Stay in shape trackside photographers, you never know when you may have to flee for your lives! McNish destroys an Audi at Le Mans
At one of the most thrilling and dramatic 24-hour races in Le Mans history, Audi prevailed. against increasingly long odds. And Puegeot must be placing the Maginot Line against their heads after failing to take advantage of Audi’s seemingly-devastating loss of two cars.
At the fascinating thriller which kept 250,000 spectators at the race track and millions in front of their TV sets watching in awe Marcel Fässler (Switzerland), André Lotterer (Germany) and Benoît Tréluyer (France) in the innovative Audi R18 TDI clinched the tenth Le Mans victory in total for the brand with the four rings.
The drama at the 79th edition of the world’s most famous endurance could hardly be surpassed. After Audi had lost two of its Audi R18 TDI cars as early as in the first third of the race due to accidents all hopes were pinned on car number “2” that had secured the pole position in qualifying for Audi. For 16 hours Fässler, Lotterer and Tréluyer were on their own in the battle against three factory-fielded Peugeot cars that left no stone unturned to keep Audi from taking victory.
On Sunday morning the four quickest vehicles were still within just a few seconds of each other at the front of the field. The lead kept changing, also on account of the different strategies. And Fässler, Lotterer and Tréluyer continually brought the performance advantage of their diesel sports car to bear which in the first year of the engine downsizing was clearly the fastest car in the field at Le Mans. At 3m 25.289s André Lotterer on the 229th race lap even managed to beat the fastest time set in qualifying.
The reliability of the new Audi R18 TDI was impressive as well. Across the entire race distance the vehicle designated as number “2” did not have to come in for a single unscheduled pit stop. Only a problem with the fuel tank caused a bit of a headache for Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich and the Technical Director of Audi Sport Team Joest, Ralf Jüttner. The full 65-liter capacity could not be used. Consequently, André Lotterer had to achieve a sufficient lead for an additional refueling stop in the final phase – in extremely difficult conditions in drizzling rain at times which made the track extremely slippery.
Lotterer mastered this hurdle as well. After the final stop the German started his last stint with a seven-second advantage over the second-placed Peugeot. In the end he crossed the finish line after 24 hours being frenetically cheered by his team colleagues Marcel Fässler and Benoît Tréluyer and the entire Audi squad in first place with a lead of 13.420 seconds. For the three Audi drivers who had finished as the runners-up last year this marked the first Le Mans exploit – and the tenth for Audi.
“It was a fantastic triumph of Audi ultra-lightweight technology in extreme conditions,” commented Rupert Stadler, Chairman of the Management Board of AUDI AG, who had watched the captivating race himself in the pits. “After we celebrated a record victory last year primarily thanks to reliability and efficiency, we not only had the most reliable but also the quickest car this year.” Management Board Member for Development Michael Dick said, “The team as well as the entire Audi squad did a first-class job that deserves great respect. This tenth Le Mans success of our brand was no doubt the one that required the toughest battle – which perhaps also made it the most valuable one. At the same time, albeit involuntarily, we proved that our engineers design very safe cars.”
Allan McNish and Mike Rockenfeller sustained no injuries in extremely severe accidents in the first third of the race. McNish in the Audi R18 TDI designated as car number “3” had taken the lead shortly before the end of the first hour when a GT car hit his left rear wheel in the “La Chappelle” section. The R18 TDI spun off the track, hit the track barrier in a heavy impact and rolled over. The Audi R18 TDI’s one-piece carbon fiber monocoque withstood the crash. McNish was able to climb out of the wreckage uninjured and returned to the race track after a precautionary medical check at the hospital.
Mike Rockenfeller had an even greater guardian angel when shortly before 11 p.m. while running on position two he was also touched by a GT vehicle on the left rear wheel while running at a speed of about 300 km/h. The Audi R18 TDI turned left and at 270 km/h hit the guard rails on the entrance to the “Indianapolis” turn. The carbon fiber monocoque developed and produced by Audi using a new type of technology withstood the impact. The front crash absorber and all other passive safety devices of the car fulfilled their purpose as well. Mike Rockenfeller was able to climb out of the wreckage. As a precautionary measure, last year’s winner spent the night in the hospital but was released again on Sunday morning.
“The safety standards at Audi are simply incredible and have saved my life,” said Mike Rockenfeller. “I’ve never had such an accident before in my career and hope I’ll never have such an experience again.” Allan McNish commented in a similar vain: “I want to thank the Audi designers for having developed a car that you can climb out of unharmed after such severe accidents.”
On clinching its tenth victory in 13 years Audi has added another impressive chapter to its success story at the Le Mans 24 Hours. After the first success of a TFSI engine in 2011, the first triumph of a diesel-powered car in 2006 and the first exploits with variable turbine geometry, VTG, last year Audi again triumphed with innovative technology. “Audi ultra technology has passed an extreme acid test this weekend,” said Head of Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich after the car had crossed the finish line. “If you pursue new paths this always involves a risk. But this risk has absolutely paid off. The Audi R18 TDI was in a class of its own at Le Mans 2011. Particularly due to the two extremely serious accidents this has been the most difficult Le Mans race for us in an emotional sense so far. That our team managed to keep the strong competition at bay for 16 hours with just one car is almost unbelievable. Everyone at Audi can be proud of this triumph. However, the news that Allan (McNish) and Mike (Rockenfeller) came out of these extremely heavy accidents so well is at least as important as that of the tenth Audi victory.”
After Henri Pescarolo, Jacky Ickx, Michele Alboreto and Tom Kristensen, Benoît Tréluyer is only the fifth driver in history to have won the Le Mans 24 Hours from the pole position. For the Frenchman this was the first victory at his home race, as it was for his team colleagues Marcel Fässler and André Lotterer. With a track record of ten victories now, Audi is now ranking in second place of the honor roll alone.
interview with Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich
Congratulations on Audi’s tenth Le Mans victory. From the perspective of the Head of Audi Motorsport, how difficult was it to clinch this success?
It was the most difficult Le Mans race that we’ve ever contested, but also the sweetest result. One key to success: We used the qualifying sessions to work out a solution with Michelin to drive five stints on one set of tires. And that was exactly the backbone of our strategic strength in the end. We were able to go out five times on the same set without any problems. Our car wasn’t too difficult to drive. It was particularly strong in the quick passages. In the end we didn’t know whether Peugeot would be able to drive one more lap more than we with one tank filling. So we had to take a risk. In addition there was the problem that we had a slow puncture of the left rear tire. Our plan had been to drive all the way up to the end on one set of tires. With such a narrow lead we couldn’t have recovered the time an additional stop would have taken. We didn’t take a risk and fitted new tires. We were exactly within the pre-calculated amount of fuel. One more lap and we wouldn’t have reached the finish line.
You defeated a challenger who was numerically stronger all the way up to the end. How was that achieved?
The entire team of Audi Sport did an excellent job. Everyone worked together one hundred percent and for a single car toward the end. Nobody left the pits; everyone was working for one car – up to five people on the strategy. Normally, that doesn’t necessarily work out. But there were many good ideas. We had a chance and made the right decisions. But we take our hats off to Peugeot. They pushed themselves and us to the limit today. We know our rival Peugeot and know that they’re always very strong. All four cars of our competitor finished the race. We were just fighting with one car in the last two thirds of the race. And, what’s more, with a driver squad which in total had the least amount of experience at this 24-hour race. The other six drivers have won it before, and three of them have even done so several times. Nevertheless, our drivers always perfectly did what we wanted them to do. I’ve always wanted to let these drivers contest Le Mans because their potential for something special was obvious. Therefore, I also didn’t change the driver squad compared with last year. And now we gave them the most difficult task. We required them to drive really fast but without taking any risks.
Two of your drivers had severe accidents and remained unharmed. So Audi ultra lightweight technology and passive safety do not contradict each other?
The Audi R18 TDI is a very stable car. I would like to emphasize the cooperation of the designers. The ACO which takes a strong stand on safety standards deserves to be thanked as well. For this race no stability test had been planned. But then two trials took place anyhow and the result was good – not for our cars but for our drivers.
Quotes after the Le Mans thriller
Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich (Head of Audi Motorsport): “2011 was no doubt the most difficult Le Mans race we’ve ever contested – but in the end with the sweetest result we’ve ever had as well. From such a difficult situation we managed to recover again on our own power and in the end to defeat – albeit with a narrow margin – our really strong competitors from Peugeot. After eight hours we’d lost two of our three cars and knew that it would be extremely difficult with just one car. The entire squad gave everything to do the best for this car. Of course the drivers had to drive it. And they did a really fantastic job – although it was the squad with the least experience at Le Mans. Of course it’s extremely important that Allan (McNish) and Mike (Rockenfeller) came out of both accidents, which were really severe, without any injuries.”
Marcel Fässler (Audi R18 TDI #2): “This has been a tremendous day. The last six hours were incredible. It just seemed like they wouldn’t pass. When I looked at the time I kept thinking it had stopped. I said to myself: The clock can’t be running, it would have had to be over a long time ago. I tried to stand somewhere where I couldn’t listen to any commentators. But that was simply impossible. You could see the dream coming closer and closer. And then there were moments when everything became increasingly difficult, like the situation with the slow puncture just before the end when André (Lotterer) was driving. And then you start trembling again: Will the dream really come true. And then it did come true. It’s really fantastic. We worked hard for this all winter. Le Mans is the most important race. I’m particularly happy to be the first Swiss to have won it.”
André Lotterer (Audi R18 TDI #2): “It was a very intensive race. I was pushing like crazy from the first to the last minute. I felt no boredom in the car. I gave everything that was possible. And I had no choice but to do that either. In the end it worked out. I’m simply happy that together we’ve managed to do this. All the mechanics and everyone else worked so hard to prepare the car. This is a great reward for many hours of overtime. Due to the two accidents yesterday was a difficult day for Audi Sport. I’m very happy that Allan (McNish) and Rocky are okay and that despite the accidents we’ve got a reason for joy.”
Benoît Tréluyer (Audi R18 TDI #2): “We’ve won an incredible race. A fantastic feeling! That was clearly a team victory. We only did the driving. The biggest job was the preparation. Without a fast and reliable car like our Audi victory at a 24-hour race wouldn’t have been possible. I’d also like to mention Marco (Bonanomi) who helped us very much. The victory belongs to the team that has gathered here today. It’s like in soccer: If just one person is missing you can’t win. It’s particularly nice that I attended the same racers school here at Le Mans as Marcel (Fässler) and Sébastien (Bourdais). This makes it all the better to be on the podium here at this venue with them.”
Timo Bernhard (Audi R18 TDI #1): “I’m incredibly happy for the team. The whole team stuck together tremendously in the preparation phase. I take my hat off to car number 2. They drove a superb race. A very strong performance. Naturally, we would have liked to have been among the front runners with our car number 1 as well. But even when we were forced to just watch we could see that the car was incredibly competitive. Until our retirement we were in contention. I can’t deny my disappointment as a driver. But the most important thing is that Mike is okay. He had no choice but to react the way he did in that situation. Congratulations to the whole Audi Sport team. A superb showing. I’m happy that victory has been clinched.”
Romain Dumas (Audi R18 TDI #1): “For sure it’s a good race when you work for nearly one year to prepare and then win this race. Okay my car wasn’t on top of the podium today but I am very happy that it is Audi that has won. We all share this victory. We all work together. That is the strength of this incredible team. Last year we won. Benoit, André and Marcel were second and they were very happy for us and now we are very happy for them.”
Mike Rockenfeller (Audi R18 TDI #1): “I was driving my fourth stint. Just three or four more laps and the tank would have been empty. After the Mulsanne corner I was on the long straight heading for Indy. In the second right-hand there was a GT car in front of me. It was running on the left-hand side and I used the headlight flasher. For me it was clear that he would stay on the left as he had the lap before too. We overtake very often at this place of the track. Just as I was running alongside him at 300 km/h he misjudged this. He suddenly pulled over to the right. I still wanted to evade him by going out on the grass. Nevertheless he must have still slightly touched me at the rear. I immediately turned left. It was a severe accident. But the most important thing is that I’m basically okay. The safety standards are simply enormous and have saved my life. I’ve never had such an accident in my life and hope that I’ll never have such an experience again. I’m extremely sorry. We had good chances of being in contention for victory. I would always take advantage of such a gap again because I believe that it was not a risky maneuver. It was quite a normal act of straight overtaking. Consideration should be given to perhaps finding another solution for amateur drivers. it’s simply too dangerous. There were several dangerous incidents for me while I was driving. At that particular moment, unfortunately, the outcome wasn’t so good.”
Dindo Capello (Audi R18 TDI #3): “After the bad start of the race and the big fright we had at seeing Allan’s and then Rocky’s accidents we are pleased that they are fortunately in very good shape. We now can enjoy this great moment and congratulate the team of car #2. The drivers, the team, the engineers but especially all the people from Audi who are back in Ingolstadt at the moment who gave us not only the most beautiful racing car on the starting grid but also the fastest car. That is something unique and now we celebrate. We got pole position and fastest lap and we won the race. It’s more than we expected. Congratulations to everyone.”
Tom Kristensen (Audi R18 TDI #3): “A fantastic result for Audi. All the energy went into one car after we lost two. I was extremely disappointed at the time but overwhelmed by the fact that nobody was hurt, neither Allan (McNish), spectators or any of the photographers and the same for Mike (Rockenfeller’s) accident. Of course we have mental pain but nobody got badly hurt. My biggest respect to Benoit (Tréluyer), André (Lotterer) and Marcel (Fässler). They have done a fantastic Le Mans race. Not to have been behind the steering wheel is personally something I haven’t enjoyed but being witness to a really fantastic Le Mans race is something which goes down in the Audi history books as one of the greatest achievements at the legendary circuit.”
Allan McNish (Audi R18 TDI #3): “Congratulations to Audi. Congratulations to the winning team. A superb result. André (Lotterer) drove superbly as did Marcel (Fässler) and Ben (Tréluyer). The tears in the garage just show the pressure they were under all of the way through the race. For our car’s situation, and for Rocky and his car, as well there is a touch of sadness as it’s not an Audi 1, 2, 3 like last year but today’s race winning performance was just incredible. Regarding my accident: I went down the inside of a GT class Ferrari which was just ahead. As I got past the first thing I knew was I was spinning towards the wall on the left hand side and so immediately realised that he’d tagged the left rear of my car with the right front of his – after that I was just along for the ride. It was a very big accident. I have to say a huge thank you to the Audi designers because they have produced a car that could survive an enormous impact allowing the driver to open the door and get out unharmed.”
Ralf Jüttner (Technical Director Audi Sport Team Joest): “A completely crazy race – I don’t think the world has ever seen anything like this before. Maybe there have been races at Le Mans before with an even closer outcome. But to be dueling with several cars over the period of 24 hours within gaps of just seconds – I don’t think this has ever happened before. It was really nerve-racking. Everyone who has been here will only realize what happened a few days from now. After Spa we were sitting together. Not everything was going as planned there. At that time Jo Hausner wished for us to have a race here in which Audi and Peugeot would be within seconds of each other up to the end. And that’s exactly what we got – I could curse him for that … It was a great victory for Audi – but also for Allan (McNish) and particularly for Mike (Rockenfeller). We had horrible accidents. We’ve got to thank Audi for building such safe cars.”
Facts about Audi’s tenth Le Mans victory
Audi recorded its tenth victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans with ultra lightweight technology, an innovative V6 TDI engine and the first ever use of full LED headlights. The most important facts of a memorable race:
After 24 hours the Audi R18 TDI with start number “2” had a winning margin of exactly 13.854 seconds over the second placed Peugeot. This equates to 763 meters. The victorious Audi R18 TDI covered 4,838.295 kilometers. The average speed was 201.266 km/h.
The race was neutralized five times, four hours 46 minutes (44 laps) were spent behind the two safety cars. The longest full-course yellow lasted 2 hours 20 minutes.
249,500 spectators witnessed Audi’s tenth victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. As a result, the brand with the Four Rings now holds second place alone in the all time winners list of the world’s most important endurance race. Only sister company Porsche has more wins (16 from 61 races). Audi’s winning ratio is an impressive 76.9 per cent.
Audi scored a podium result in all 13 Le Mans events – ten of these factory efforts. In 42 starts since 1999 Audi recorded 32 finishes (76.2 per cent), ten of these wins, five second places and nine third places. Audi achieved 24 of a possible 39 podium positions (61.5 per cent) in the process.
For Reinhold Joest’s team it was the twelfth victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the eighth with Audi. If you include the wins scored by Dauer Racing (1994) and Bentley (2003), in which the team was also involved, Joest Racing is credited with 14 Le Mans wins.
Audi recorded a rare Le Mans hat-trick with pole position, fastest race lap and victory.
The fastest lap set by an Audi R18 TDI in the race (3m 25.289s) was more than a second faster than the best from Peugeot (3m 26.298s). André Lotterer even undercut Benoît Tréluyer’s pole position time from qualifying in the process.
The Audi R18 TDI was superior to its rivals at Le Mans and specifically in the fast corners. In the final sector of the circuit, to which the famous “Porsche Curves” belong, the Audi was eight tenths of a second faster than the best Peugeot.
The highest speed recorded by an Audi R18 TDI in the race along the Hunaudières straight was 336.4 km/h.
Following the Audi R8 (2000) and the Audi R10 TDI (2006) the Audi R18 TDI is the brand’s third LMP1 sportscar to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans at the first attempt.
The lead changed hands a total of 46 times during the race. Four different cars led the race. Audi topped the leader board for 261 of the 355 laps. The winning car was credited with the most laps (246) in the lead.
The victorious Audi R18 TDI visited the pits 31 times. Start number “2” spent 33 minutes 56 seconds in pit lane (“pit in” / “pit out”). The car was stationary for only 21m 03s.
The triumphant trio completed the entire race distance with only nine sets of Michelin tires. The eighth and final tire change was only required because the left rear tire lost air. Benoît Tréluyer completed the longest stint on the same set of tires – 54 laps (five stints).
The 3.7 liter V6 TDI in the Audi R18 TDI consumed an average of only 37.08 liters of diesel per 100 kilometers and therefore less than 40 liters for the first time since Audi competes at Le Mans – helped in part by the long safety car phases.
The chassis number of the victorious Audi R18 TDI is R18-106. The Audi Sport Team Joest mechanics gave the car the nickname “Red Sonja”.
Marcel Fässler is the first Swiss driver in history to win the race.
The three victorious Audi drivers Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benoît Tréluyer can boast an impressive record: up to now they started twice for the factory Audi team at Le Mans, mounting the podium on both occasions. The first Le Mans victory for all three follows last year’s second place.
All nine Audi drivers who started in 2011 have now at least one Le Mans victory to their name. A total of 14 drivers have won Le Mans with Audi to date: Seiji Ara (1), Timo Bernhard (1), Frank Biela (5), Dindo Capello (2), Romain Dumas (1), Marcel Fässler (1), Tom Kristensen (6), JJ Lehto (1), André Lotterer (1), Allan McNish (1), Emanuele Pirro (5), Mike Rockenfeller (1), Benoît Tréluyer (1) and Marco Werner (3).
Benoît Tréluyer was only the fifth driver in Le Mans history to have won the race from pole position (awarded since 1963) and the Audi R18 TDI only the seventh car to win from the pole. A car with the start number “2” won for the sixth time since 1923.
It was the eleventh victory at Le Mans for Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. The Austrian was also significantly involved in Bentley’s win at the 24 hours in 2003.
It was the 28th Le Mans victory for a German automobile manufacturer and also the 28th for a closed car. A diesel powered car won for the sixth time, Audi TDI technology lays claim to five of these.
It was the 20th Le Mans victory for Audi tire partner Michelin, the 14th in succession and the 10th with Audi.
The number of retirements in the 79th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans was particularly high: only 28 of the 56 cars that started reached the finish.
Audi takes front row at Le Mans
With just five tenths separating the top six cars, the qualifying sessions have already ensured this 79th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans will take its place in the annals. The battle for pole position was exciting and closely contested in all three sessions, leaving the outcome of this weekend’s race hard to predict. The second day of qualifying began in similar fashion to the first day. The Peugeot drivers calmly completed their race preparations by comparing the various mechanical and aerodynamic configurations. Stéphane Sarrazin and Marc Gené then picked up the pace, whilst the driver team of car no.9 (Bourdais, Lamy and Pagenaud) remained focussed on its development programme. The no.8 (Sarrazin) and no.7 (Gené) cars took it in turns to hold provisional pole position at the end of the second qualifying session.
But the front row of the grid belongs to Audi. In one of the most thrilling qualifying events in recent years the new Audi R18 TDI and the company’s ultra-lightweight technology prevailed. Benoît Tréluyer set a time of 3m 25.738s and clinched the top grid position for Audi. His French team-mate Romain Dumas was merely 0.061 seconds slower. The Peugeot 908 no.9 will line up in third position on the starting grid, just in front of the no.8 car, whilst the no.7 car will start from sixth position.
For Audi, this marks the sixth pole position at Le Mans in total and the first since 2006 when the brand with the four rings achieved the first victory of a diesel-powered vehicle at the world’s most famous endurance race. Although Audi Sport Team Joest concentrated on preparing for the race again on Thursday night, the three Audi R18 TDI cars set the pace in the two final qualifying sessions.
Benoît Tréluyer’s performance was particularly impressive. The Frenchman clinched the pole position 30 minutes before midnight on the 21st lap of a race simulation on used tires – also thanks to the full LED headlights of the R18 TDI which ensure optimal illumination of the track at night. The competition despite making several attempts to do so tried in vain to beat Tréluyer’s fastest time in the final phase of the captivating qualifying in which the fastest six cars were running within just six tenths of a second.
This was the first pole position at Le Mans for Tréluyer, who together with Marcel Fässler and André Lotterer, will start from the grid in the number “2” Audi R18 TDI.
In the Audi R18 TDI trimmed for uncompromising lightweight design Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas and Mike Rockenfeller clinched the front row as well. The car designated as number “1” had been slightly damaged in the first qualifying session on Wednesday night.
The crew of car number “3” on the other hand is in for a lot of work. While trying to push forward onto the two front rows of the grid from fifth place Le Mans record winner Tom Kristensen slid against the track barrier in the “Tertre Rouge” section. Despite extensive damage the R18 TDI driven by Dindo Capello, Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish can be repaired before the race. The single-component carbon fiber monocoque remained intact in the impact.
The 79th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans will be started on Saturday at 3 p.m. by FIA President Jean Todt. Audi has the chance to secure its tenth Le Mans victory. In view of the extremely narrow time gaps between the front runners it will be more important than ever to deliver a zero-mistake performance in the race.
1 Fässler/Lotterer/Tréluyer (Audi R18 TDI) 3m 25.738s
2 Bernhard/Dumas/Rockenfeller (Audi R18 TDI) 3m 25.799s
3 Lamy/Bourdais/Pagenaud (Peugeot) 3m 26.010s
4 Montagny/Sarrazin/Minassian (Peugeot) 3m 26.156s
5 Capello/Kristensen/McNish (Audi R18 TDI) 3m 26.272s
6 Gene/Wurz/Davidson (Peugeot) 3m 26.272s
7 Lapiere/Duval/Panis (Peugeot) 3m 30.084s
8 Jani/Prost/Bleekemolen (Lola-Toyota) 3m 32.883s
9 Collard/Tinseau/Jousse (Pescarolo-Judd) 3m 33.066s
10 Belicchi/Boullion/Smith (Lola-Toyota) 3m 34.573s
Quotes after qualifying
Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich (Head of Audi Motorsport): “The front of the field is incredibly close together at these 24 Hours of Le Mans. That doesn’t surprise me though but makes me all the happier that we’ve managed putting two of our Audi R18 TDI cars on the front row. That’s the nicest way to say thank you to the squad for their work and commitment during the past few months and also this week. Of course we know that the pole position at Le Mans means nothing yet. But our cars have been very quick on the long-runs as well. I believe that we’ve got a very good base for the race.”
Marcel Fässler (Audi R18 TDI #2): “Clinching the pole position at Le Mans is a fantastic experience. Media interest is huge. The pole also demonstrates the outstanding performance capability of the Audi R18 TDI. Obviously, we’ve been doing a good job during the winter. We three drivers did our job too: All three of us were running fast and reliable. That’s a great start into the weekend – and of course a good starting base for the race.”
André Lotterer (Audi R18 TDI #2): “Qualifying was really good fun. You could say that it was a combination of pleasure and purpose. In the night sessions we mainly tested the tires to find out how they would perform on the long runs. At the same time the car was very quick. My team-mate Benoît Tréluyer delivered a really good lap and clinched pole in the process. I was able to have some fun at the end of the third qualifying session too. The pole position is great but no reason to become euphoric. Our main focus was not on clinching it but on completing our test program in a concentrated manner. We managed to do this. The 24 Hours of Le Mans are long, so the pole is just a very small thing.”
Benoît Tréluyer (Audi R18 TDI #2): “I am very happy. I just really realize now that it is just fantastic for me. I was born so close to here and the 24 Hours is such a challenge and I was not even thinking about the pole position and then I did and it is just fantastic. I’m so happy about the car, about the job by the mechanics, engineers and it’s just such a nice present to them for all the work they have done up to now. We will just try and make it to the end now. The best spot on the grid is not that important it’s always better to get it of course but honestly what I would like to do is to be on the top of the podium at the end of the race. That is the most important thing.”
Timo Bernhard (Audi R18 TDI #1): “Qualifying was mainly focused on set-up work and preparing for the race. We did a good job of completing our program and checked off our list item by item. That in itself makes us feel very satisfied. Being on the front row at Le Mans is fantastic. That not just one but two Audi cars are on it is positive for the whole squad. As far as our car is concerned, we never had a really free lap and were too often stuck in traffic to go on a serious chase for times. But that wasn’t our main goal. Instead we prepared our car well for the race and all three of us have been able to gather a lot of driving time and confidence. All in all it’s been a successful qualifying event.”
Romain Dumas (Audi R18 TDI #1): “That was a great qualifying. We improved the car a lot, which is a very important point for a 24 hour race. The car was quick but unfortunately I didn’t manage to get a perfect lap. The first row for Audi – that is very nice and shows clearly that we are competitive. We were fast with new tires and old tires and that is a good sign for the race. Nevertheless there are still a few things to improve and that’s what we will work on from now on.”
Mike Rockenfeller (Audi R18 TDI #1): “I think we really tried a lot of things and constantly improved the car. In the end we can be satisfied. On Wednesday we were a bit unfortunate when Romain (Dumas) had an accident in which he was not at at fault. A car was standing across the track in front of him. That caused us to lose a bit of time. Nevertheless, we reeled off a great program on the whole. We’re well prepared for the race at Le Mans. Now we’ve got to see what happens. Being on position two is okay. That means you don’t start in all the commotion. It’s a good starting base.”
Dindo Capello (Audi R18 TDI #3): “It’s great that Audi is back on the pole position at Le Mans – it is a good feeling – and congratulations go to Ben. He did a great job to set his lap time. It came during the end of a long run, not even trying to qualify which makes it very impressive. Tom was trying very hard on his last lap and something happened but this kind of incident can happen. Fortunately tomorrow is a free day and we have time to fix everything and be ready for the race. We will be strong in the race”
Tom Kristensen (Audi R18 TDI #3): “Congratulations to the teams of the two sister cars and to Audi on clinching the front row. Our car, too, was fantastic in both qualifying sessions today and had the potential to be far at the front. At the beginning of the night session I had a lot of traffic and therefore tried another fast lap – but unfortunately all three sectors never fit together perfectly. I’m sorry that the guys have a lot of work to do on my car now after my accident and I can already promise now that Allan (McNish), Dindo (Capello) and I will give everything in the race to give them a nice reward for their great work.”
Allan McNish (Audi R18 TDI #3): “From a development for the race point of view, the car was improved a lot and I now feel very confident with the R18 TDI. We were able to push in every situation. Obviously it’s unfortunate and going to be hard work for the guys to repair after the incident at the end but these things happen. It’s part of motor racing. It’s part of pushing. But what really bodes well is that there are six cars covered by around half a second at the front of the grid. That means that we have got a fantastic race ahead.”
Ralf Jüttner (Technical Director Audi Sport Team Joest): “It goes without saying that clinching the pole position at Le Mans is a great thing. But actually I’m even more pleased with the fact that we continually developed the cars further throughout the weekend. All three Audi R18 TDI are good race cars. That’s been shown by the long runs. That’s the most important part about it and the thing we wanted to achieve. And then, if on top if that, the qualifying session results in achieving fast times and securing the front row without really having made a major effort to do so but just grabbing the opportunity and using a little less diesel fuel in the tank and running on new tires then that’s obviously a great thing. If you consider that Benoît Tréluyer’s pole position was clinched at the end of stint then that’s further proof of how well we’ve set up the cars for the race.”
Olivier Quesnel, Peugeot Sport Director: “The number 7 and 8 cars both spent time at the top of the timesheets and the number 9 car came close to grabbing pole at the end of the session. So, all three of our cars has their chances during these incredibly closely contested qualifying sessions. Our drivers did a great job and are happy with the set-up of their cars. It’s quite staggering that after six hours of qualifying, there are six cars separated by just five tenths on a track that is over 13 kilometres! With fifty six cars on the track, it’s the traffic that has the biggest say in who claims pole position. We put on a fantastic show, whilst also completing our working programme, in terms of tyres and set-up. We had no problems at all. Everyone watching has been focussed on the performances of the cars during these exciting qualifying sessions but now we now have 24 Hours of racing to take part in! Le Mans is above all about reliability, good pit stops, and a question of fuel consumption and strategy. The race is going to be extremely testing.”
Peugeot leads early qualifying at Le Mans
Audi at speed in Le Mans…but not enough speed to top Puegeot
After the first qualifying session for the 79th edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours (start at 3 p.m. on Saturday) the three new Audi R18 TDI cars occupy positions two, three and four behind the Puegeot of Stephane Sarrazin.
Audi Sport Team Joest used the first practice day primarily to prepare for the race. All three cars were pursuing different programs on the track. One R18 TDI was equipped with additional sensors to measure tire temperatures among other things. On another car the balance for the aerodynamics version planned for use in wet conditions was tested. The third team was mainly working on the suspension set-up.
To make optimal use of the six available hours Audi Sport Team Joest chose not to intervene in the battle for the pole position in the final phase of qualifying. Only Mike Rockenfeller (Audi R18 TDI #1), André Lotterer (#2) and Allan McNish (#3) each received a set of fresh Michelin tires at the beginning of qualifying on which they moved to the front of the field. They were bumped to positions two, three and four by the best Peugeot only half an hour before the end.
Audi leads Puegeot here, as they did through much of the session
The fastest lap of an Audi R18 TDI was achieved by André Lotterer (3m 27.939s). Mike Rockenfeller was merely one hundredth of a second slower (3m 27.949s). Allan McNish had no free lap and set a time of 3m 28.301s.
At 22:23 Audi Sport Team Joest suffered a set-back when Romain Dumas in the Audi R18 TDI designated as car number “1” hit a GT vehicle that was standing on the track in the Mulsanne corner head on. “I saw neither yellow flags nor warning lights,” reported Dumas, who was not injured in the accident. The safety concept of the new LMP1 sports car proved its viability as well: damage occurred primarily to body parts. A repair before the final qualifying session will be possible without any problem, particularly since all three cars will be prepared partly anew on Thursday according to schedule and equipped with the engines intended for the race.
“Of course it was unfortunate that the accident happened, especially since it caused Timo (Bernhard), Romain (Dumas) and Mike (Rockenfeller) to lose valuable practice time,” commented Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. “But we’re happy that the incident had relatively minor consequences. We collected a lot of valuable data today that will help us with our race preparation. We only sent our cars out on the track on fresh tires at the beginning and immediately afterward concentrated on our work for the race again. That the quickest five cars are within just 1.8 seconds of each other confirms how close the competition is at Le Mans this year.”
The grid positions will be decided in two additional qualifying sessions on Thursday night (19:00 to 21:00 and 22:00 to 24:00).
Audi offers motorsport fans the opportunity to watch the Le Mans 24 Hours this weekend closer than ever before – on various channels on the internet.
When the race starts at 3 p.m. on Saturday the “Audi Live Racing” microsite will go online at www.audi-microsites.com/lemans. On the microsite Audi will be delivering a 24-hour live stream with onboard footage of the three Audi R18 TDI cars. In addition, telemetry data of the respective vehicle such as speed, selected gear and position on the track will be available online. Every two hours the microsite will provide a summary of the race. On Twitter the five-time Le Mans winner Emanuele Pirro will contribute current information and assessments of how the race is developing.
At www.twitter.com/Audi__Sport and www.facebook.com/AudiSport motorsport fans have been able to find brief info, photos and videos from Le Mans since the Technical Scrutineering event on Monday. Users are receiving behind-the-scenes insights into Audi Sport Team Joest and have the feeling of being part of the action “live” themselves. The Facebook page of Audi Sport has already recorded more than 35,000 “friends”, with thousands of new fans joining them every day. The free “Audi Sport” iPhone app offers a live ticker.
Audi.tv is airing extensive reports from Le Mans as well – and TV coverage of the world’s most important race will be more comprehensive than ever before. Eurosport is broadcasting a total of 40 hours live from Le Mans, with non-stop coverage of the race on its two channels, Eurosport 1 and 2. The program of SPEED TV in the USA is similarly extensive.
In addition, in Germany, SAT.1 will air live reports from Le Mans. Presenter Verena Wriedt and the former Audi factory driver Hans-Joachim Stuck will be on the air with special programs on Saturday night at 18:30 and on Sunday morning at 07:50 (CET). On Tuesday night SAT.1 will broadcast an extensive background report of the “race of the year” on its “24 Stunden” (“24 Hours”) program.
scrutineering—or tech—at Le Mans
Audi has already won the Le Mans 24 Hours nine times since 2000 and is competing for its tenth overall victory in total with the innovative Audi R18 TDI this year. The three cars are fielded by Audi Sport Team Joest. The drivers running in car number “1” are last year’s winners Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas and Mike Rockenfeller. Car number “2” is driven by Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benoît Tréluyer. In car number “3” Dindo Capello, Le Mans record winner Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish are taking turns at the wheel.
The race will be started by FIA President Jean Todt at 3 p.m. on Saturday.