Audi Diesel Power Again Dominates LeMans0
The French are a different bunch of people. The 24 Hours of LeMans, run the weekend of June 16, took place in a small industrial city, nearly an hour south of Paris via high-speed train. The town is of little interest to tourists with the exception of the 24 Hour race, which takes place over ordinary town roads. But don’t let the sleepy little town fool you. It takes brass balls to step into the cockpit of a LeMans racer. “Le Mans is quite rightly billed as the hardest race in the world,” said Allan McNish, a former Formula One driver who has raced here seven times and who won in 1998.
“In this 24-hour period, we will average more than 200 kilometers per hour, including all of the pit stops,” he said. “The car will complete nearly 5,200 kilometers – which is the equivalent of a Grand Prix season in one day. It will do that without a change of the engine, without changing the brake pads or discs, without changing the gearbox, without a change in the suspension or anything.”
LeMans is very unlike Formula One, considered the pinnacle of motorsport. F1 sees fields of 22 cars, while this year’s LeMans has drawn 55 cars and 165 drivers. LeMans has four classes of cars, each running at different speeds (all of them very fast). The result is constant passing and on-track drama. Also unlike F1, LeMans cars feature road-car technology and in fact, many cars are modified road cars, including Corvettes, Aston Martins, Porsches, Ferraris, Saleens and Panoz marques. “Our main target is to win the race and to show that the technology is better than anyone else’s technology,” said Ulrich Baretzky, head of technology at Audi, which has won the race in seven of the past eight years. “The second step is, and must be, that any of this technology can be introduced in our road cars.”
Audi Wins LeMans Again – with a Diesel – Peugeot a Serious Contender
Baretzky’s objectives were once again realized as Audi dominated the 2007 running of the 24 Hours of LeMans. The German-built diesel-powered R10 cars proved the class of the field. In fact, this year, diesel power appears to be emerging as a class of its own.
Hot on the heels of the Audis, French car builder Peugeot joined the diesel ranks with its 908 HDi turbodiesel coupe. After a few false starts earlier in the year, Peugeot topped the time sheets in the first LeMans tests in June, thanks in part to some stellar driving by US Champ Car driver Sebastien Bourdais. The young Bourdais was in fact born in LeMans and now, twenty eight years later, driving around his home town was a thrill for the Frenchman. It paid off with a pole position for the Peugeot HDi FAP, an amazing feat considering the car didn’t even exist on paper a year ago.
The race was more dramatic than several recent editions, with an especially exciting overnight segment. Each of the two category leaders suffered accidents. Rinaldo Capelllo crashed the overall leading Audi R10 number 2 at the Indianapolis curve and was forced to pit. As a result the Audi R10 number 1 took the lead followed by the two Peugeot 908s and a Pescarolo. Risi Competizione’s Ferrari F430 GTC was also forced to withdraw after Mika Salo lost control and crashed the car.
More a Boat Race than a Car Race
In the end, it was diesel power that proved the class of the field, with the Audi R10 of Pirro, Biela and Werner finishing eight laps ahead of the Peugeot of Bourdais, Lamy and Barge. “It is the hardest, most dangerous and longest race in the world,” said driver Marco Werner after stepping from the podium. ” I never expected when we were two laps behind at midnight to win the race. To win three times in a row, thanks to Audi, was great. The last stints were horrible, not car racing, more like boat racing. I was very angry that the pace car took so long to come out and then went in again.’
The last hour of the race was run under caution conditions, with pouring rain making the circuit especially dangerous. Race control deployed the safety car for 50 minutes, but brought it in and finished the race under the green flag. “The end of the race was crazy with horrible conditions, we just tried to get home, “Bourdais recalled. “We had a big fright with the engine half an hour before the end. I think it was designed to run for 24 hours and ten minutes. That’s why I stopped, if there was another lap I couldn’t have made it.” The French-made diesel initially ran into trouble during the night, but after rejoining the race in 8th, the team charged forward and ended up on the second step of the podium. Henri Pescarolo saw his Pescarolo Judd number 16 cross the line in third place.
In LM GT1, Aston Martin won after two previous attempts. The British manufacturer, with the help of Dave Richard’s Prodrive Group (recent purchaser of Aston from Ford) broke the winning streak of the Corvettes with a win in class and fifth overall. LM GT2 was dominated by Ferrari for most of the race, but in the end, an American IMSA Porsche, driven by Long, Narac, and Lietz took the title.