Steady Audi Stuns, Sweeps Le Mans

June 13, 2010

Steady Audi Stuns, Sweeps Le Mans

June 13, 2010

The winning No. 9 Audi drivers, Mike Rockenfeller, Romain Dumas and Timo Bernhard. Photo credit: Rick Dole for Michelin North America

LMP1 and LMP2 Reviews

It’s hard to consider an eight-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the last decade an underdog, but that’s exactly what Audi was going into this year’s edition. Over the last 24 hours, Audi proved why they earned those victories, with a stunning 1-2-3 sweep of the 78th running of the endurance classic. Audi led a sweep of all four categories by Michelin technical partners, securing the tire manufacturer’s 13th consecutive overall win at Le Mans.

Audi captured the win with the No. 9 entry of drivers Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas, and Mike Rockenfeller. Bernhard and Dumas, former ALMS championship winning Porsche factory pilots, are on loan to the German manufacturer for the second straight year at Le Mans. Rockenfeller also won the 24-hour race at Daytona this year, marking an incredible year of success for the young German.

The No. 8 Audi of all new factory pilots Andre Lotterer, Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer finished second, with the No. 7 Audi of former Le Mans champions Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Dindo Capello in third.

It marked a surprise result for Audi, who entered Le Mans with the R15 Plus TDI, a highly revised version of its 2009 challenger with significant aerodynamic and chassis upgrades. Meanwhile, Peugeot’s highly-developed 908 HDi FAP turbo diesels in their fourth year fell by the wayside one at a time.

Peugeot had the speed. Audi had the reliability. And ultimately, that’s what decided this year’s Le Mans.

Just past 7:00 a.m. local time, the No. 2 Peugeot went up in flames with Franck Montagny behind the wheel. That eliminated the all-French driver lineup of Montagny, Stephane Sarrazin and Nicolas Minassian.

Later in the day the No. 1 Peugeot, recovering from an early incident, was on a charge to catch the No. 8 Audi. But a lap after a pit stop, Alexander Wurz suffered the same fate, another engine failure.

Peugeot Sport director Olivier Quesnel was gutted with all three of the factory prototypes out.

They still had one podium chance with the customer Peugeot run by Team Oreca. But yet again, after a similar charge from its driver Loic Duval (who turned in the race’s and week’s fastest lap of 3:19.074), the Oreca Peugeot also had its engine expire with a little more than an hour left. Oreca team principal Hughes de Chaunac was just as despondent afterwards.

The four Peugeots headlined the retirements, but there were plenty of others in the LMP1 class that
failed to finish. That included the Mansells in the Ginetta Zytek, both Lola Rebellion Coupes, both Kolles Audi R10 TDIs, the Michael Lewis/Autocon Lola, and two Lola Aston Martins.

LMP2 was more straightforward, with Strakka Racing taking an impressive win in Le Mans debut for the HPD ARX 01-c. The all-British lineup of Danny Watts, Jonny Kane, and Nick Leventis took the win over one of the OAK Racing Pescarolo Judds and the RML Lola HPD Coupe. The large number of retirees boosted the Strakka HPD to a deserving fifth place overall. The attrition rate didn’t hit this class as heavily – 10 of the 12 LMP2 entrants made the checkered flag.

ALMS regulars Highcroft Racing and Drayson Racing each hit a number of mechanical problems throughout the race. But they can be proud of making the finish. Highcroft briefly led in LMP2 and ran a solid second in class for much of the race, while Drayson was rewarded with a top-ten finish in LMP1 by taking the checkers.

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