Sunday, June 23, 2013

Le Mans: Audis wins twelfth Le Mans 24 Hours

By Johan Laubscher

The 2013 Le Mans 24 Hours was once again a factory showdown between Audi and Toyota in LMP1. Audi returned with a three-car team and Toyota with two cars. Heading to Le Mans Audi had been unbeaten so far during 2013, after beating Toyota at Silverstone and Spa.

The Audi Sport Team Joest squad consisted of three Audi R18 e-tron quattro cars driven by: #1 Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benoît Treluyer; #2 Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Loïc Duval and #3 Marc Gené, Lucas di Grassi and Oliver Jarvis.

The teams arrived at the Test Day and Audi clearly showed their pace, but the Toyota was expected to have a fuel consumption advantage. Thus a classic Le Mans scenario arose, that of a faster car versus a more frugal car. The ultimate outcome was anyone’s guess.

Race week saw Audi’s pace continue, dominating all of the sessions and securing an Audi 1-2-3 in qualifying. The pole position was set by Loïc Duval in the #2 Audi. However Toyota did top the Saturday morning warm up session, and thoughts turned to the speed vs fuel consumption question. 

The race itself got underway in changeable conditions, and the #1 Audi took the lead pursued by two Toyotas who had moved up to second and third. An intense battle developed in the early minutes, which was brought to a halt by the first safety car session. Allan Simonsen suffered a severe crash in his Aston Martin at the exit of Tertre Rouge. Later the tragic news emerged that Simonsen had passed away. An enormous reception of tributes appeared on the world wide web, showing the impact of Simonsen’s passing. He was a very popular international GT driver and he will be sorely missed by everyone, R.I.P. Allan Simonsen (1978-2013)

The rest of the race continued in a dampened atmosphere, but the race did go on. At the front it was a trade-off between dry and wet running interrupted by many safety cars. The #1 Audi continued to lead until a critical technical problem crippled the car and they lost many laps in the pits. At almost the same time the #3 Audi suffered a puncture at the beginning of the lap, costing them two laps to the leader. This left the #2 Audi R18 e-tron quattro leading the event ahead of the two Toyotas.

It became clear that Audi had the pace in the dry, and that Toyota had very good pace when it became wet. A gap of almost a lap, round about two and a half minutes, eventually stabilised as the conditions seesawed between wet and dry, and also with many hours spent under safety car procedures. By the morning the running order in the top four had remained as the #2 Audi from the two Toyotas and the #3 Audi in fourth. The #1 Audi had completed a very good recovery drive and made it up to fifth overall, after unfortunate problems befell the other privateer LMP1 runners.

The final six hours again saw more changeable conditions and tire choice became very important. The safety car continued to be deployed for accidents which caused barrier damage, totaling many hours spent under yellow. The #2 Audi continued to lead with the #8 Toyota one lap behind, and all was still up for grabs. 

The lap lead over Toyota #8 remained for the #2 Audi as a battle for third place began between the #7 Toyota and the #3 Audi. The #3 driving crew eventually reeled in the #7 and took the final podium position, but the battle continued. Torrential rain hit the circuit with one-hour to go and many crashes and offs occurred, triggering the safety car once more. Unfortunately the #7 Toyota was one of the casualties, as Lapierre crashed hard on the entry into the Porsche Curves. The car was recovered and eventually repaired, but the #3 Audis had moved up into a secure third overall. The #8 Toyota continued to put on a tremendous charge, and even got back onto the lead lap, but the almost flawless performance by the #2 Audi squad saw them keeping control of the race, despite the variable weather.

In the end when three o'clock local time arrived, the #2 Audi R18 e-tron quattro was brought across the line for a tremendous Audi victory. Two Audis finished on the podium with #3 in third and the recovering #1 in fifth. This win brought about a long list of statistics: the twelfth overall win for Audi, the ninth win for Tom Kristensen, a third win for Allan McNish, a third consecutive win for an Audi R18 version and Audi's fourth consecutive victory since 2010. It was a very good event for Audi, and the arrival of Porsche in 2014 makes the year-long wait until the next Le Mans seem very far away.

Photo credit: Audi Sport Communication / Media