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For the 75th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Audi may have never been in a better position as it packed its transporters and headed to La Sarthe. As the dominant victor of the 24 Hours of Le Mans for almost a decade, the Ingolstadt-based car manufacturer returned to France fielding no less than three R10s (#1, #2, #3) – something it hadn’t done since 2002. With these three cars, they also brought two driver teams of veteran works drivers and a single team of experienced “rookies”. Audi’s fate at Le Mans looked promising indeed.
That an Audi-powered Lola (#5) using the old R8 engine would also be in the field didn’t hurt either. Still, Peugeot had returned to Le Mans with their own diesel-powered LMP1 – a car with plenty of potential, its own all-star driver team and, notably, faster lap times in the Le Mans practice round two weeks prior to the race.
Audi Sport themselves may have fielded a three car lineup for the first time since ’02, though this year marked the first time since their first Le Mans outing in 1999 when one of the silver team cars didn’t sport the accenting color of yellow. It turns out that change was dictated by the drivers. Like most athletes, drivers can be superstitious and none of the drivers wanted a silver and yellow car because, as it turns out, the yellow car has never won Le Mans in the four years in which Audi Sport has run their silver factory livery. As such, the #1, #2 and #3 cars would be painted with roll hoop accented in red, silver and black respectively.
In addition to the Swiss Spirit Audi-powered Lola, several other 2007 24 Hour of Le Mans entrants would lap “le Circuit de la Sarthe” under power by Audi, or Audi-owned Lamborghini. In GT1 was the Japanese Lamborghini Owner’s Club with their Murcielago R-GT (#53), while in GT2 were the pair of Audi-powered Spyker C8 Spyder GT2-Rs (#85, #86). This left only the LMP2 class to go unchallenged by some sort of Audi or Lamborghini entrant, though the extremely strong fields and factory-supported racecars in these classes left LMP1 the only strong probability for a win for the brand – where Audi can and most successfully does support a team.
Also having a strong history at Le Mans, it was Peugeot and their relatively unproven 908 that captured the hearts of the French, who’d been hoping for a domestic winner to the race. To pilot the new car, Peugeot added stars like sebastien Bourdais, born virtually trackside in Tertre Rouge, and French Canadian Jacques Villneuve. The latter would be competing for Automobile Racing’s “Triple Crown”, having a win at the Indy 500 and a Formula 1 Championship under the belt of his white Peugeot racing suit.
Early performance by the 908 in testing had the odds makers likely siding with the French about Audi’s chances for a win. While Audi has never looked stronger, neither has their competition since the R8’s inaugural year of 1999 – one of only two years at Le Mans that Audi hasn’t taken home a win.
Whichever the stronger between these two diesel titans, the overall dominance of the diesel-powered cars did not go unnoticed by the ACO. For 2007, the rules mandated a ten percent smaller fuel tank that dropped from 90 to 81 liters.
Tom Kristensen Racing or Not?
Audi’s own driver lineup was in a state of flux as late as Monday of Le Mans race week. As the Peugeots made their way through checks by ACO engineers during the first day of scrutineering in the Le Mans city center, seven-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen was holding a press conference in Copenhagen to address questions on whether he’d be competing with Audi this year at Le Mans. Even the Spotter’s Guide published by the ACO listed Audi Sport driver Mike Rockenfeller on the #1 R10 team instead of Kristensen.
A massive wreck in the season-opener event of the DTM series had left Tom’s Audi A4 racer demolished and Tom with returning bouts of dizziness. After being released from the hospital, Kristensen said Audi Sport boss Dr. Wolfgang Ulrich had instructed him to “go home, switch off the phone, and enjoy your family.”
The time off may have been particularly appreciated since a new baby boy had been born into the Kristensen family just a week before. However, the repeated dizziness was still a cause of concern for Audi Sport and Kristensen’s doctors.
Tom announced Monday that he would, in fact, return to Le Mans and compete with teammates Dindo Capello and Allan McNish. Though not driving in competition, Kristensen had completed an hour’s drive at the wheel of an Audi A4 DTM “race taxi” in Brands Hatch while Audi Sport was in the UK for the race. His performance there was enough to convince Dr. Ullrich to put Tom back on the roster.
When the Audi Sport transporter arrived in the city center on Tuesday to deliver the three R10s to their appointment at scrutineering, Tom wasn’t with his eight teammates when they first entered the cordoned off media area for interviews. But, as the first R10 was wheeled into the tent where the ACO would begin their checks, Le Mans’ winningest driver appeared in his race suit and bug-eye Oakleys, greeting Dr. Ullrich and Technical Director Ralf Jüttner on his way to join his teammates for their round with Motors TV. Even still, by the time the time his eight teammates would join Dr. Ullrich on the stage for a second interview for the benefit of the attending public, Kristensen had already departed.
When qualifying began on Wednesday afternoon, Kristensen took the first stint at the wheel of the #1 R10. Completing only the three mandatory laps necessary for each driver, Tom brought the car back to the pits and did not return.
Many wondered if the driver would be in top form for Saturday’s race. Even Radio Le Mans pointed out that Audi couldn’t go back on its announced driver lineup at this late date, according to ACO rules. Would they have to withdraw if Kristensen were unable to race?
The 75th Annual 24 Hours of Le Mans
The sun was shining warmly upon La Sarthe as the clock ticked down to this year’s 3PM starting time. Though they didn’t have pole position, Audi’s #2 R10 sat on the front row of the grid, with the #1 R10 right behind it and the #3 “rookie” car to the left, behind the two Peugeots.
Further back in the field, the #5 Swiss Spirit Audi-Lola prototype sat on row seven. The Spykers sat on rows 23 (#85) and 24 (#86). Given it had been unable to complete qualifying, the now-returned JLOC Lamborghini sat in last place on the grid in row 27.
As it turns out the ACO had made an exception for the JLOC team, allowing them to replace their irreparable chassis with a substitute. The Japanese team had worked round the clock to build up a spare car borrowed from DAMS. On the day of the parade, a transporter was making the run to Paris and back with the new DAMS-sourced Murcielago R-GT.
Though not seriously injured on Wednesday, JLOC’s Marco Apicella was not cleared to race in the 24 Hours, meaning Atsushi Yogo and Koji Yamanishi would have to make up a two-man team as it was too late in the game to draft another driver according to ACO rules. The JLOC Murcielago was rebuilt in time to make Saturday morning’s quick practice session, hardly enough time for shakedown before the long 24-hour race.
Traditionally a 4PM to 4PM race, this year’s event was moved up one hour so as to conflict least with French elections. Talk around the paddock suggests this may be more than a one-time change as the 3PM finish works better for TV schedules and newspaper deadlines as well.
Horns blared and the packed grandstands roared as the field of cars began the lone lap around the course, culminating in a running start down the front straight at 3PM when the Audi RS 4 safety car peeled off into the pits.
As the field screamed down the front straight, the #2 and #1 Audis pushed the pace to the right of the Peugeots. Funneling into one main race line as the mass of cars careened towards the first curves, the racers fell into order corresponding to their grid positions – Peugeot, Audi, Peugeot, Audi, Audi. Hot into the Dunlop Chicane, sebastien Bourdais made a slight mistake and overshot the curve, sending his Peugeot 908 wide into the second curve as well and offering a welcome opportunity to the lead Audi.
Dindo Capello made the most of the mistake, passing the Peugeot cleanly and taking first, quickly establishing a pattern of laps around 3:31 that would help him pull a significant lead over the rest of the field. By the end of the first lap, Dindo breezed up the front straight 3-seconds ahead of the leading Peugeot and extended that lead to five seconds by the second lap. The honor of first-lap dominance went to Audi.
With Dindo wide out in the open, it was audibly apparent that Audi had taken off the gloves of the R10 for this brawl. Normally whisper quiet, the R10 was notably louder than its Peugeot competition, with a hint of exhaust visible that you normally would never see.
Only eight minutes into the race, bad luck continued to plague the #53 JLOC Lamborghini Murcielago. The car stopped on the track at the Michelin Chicane without having completed a single lap. Driver Koji Yamanishi exited the car, and it was later withdrawn due to transmission failure – all that work, the mad dash to Paris and the building of the new car for naught.
The other Audi-powerd P1 in the field, the Swiss Spirit Lola entry with the former 4.2 FSI engine from the R8 racecar had moved from its position of fourteenth on the grid to tenth overall.
Peugeot and Audi battled fiercely for dominance in those first few minutes. Lucas Luhr in the #3 R10 quickly passed the #7 Peugeot to take fourth. By 16 minutes into the race, Biela had grabbed second place from the leading Peugeot, passing him at Indianapolis corner. The Swiss Spirit Audi-Lola moved to eighth and two minutes later, just thirty one minutes into this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, Luhr made a successful pass on Peugeot so that the three Audi Sport R10s lead 1-2-3. That formation had to be broken though during the first pit cycle – all cars stopping in, though not all at once, for fuel.
Within an hour, rain began to fall on parts of the circuit. The shower was enough to send out the safety car, causing a mass run for the pits by virtually the entire field. It seemed the RS 4 safety car passed under the Dunlop Bridge with no one behind it, though the #2 and #3 Audis stayed on the circuit for another lap. Rounding the track one more time, Dindo was able to run some reconnaissance of the circuit – coming in the second time around and giving his seat to Tom Kristensen as the car was fitted with slicks. The #2 R10 returned to the track ahead of the safety car and the rest of the field – great pit strategy that helped increase the car’s lead even further.
Unfortunately for Swiss Spirit and a few other cars, an incorrect read on the weather had them back out on the quickly drying track rolling on intermediate rain tires, causing them to return to the pits a lap later in order to change tires again. Shortly thereafter, Lucas Luhr brought the #3 R10 in for a scheduled pit, handing over the wheel to teammate Mike Rockenfeller.
Exiting the car, Luhr was pulled aside for comment by the staff of SPEED and asked to compare the R10 to the LM P2 Pennske Porsche RS Spyder that he drove last year in the ALMS. “You don’t hear the engine,” Luhr stated of the R10. “But you hit the throttle and your head gets knocked back like crazy. It’s a lot of power. But, on the other hand, it is also a lot of weight. They are two different philosophies.”
With spotty showers, choosing the right tires at the right time helped many teams earn or maintain their leads. With track conditions all over the board, this caused some problems for several Audi-powered cars.
First to encounter trouble was the Swiss Spirit #5 car, spinning and off the course backward into the gravel at the Dunlop chicane. Fortunately, it was able to immediately rejoin the race.
In the meantime, Mike Rockenfeller was maintaining a strong pace as he sped around the circuit. The young German driver had just completed the fastest lap yet for the #3 R10 and is said to have been radioed by his team to slow down when his #3 R10 also spun, in this case at the newly redesigned Tertre Rouge. Out of control the heavy R10 slid backwards into the barrier so hard that it left a gaping indentation in the metal fence. The whole course went under a yellow flag conditions as a result.
The last curve before entering Mulsanne, Tertre Rouge is a fast right hand sweeper that is usually taken at around 120mph. The turn was reconfigured over the off-season, with new asphault trenches made in order to motivate drivers to stay on the course. The turn was also shortened by 21 meters – one reason this year’s lap times were expected to be just a bit quicker.
Rockenfeller was unhurt by the impact, though the rear of the #3 R10 was demolished. The car’s spoiler sat against the barrier at the point from which the mangled R10 had been extruded.
In order for the race to be restarted, that damaged section of the barrier would need to be replaced. Track attendants and staff began fast-paced work in an effort to repair the fence.
Dr. Ullrich and the Audi Sport team stood long-faced in the three adjoining works garages, watching the monitors for updates and not believing what they’d just seen. Likely the car was out of contention, but if Rockenfeller could nurse the R10 back to the pits, the team might have been able to get it back into the race. Certainly hard wrecks before by Audis at Le Mans had not stopped the team.
That message must surely have been radioed to Rockenfeller, who worked feverishly on the crumpled Audi. Fifteen minutes later he was back in the car, trying to engage a gear. Probably feeling terrible about his costly mistake, Mike continued to try to salvage the race for the #3 R10. On monitors around the track, you could see him attempting to pull the bodywork, mangled alloy and carbon fiber away from the drive wheels.
Over 45 minutes after the crash, Rockenfeller was still working. He returned to his seat in the cockpit, fired up the engine. It smoked as the drive wheels rubbed against the remaining husk of a tire, but no luck moving the car. The young driver would eventually give up, but not after one of the longest efforts to revive a car we’ve seen made at Le Mans in some time.
In the meantime, most of Tom Kristensen’s first stint was being completed under full course yellow, which had been brought about by the Rockenfeller crash. The seven-time Le Mans champ had logged only three more laps on the #2 R10 before the track went to yellow. It would be over an hour of yellow flag until the green dropped again, and during that time the Dane’s #2 R10 would require a pit due to running hot while driving slowly behind the safety car.
After little more than an hour under green, Jean-Denis Deletraz of the Swiss Spirit team had a close call with his #5 Audi-Lola. Hard into the Ford Chicane, the red and white P1 overshot a curb, leaving the track but avoiding contact and returning to the race. Then, less than an hour later, it happened again in the same place while attempting to pass the #81 Panoz, this time spinning the #5 Audi-Lola. Not long after, the car came to a stop on the circuit just beyond Arnage due to electrical issues.
Unlike Swiss Spirit, Audi Sport was now finding its cadence. The two remaining R10s were running a pace unmatched by the Peugeots, logging the fastest lap of the race so far at 3:29.247. Hitting as much as 13 laps between pit stops, a number equaled on occasion by the French diesels, the two Audis had finally regained the 1-2 positions.
Audi’s dominance over the Peugeots was becoming particularly clear. Theories why suggested Audi had not been showing all of its cards in testing or during qualifying. In addition, Peugeot was unable to match its pace from the practice and qualifying sessions over this longer race. As if to emphasize the latter, the #8 Peugeot began to smoke and limped back into the pits due to a failed right rear bearing assembly. The car would return, but not after losing 16 minutes. Perhaps the Peugeot drivers couldn’t use the inside curbs over a long period as much as they may have done in the shorter testing and qualifying segments.
The Dutch Spyker team was experiencing mixed results with their two orange Audi-powered C8 Spyder GT2-Rs. The more experienced driver lineup of Kane, Janis and Hezemans in the #86 car had moved up to fifth in class, two positions ahead of their grid placement. The “rookie” team in the #85 car wasn’t as lucky and had dropped from 9th to 12th in class, partially due to bad positioning when the safety cars joined the field at one point.
In the meantime, Swiss Spirit couldn’t catch a break. Now at the hands of Iradj Alexander who had just started his stint, the Audi-Lola rolled to a stop at the side of the track when the electrical gremlins that had haunted the team finally got the best of the #5 car. Alexander was stranded and the #5 Audi-Lola had to be abandoned.
As the circuit continued to dry, lap times improved. Within minutes of each other, Stephane Sarrazin in the #8 Peugeot set the fastest lap for his car. Marco Werner quickly did the same for his #1 R10. Then Allan McNish set another fastest lap of the race in the #2 R10 at 3:28.698.
Problems continued for Audi’s competitors from Peugeot. The #8 car would hit the pits again for a second wheel bearing and upright assembly changeout, continuing to fall further behind. Even the less problematic #7 car now relinquished 3rd place to a petrol-powered Pescarolo.
At 21:16, just over six hours into the race, Allan McNish would again log the fastest lap of the race as the late day sun dried the track and evening temperatures began to fall. The Scot flew round, logging a 3:27.684, with Marco Werner on a close pace behind him in the #1 car, until the German made contact with the #63 Corvette in the Dunlop Chicane.
The bump would knock the Corvette off into the gravel, and set Werner off his pace. A pit was necessary, with Audi Sport feverishly replacing a damaged left side plate of the rear wing and some bodywork. While in the pits, Werner handed over the wheel to Frank Biela. Fortunately for Audi, all of this was done while the course was under yellow flag conditions due to an unrelated incident involving the Creation Judd in the Porsche curves. Back out on course, the two Audi Sport R10s maintained a full two-lap lead over the leading Peugeot and Pescarolo.
Having been running a relatively trouble-free race, hardship finally afflicted the Spyker team as well. Czech driver Jerek Janis had just brought the #86 car in for a scheduled pitstop. Shortly after rejoining the race, Janis got an oil warning alarm just before the engine died at Tertre Rouge. Two Spyker mechanics quickly jumped on a scooter and headed to the scene to see if the problem was solvable and maybe talk the driver through a fix from their position behind the fence. Unfortunately, the problem could not be fixed on the scene, and the car was officially abandoned twenty-two minutes later. At least the #85 car had climbed to 7th.
As midnight approached, Audi’s Frank Biela seemed to be making a statement. The fair-haired German driver began his fourth straight stint at the wheel of the #2 Audi R10, logging on the kilometers and maintaining the car’s lead over the rest of the field.
At 1:22 AM, trouble struck the remaining Spyker entry when the #85 C8 Spyder GT2-R went off course at the Michelin Chicane. It turns out driver Alex Caffi had missed the braking point and overshot the corner. The car slowly made its way around the track to the pits with a broken windscreen and damaged front end. Ten minutes after entering the pits, the Spyker Squadron team had the #85 repaired and back out on the course.
Unfortunately for Caffi and Spyker, the remaining #85 would be forced to retire only an hour and a half later. Just after 3:00 AM, Alex was still behind the wheel when the car’s transmission gave out and the C8 Spyder came to a stop between Arnage and the Porsche curves.
By 4:22 AM, Audi’s Allan McNish set another fastest race lap in the #1 R10 of 3:27.204. The Scot’s #2 R10 continued to increase its lead. However, Peugeot had again regained their position ahead of the petrol-powered Pescarolos after dealing with some cooling issues due to rubber buildup on both the #7 and #8 cars.
More than two hours later, McNish would bring the R10 in for a scheduled stop and hand off to temmate Dindo Capello. While in for the pit, the usually like-clockwork Audi Sport team made a small mistake. As the mechanic threw the rear left wheel into place on the car, the R10 was dropped to the ground and the wheel sat at a slight angle against the bodywork – the mechanic’s hands narrowly missing being pinched in between. The car was quickly raised, the wheel pushed fully on and the nut tightened. Wheel in place, the car was dropped to the ground for a second time and tore off into the darkness.
At 7:08, Frank Biela brought the #1 Audi into the pits for repair. A previous collision with a piece of concrete was probably the culprit of some issues the team was having with the car. The steering rack of the R10 was inspected, and a new nose was added before the car returned to the track.
Then, at 7:35, only about ten seconds after Dindo Capello was radioed to verify that all was fine with the #2 R10, the lead car lost a rear left wheel and slid off of the track at the Indianapolis Corner, burying its nose into the fire wall as the stray wheel bounced high into the air and came to rest yards away. According to Dindo, he felt the car slipping out in the bend leading to Indianapolis when the car took air slightly. As he was making contact with the barrier, he spotted the wheel going by and then understood what had just happened to him.
Dindo was removed from the car by track marshals. As a driver still possibly in contention, he had to be careful not to move more than ten meters from the Audi. ACO rules made to keep drivers from returning to the pits for tools, require that a stranded driver not travel more than that distance from the car or they will be disqualified.
After standing for a moment behind the photographers’ fence and getting his bearings, the Italian returned to the car and climbed back into his seat, trying to free it from its resting point even after a flatbed had arrived to carry the R10 away.
With no luck moving it, the Dindo got out and walked around the car, inspecting the situation. Reports from the ACO even suggest the Italian was almost unable to accept that the car was so badly damaged, at times pleading beside the car. Capello would later confirm that a return was impossible mainly due to a broken steering arm resulting in a locked steering wheel. At least he was unhurt.
Dumbfounded faces fell across the team standing clustered back in the Audi Sport garages. That one Audi would have been lost was a surprise. That two were now gone as the result of a wreck was something those at Le Mans had not yet seen before. Even worse, this was Dindo’s 43rd birthday.
This was a different race now for Audi. Dominating the field with just one car left was a luxury Ullrich and his team couldn’t afford. To salvage the win, Audi would have to adopt the slow and steady credo – maintaining the lead, but not taking any unnecessary chances.
After Dindo returned to the garage, Audi Sport put out a release suggesting the wreck of the #2 Audi was not caused by an error in the pits. Commentators on the SPEED television broadcast were focusing on the drop on that wheel two pitstops prior, though it was Audi Sport’s contention that the piece would certainly have failed prior to that point if that had been the case. Unfortunately, determining the final outcome will be nearly impossible as the wheel nut was never recovered from the scene.
I lost the rear left wheel at Indianapolis corner at approximately 260 kph (162 mph). It was a horrible feeling. I was just a passenger. I couldn’t do anything to prevent the crash, and I just hoped for the best. But thankfully, I was in an Audi and I know that our engineers always put safety first. Despite such a heavy impact, I am in one piece and completely uninjured. But honestly, no words can explain how I currently feel.
Le Mans bit us and bit us very hard. I feel extremely hollow, because it now means it’s another year before I can come back here again and have another crack at winning the world’s greatest sports car race again.
It’s hard to believe, and right now difficult to understand. Everything had been good and fine for us. Such an experience is hard on anyone, especially at Le Mans.
It was Dindo’s birthday, so it’s a pity, but the main thing is that he’s well. He was lucky to drive an Audi. Winning is important, but safety comes first.
Not typical for an Audi Sport team, the three drivers of the #2 car were left with nothing else to do but sit and watch the race. Allan McNish wandered up to the Radio Le Mans booth for a chat with the on-air commentators. He thanked Audi Sport and the fans, and then requested that next year there be more British flags in the stands. “Too many Danish flags,” he joked, goofing on the support for Tom Kristensen by his fellow Danes.
The Radio Le Mans announcer requested that everyone within hearing distance make some noise for the Scotsman. As air horns blared around the track, you could hear the emotion in McNish’s voice. “I hear ya boys. I hear ya,” he replied.
Members of the Peugeot team continued to make statements that their car was not competitive with the Audis. During the morning, Sebastien Bourdais was quoted by the ACO saying, “We could not compete with the Audi. We are slowly increasing our pace, but Audi still has a few seconds in hand.”
This much was evident. Smelling weakness with only one Audi remaining, the Peugeots upped their pace markedly. Fortunately, the #1 Audi was maintaining the gap it had built. Even still, one wrong step for the R10 could spell the end of the race for Ingolstadt as Biela raced around in the last remaining Audi-powered car on the track. With mangled examples of two R10s, two Spykers and a Lamborghini Murcielago, the story of Audi’s race thus far could be mostly told by simply peering through the fence at the scrutineering area where all cars abandoned on the track are held until the end of the race.
By 9AM, the sun had risen and most of the bleary-eyed crowd had crawled from their beds, tent, car or any other location where they’d been able to find a bit of shut-eye. By this time, the remaining #1 Audi R10 had completed 282 laps. That figure may have only been one better than the pace set by Audi the year before, but it is important to note that a safety car had been on the course for between 22 and 25 laps of this year’s race.
As the hours ticked down, anticipation rose. Showers moved in on the track and tension mounted when Biela, still out on slicks, went wide at the first chicane. Minutes later the car pitted for rain tires, a change of rear bodywork and a swap for the driver’s seat with Marco Werner.
Shortly after 12:30 PM, the #7 Peugeot returned to the pits. After a moment, it was pulled back into its garage. This would mark the end of the day for #7, with the #8 driven by sebastien Bourdais moving up to take second.
As the rains fell, the whole field slowed. Water pooled on the track and everyone cut their pace. From our vantage point shooting photography at the Ford curves, we watched the R10 pass by behind a slower GT1 class Saleen from Team Oreca for several laps. In the pits, Audi driver Emanuele Pirro held up a sign to the television cameras saying “Safety car?”.
At the request of some team owners, the ACO did eventually send out the safety car with fifty minutes left in the race. Forty minutes later, the RS 4 returned to the pits so that the last ten minutes of the race would happen under full course green even though few were jeopardizing their finishing positions by pushing their cars to pass and risking an accident.
As crowds of guests in the Audi box above the front straight watched, the headlights of a stopped car could be seen down in the corner of the Ford chicane just before the front straight. At first it appeared that the last remaining Peugeot had stalled only several hundred yards from the finish line. In actuality, Peugeot realized that their lead meant they’d locked up second place for the remaining 908 and decided to pause while Marco Werner in the #1 R10 rounded the track for the last time.
Werner soon passed, in formation with the #100 Pirelli Aston Martin and one of the Oreca Saleens, cruising across the finish to take the overall win for Audi. As Werner passed, the Peugeot began to move, rolled across the finish line to clinch second, then stopped in front of the grand stands so that the driver could stand atop the diesel-powered racecar to celebrate before throngs of his countrymen.
As the winning drivers made their way back to the platform by the iconic Rolex clock to receive their awards, Radio Le Mans continued to commentate over earphones around the track. “This will go down as one of the most memorable 24 Hours of Le Mans that I can recall,” said the commentator.
Certainly, the dominance of diesel technology at this year’s Le Mans cannot be ignored. Both Audi and Peugeot showed a clear advantage over the rest of the field with their blistering pace and 13-lap runs between refueling.
For Audi, the race was a bit of a mixed bag. The second win in a row for the R10 marks eight years of Audi involvement at Le Mans with only two of those not seeing an Audi as the overall winner. In that time, Audi has never missed a podium finish.
For the R10, this year’s performance was probably the most impressive. While only one car amongst the three finished the race, Audi never relinquished the lead after Dindo Capello passed the Peugeot at the Dunlop Curve on the very first lap of the race.
2008 also showed a wider proliferation of Audi power across the grid. Both Audi Sport with their R10s and Swiss Spirit with their Audi-powered Lola prototype competed in P1, while the JLOC Lamborghini contested GT1 and the twin audi-powered Spyker C8 Spyders represented in GT2, leaving P2 the only class without some sort of Audi or Lamborghini-powered entrant.
Still, at the end of the day, only one of these cars with Audi DNA made it to the end. The two considerable accidents took out two-thirds of the Audi Sport roster and fortunately neither of the two Audi drivers involved were hurt. Clearly the Audi-Lola car of Swiss Spirit could use some more development time, while the GT1 and GT2 contenders of JLOC and Spyker would have a tough road ahead due to strong factory efforts from Aston Martin, Corvette, Porsche and Ferrari even if they hadn’t run into technical problems. With luck, all teams involved will return for 2008, along with perhaps a few more of the Audi-Lola type.
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