The 80th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans might not have been the most exciting race in years, but it was a nice race nevertheless. Toyota made its return to Le Mans, a hybrid won Le Mans outright for the first time and some of the Audi drivers didn’t feel like winning it. In the end it was the #1 Audi of Lotter, Tréluyer and Fässler that won Le Mans for the second time in a row.
Audi Sport (2x Audi R18 e-tron quattro, 2x Audi R18 ultra)
As expected Audi won again at Le Mans. The new Audi R18 e-tron quattro gave Audi the first ever hybrid win at Le Mans and their eleventh overall win. For Reinhold Joest the win meant his twelfth overall victory at Le Mans as a team owner.
The #1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro of last year’s winners André Lotterer, Benoît Tréluyer and Marcel Fässler started from pole position and quickly disappeared into the distance. It was only caught when a different pit stop strategy brought the #1 back on track right in front of the chasing Toyota of Lapierre. Tréluyer briefly lost the lead – but regained it in the following pitstop. Fässler had two ‘moments’ that would cost the team some time, but fortunately the Swiss driver didn’t damage his car too much and the #1 maintained its leading position – despite a rear-end change. At 9 o’clock Kristensen briefly put the pressure on Fässler. The Dane took the lead, then outbraked himself and lost it again. The gap was down to a couple of seconds with just four hours to go – until Tréluyer spun his #1 at the pit entry. But his loss of time was nothing compared to that of the #2 when McNish crashed into the wall – trying to avoid a slower Ferrari. An 8-minute pitstop for McNish gave Tréluyer a one lap lead – a lead that it would still have at the finish.
For the crew of the #3 Audi R18 ultra it was a Le Mans to forget. Early in the race Dumas went off at the first chicane. He crashed into the wall, damaging the front bodywork and suspension of his car. Hours later, just after 2.30am, the French driver ended up in the gravel at the Ford Chicane. Just after 12 o’clock and with less than three hours to go Gené did the same at the same spot – once again knocking of bodywork and damaging the suspension. The problems for the #3 Audi meant the #4 of Bonanomi, Jarvis and Rockenfeller could take third overall – despite having problems themselves onboard the Audi R18 ultra, including several slow laps and even stopping at Tertre Rouge.
Toyota Racing (2x Toyota TS030 Hybrid)
Quick pace in the test day wasn’t a one-off and the Toyota’s showed in qualifying and on race pace they were capable of lapping the Circuit de la Sarthe at almost Audi’s place. A strong performance was cut short however, when Anthony Davidson went airborne after being hit by a slower AF Corse Ferrari. The right-rear wheel of the #8 Toyota TS030 Hybrid broke off and air got underneath the car. Davidson cartwheeled towards the barrier and was taken to hospital where two broken vertebrae were discovered. Just before the crash teammate Nicolas Lapierre had taken the lead of the race, but in the following pit stop – under caution – he lost it again. Shortly after the restart Kazuki Nakajima hit the Nissan DeltaWing, causing damage to the Toyota as well. Several attempts were made to rejoin the race, but more issues surfaced and the team eventually decided to call it a day just after 1.30am. Even though not finishing the race the team showed great potential, especially given the limited time between finishing the two race cars and the 24 Hours.
Rebellion Racing (2x Lola B12/60-Toyota)
In recent years things seemed to go wrong at Rebellion Racing at all important moments, but this year the Swiss team made it to the finish with both cars on the podium for the FIA Endurance Trophy for LMP1 Teams. They were always right behind the six hybrids and on their way to take another privateer LMP1 ‘win’.
Strong and fast stints from Prost, Heidfeld and Jani resulted in a fourth place overall finish for the #12 Lola B12/60-Toyota, preventing Audi from taking a 1-2-3-4, albeit 11 laps behind the race winning #1 Audi. The only serious problem for Rebellion Racing was a clutch issue on the #13 of Bleekemolen, Belicchi and Primat, which cost the team over half an hour in the pit. As a result the car dropped down the order and eventually finished eleventh overall and third in the LMP1 privateer class.
JRM (HPD ARX-03a)
Despite not being confident ahead of the race the JRM HPD ARX-03a slowly but steadily made its way to the top six. A high-speed puncture for Peter Dumbreck just before 23.00 on Saturday evening at the Dunlop Curve was a bit of a setback for the British squad, but the Scot returned the car to the pit and after checks the #22 returned to the track – down in 17th overall.
Brabham and Chandhok managed to make their way back to the front, until Chandhok came into the pit with a clutch problem. After this there were no further problems the three drivers managed to get the HPD ARX-03a back into sixth place overall, several laps clear of the leading LMP2 HPD ARX-03b.
Strakka Racing (HPD ARX-03a)
For Strakka Racing it was a rather difficult 24 hours at Le Mans. Even before the start had been given the #21 was pushed down the pit lane when an oil leak in the gearbox was discovered. As a result the British squad started down in 56th and last, several laps down on the other LMP1 competitors.
What followed was an impressive display with fast lap times set by Danny Watts and Jonny Kane, both quicker than any other privateer LMP1 car on track. The Strakka Racing drivers did get the car back into seventh position, but then warning lights came on as the car suffered a water pressure system problem. In order not to overheat the engine and risking a DNF the team parked the car and only returned just before the end of the race, to take the chequered flag and collect some valuable points for the championship. Strakka Racing finished 30th overall.
Pescarolo Team (Dome S102.5 Judd & Pescarolo 03 Judd)
After all the drama in recent years and months everyone hoped this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans would be better for Henri Pescarolo and his team. But it wasn’t to be.
In practice and qualifying the #16 Pescarolo 03 Judd, built from an Aston Martin AMR-One tub, crashed and the crash resulted in Boullion opting not to race the car. Collard and Hall would be the only two drivers listed to race. The other car, the Dome S102.5 driver by Minassian, Bourdais and Ara didn’t do much better with lots of issues throughout the week.
The #16 was announced as a non-starter, but shortly after the race had officially started it rolled out of its pit box and Collard joined the race. He was soon back in – and what then followed were 20 laps of trying, before taking down the shutters and retiring from the race. Hall never did a lap.
Minassian, Bourdais and Ara did more laps, but they also hit problems as the vibrations of the Judd engine installed in the Dome S102.5 caused damage to the car. The team decided to park the car shortly after 9.30 on Sunday morning and it only returned on the final lap – although with 203 laps it had not done enough laps to be classified.
OAK Racing (Pescarolo 01 Judd)
OAK Racing’s race in LMP1 didn’t go as planned as the team suffered multiple engine problems and found out that the Judd engine wasn’t as reliable as expected. Almost an hour was lost in the pit trying to repair the engine and other problems and to keep the #15 Pescarolo 01 Judd in the race.
It wasn’t to be as just after 8 o’clock the car was officially retired – leaving Montagny, Kraihamer and Baguette and the entire OAK Racing team rather disappointed.
(Images: Gerlach Delissen)