrol-powered lead and fourth overall with less than an hour remaining.

The #009 LMP1 coupe had belied the world famous twice-round-the-clock endurance race’s mantle as motorsport’s greatest test of man and machine with a sublime, trouble-free run for over 23 hours.

But luck can be a fickle master at La Sarthe. Having all-but completed his final triple stint and with team mate Darren Turner waiting in the pits to reel off the race’s final 50 minutes, the Aston Martin slowed dramatically with smoke coming from the rear.

The problem terminal, Sam was left with little choice but to park the car at Arnage corner and leave with it any hopes of a first Le Mans 24 Hours finish for another season.

Despite his desperate misfortune, Hancock along with team mates Turner and Juan Barazi enjoyed a fantastic drive for much of the race. Starting ninth, the car maintained a quick and consistent pace that helped promote it one position to eighth as darkness fell on Saturday night.

There the crew stayed until Sunday morning when, following a faultless night-time display, they took the petrol-powered lead after a gearbox bearing failed on the sister #007 prototype.

And when unreliability also struck three of the leading diesel contenders, Hancock found himself an incredible fourth overall with a comfortable advantage over his pursuers, before retiring late in the day.

Sam Hancock:
“Obviously it’s gutting to come so close to the best result of my Le Mans career and have it snatched away at the death. The car had been fantastic up to that point and we were able to lap very consistently throughout the race. But I’m not going to dwell on it too much. The whole team has worked fantastically well this week so it’s as much of a shame for them as me. I’d like to thank my team mates, the 009 crew and everyone at Aston Martin Racing for welcoming me into the team. Despite the result, it’s been a huge privilege to drive for them this week and an opportunity I will cherish. I’ll have another crack in the LMP1 car at Silverstone later this year so at least there’s a chance to make up for this disappointment.

“Although we never had a realistic chance of beating the diesels in a straight fight, just like last season our reliability initially allowed us to profit from their demise. We were on target to equal Aston Martin Racing’s result from 2009 and winning the petrol class again would have been a great achievement. But it wasn’t to be this time round.”

Silverstone’s 1000km classic on September 12 marks the final round of this season’s Le Mans Series and opening race of the Intercontinental Cup.

All pictures courtesy of Jakob Ebrey