An All-Audi/Michelin Podium at Le Mans
Audi secured a one-two-three finish at Le Mans today after coming out on top of a thrilling battle with outgoing winners Peugeot.
The French team dominated qualifying to put its four cars on the first two rows of Saturday afternoon’s grid, and then went on to set the pace for more than half the race. The successive eliminations of the four 908 HDI FAPs left it without a rep at the chequered flag, and enabled archrival Audi to score an emphatic hat-trick: its fourth at Le Mans and its first with the brand new R15 Plus. In addition to monopolising the top three places in the overall standings, Michelin runners took the top prize in each of the four classes for the third straight year.
All credit has to go to Audi for getting every one of its three official entries to the finish; after all, that’s what endurance racing is all about.
The pace and consistency of Timo Bernhard (D), Romain Dumas (F) and Mike Rockenfeller (D) enabled them to score a deserved victory for the N°9 Audi R15 Plus ahead of the N°8 and N°7 sister cars of Faessler/Lotterer/Treluyer and Capello/Kristensen/McNish respectively.
But you have to feel for Peugeot Sport Director Olivier Quesnel and his team who returned a devastatingly blank scorecard at the end of the 24-hour competition. Even the Oreca-run customer car failed to see the chequered flag when it, too, succumbed to engine gremlins with a little more than an hour remaining.
Peugeot’s woes played into the hands of Oreca’s other car, the 01-AIM prototype of Ayari/André/Meyrick, which finished just shy of the podium in fourth place.
The best-placed LMP2 car – Strakka Racing’s HPD-ARX 01c – was fifth across the line to claim its class after a text-book run that enabled it to finish all of six laps clear of its closest threat, the N°35 Pescarolo-Judd (7th). For much of the race, Leventis/Watts/Kane spent their time warding off the pressure of the similar Highcroft Racing car (N°26) but the American machine spent the vast majority of Sunday’s daylight hours in its pits because of an overheating problem.
The Strakka car also collected the €10,000 cheque that went with winning the MICHELIN GREEN X Challenge which rewards the most fuel efficient performances, proving that respect for the environment and performance are by no means incompatible.
The LMGT2 class provided another thrilling scrap as first the N°82 Risi Competizione Ferrari set the pace before being toppled by the new factory Corvettes which were making their Le Mans debut this weekend. The two American cars (N°s 64 and 63) were eliminated in quick success by engine failures early on Sunday morning, however, handing the class win to the N°77 Felbermayr-Proton Porsche 997 GT3 RSR of Lieb/Lietz/Henzler.
One of the biggest surprises of the event was produced by the winner of the LMGT1 category which was none other than the ageing Larbre Competition Saleen S7R in the hands of a line-up of relatively unknown drivers (Gardel/Berville/Canal). As the trio’s more experienced opponents fell by the wayside one by one, their self-discipline and consistency enabled them to complete the distance with a four-lap cushion over the second-placed N°72 Corvette of Polican/Grégoire/Hart.
The fastest race lap was the work of Oreca driver Loïc Duval who posted a 3m 19.074s shortly before the N°4 Peugeot’s demise. His performance beats the previous best round the current 13.629km track (Stéphane Sarrazin in 2008: 3m 19.394s / 246.068kph)
On the subject of records, the winning Audi completed 397 laps for a total race distance of 5,410.713km, an absolute record for the world’s most famous endurance race (previous best: 5,335.313km en 1971).