How L’Ouest Was Won

June 17, 2011

How L’Ouest Was Won

June 17, 2011

The No. 2 Audi was all the team had left standing after two accidents, and still went on to claim the overall Le Mans win. Photo credit: Rick Dole for Michelin North America

Winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans is far more difficult in the execution than simple strategies may suggest.

In a private briefing with American journalists on race day, Joachim Hausner of Audi said:
• “You don’t win Le Mans. You can only lose Le Mans.”
• “We want to run the longest stints possible.”
• “Michelin has given us permission to run five stints.”

Earlier in the week, Corvette Racing’s Doug Fehan had said:
• “All bets are off.”
• “The car that spends the least amount of time in the pits usually wins.”
• “Our team has three rules: don’t hit anything; don’t break anything and stay on the track.”

So what happened?

Audi lost its “champions” car #3, co-driven by Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen and Dindo Capello in a spectacular crash in the very first hour of the race.

Audi then lost the defending champions car #1 of Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas and Mike Rockenfeller when Rocky was involved in a horrifying crash during the night. That left them with a single car, driven by relative newcomers; Marcel Fassler, Benoit Treluyer and Andre Lotterer to fight off a trio of factory Peugeots and an all-star cast of drivers.

Fight they did, as Audi rallied its three crews and all of its drivers, sans Rockenfeller, to support to the remaining car. Lotterer bettered Treluyer’s pole time by a full second. Treluyer completed a massive 54 lap five-stint run. A race that saw the overall lead change hands 46 times ended with Audi once again atop the podium.

Doug Fehan, Corvette Racing program manager. Photo credit: Rick Dole for Michelin North America

Meanwhile 16 hours into the race, the lead #74 Corvette of Oliver Gavin, Jan Magnussen and Richard Westbrook was sailing along in the lead. Gavin had just completed a rare triple stint, racking up 41 laps and posting his best time on the 40th and final full lap before heading for the pit lane and handing over to Magnussen. Moments later, their hopes were crushed when Jan caught the kerbing and ended up in the barriers and out of the race.

Once again, the depth and focus of the top teams was evident as Corvette Racing came together to hoist the #73 car, then in second place, but a lap down to the lead Ferrari, to the front. With veteran Olivier Beretta overcome by fumes during the earlier two hour plus safety car period, the burden fell heavily to Antonio Garcia and Corvette newcomer Tommy Milner.

Garcia reeled off a triple stint of his own, improving his best lap times on each of his three consecutive final laps before handling off to Milner for a triple stint of his own to take the lead.

Everything Hausner and Fehan said was eventually proven true.

And that is the usually unspoken final secret to Le Mans: “Winners win.”

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