Opponents’ Wane is Audi’s Gain at Le Mans

ACO 24 Hours Le Mans, France, June 11-25, 2014

story by Tim Hailey with photos and releases from Audi, Chevrolet, Toyota, Aston Martin

Sunrise crowds can still get close to speeding cars at Le Mans

In a year of unprecedented radically new and untested technologies—and equally difficult strategy demands—it was the time-honored traditions of driver and mechanical failures that defined this 82nd running of the Le Mans 24 Hour Race. And while never showing the pace of rivals Toyota and Porsche, the turtle role suited the all-conquering Audi team well.

Even the turtle has its achilles heel, and for Audi it was the usually dependable, phonetically similar turbo. Both running Audis (the #3 was taken out by spinning, overzealous Toyota and Ferrari during the first of two downpours) had their turbos replaced—a 1200 degree hot potato for the mechanics. Seeming just another planned-for cost of doing business for the amazingly prepared and efficient Audi team.

The winning Audi #2 of Marcel Fässler/André Lotterer/Benoît Tréluyer

So in front of nearly 262,000 spectators, Audi continued its unique string of victories at Le Mans. Marcel Fässler/André Lotterer/Benoît Tréluyer (car #2) and Lucas di Grassi/Marc Gené/Tom Kristensen (car #1) made for a one-two Audi victory.

It marked the 13th Le Mans success for the brand with the four rings in only 16 runs – and may have been the most valuable one to date, as Audi Sport Team Joest prevailed against massive competition by Le Mans returnee Porsche and Toyota in an extremely tough race that was completely open for a long time. The decision in favor of the two Audi R18 e-tron quattro cars was only made in the final phase. “The new Le Mans regulations place an even greater focus on the efficiency of the race cars at Le Mans than before,” said Professor Dr. Ulrich Hackenberg, who as Board Member for Technical Development is responsible for the motorsport program of AUDI AG.

For Audi, the Le Mans 24 Hours was billed as ‘Welcome Challenges’ – and there were plenty of them in the 82nd running of the famous endurance race for the brand with the four rings. Following a serious accident of Loïc Duval in Wednesday’s free practice, Audi Sport Team Joest had to prepare the #1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro in record time again from scratch and to replace Loïc Duval with Marc Gené. That this team was on course for victory on Sunday morning says everything about the feat performed by the mechanics. However, in the end, the change of an injector and a turbocharger narrowly prevented this fairy tale from coming true. With a gap of three laps Lucas di Grassi, Marc Gené and Tom Kristensen took second place.

Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benoît Tréluyer took the lead for the first time on Sunday morning, shortly after 5 a.m., after having put consistent pressure throughout the night on the Toyota that had been leading for a long time. As the turbocharger had to be changed on their R18 as well, car #2 temporarily dropped to third place before moving back to the front in a remarkable recovery during which André Lotterer also set the fastest race lap of 3m 22.567s.

Major misfortune was suffered by the squad of the third Audi R18 e-tron quattro with Filipe Albuquerque, Marco Bonanomi and Oliver Jarvis. Following a strong early phase, car number ‘3’ was hit in the rear at high speed by a GT Ferrari on the Hunaudières straight in pouring rain, . The powertrain of the R18 was so heavily damaged in the incident that Marco Bonanomi was forced to retire after just an hour and a half.

In the hectic first hours, the fascinating Le Mans prototypes of Audi, Porsche and Toyota were fighting captivating duels on the high-speed circuit that kept the spectators in awe. The fans experienced one of the most gripping races in Le Mans history until noon on Sunday. The decision in favor of Audi was only made in the penultimate hour.

“It was a race of the kind you can only experience at Le Mans,” said Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. “There were many incidents and none of the top cars made it across the distance without any problems. The decisive factors were that our Audi R18 e-tron quattro cars were able to drive consistently fast for 24 hours, our drivers made no mistakes and our squad responded properly and quickly to the issues that occurred. In Porsche and Toyota we had two really strong rivals who, as expected, did not make life easy for us. I always believed that, in spite of the particularly difficult prerequisites for us this year, we’d be able to succeed and that we’ve got the most efficient race car. That we succeeded again makes me feel proud. ‘Thanks’ also from me to the whole squad, but to our Management Board and our Group as well that make it possible for us to demonstrate ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ at le Mans year after year. But I also express my respect for the performance delivered by Porsche on their return to Le Mans.”

For Audi, this marked the 13th victory in the ‘24 Heures,’ the eighth one with TDI Power and the third one with a hybrid race car. The team of Reinhold Joest celebrated its 15th success in the world’s most important endurance race. Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benoît Tréluyer, after 2011 and 2012, achieved their third Le Mans triumph.

The Toyota #7 that dominated the first 10 hours of the race fell victim—according to the team—to a problem in the wiring loom and pulled to a stop in Arnage in the dark of night. “It is heartbreaking,” said Kazuki Nakajima, who was driving at the time. “I don’t know what to say. I really feel for the team and for all the people who are supporting us. I think we were doing a great race until that moment. We were leading and showing great pace. Somehow I thought maybe we could make it this time and then this happens. That’s Le Mans and that’s why we come here to take on the challenge. We will try again.”

During the night the #8 Toyota continued to strive for the best possible result and moved into the top six. Progress was interrupted early in the night by an eight-minute pit stop to address aerodynamic balance issues caused by the earlier accident. “I finished my quadruple stint on the tyre compound which we selected for night-time running,” driver Anthony Davidson said dryly. “Initially the car didn’t feel great to drive but as the sun came up and the track started to get more grippy the balance came back and I could start pushing. It’s just a pity we are still only in fourth and some way behind.”

The #73 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R

Chevrolet’s Corvette GTE program used to show Audi-like preparation and results, but have lately fallen on leaner times despite their incredibly beautiful new C7.Rs. With six hours left to go, Corvette Racing’s No. 73 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R continued to fight for a podium position in the GTE Pro class during its debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Antonio Garcia ran fourth as he tried to chase down the third-place Porsche with both cars on the same lap after 18 hours.

The Spaniard was 68 seconds from third place in the car he shares with Jan Magnussen and Jordan Taylor. The first daylight hours Sunday saw the trio fighting back after losing laps to a faulty valve stem for the car’s air jack and twice being separated from its competitors by a safety car in the race’s opening 12 hours. “It’s going quite well, actually,” said Magnussen. “We’ve got good speed in the car, handling is perfect and we’re going as fast as we can. We’re a lap behind the Porsche in third position, so it will be impossible to catch them on the track, but we’re trying. You never know what happens next. After all, this is Le Mans.”

Richard Westbrook was fifth in class driving the No. 74 Corvette C7.R with 6 hours to go. The car had been running in podium contention as well before losing eight laps due to a slipped alternator belt and gearbox leak. Oliver Gavin, driving with Westbrook and Tommy Milner, had reported a low voltage reading and a burning smell inside the car near the halfway point. Upon further examination, the crew found the alternator belt covered oil. “It was quite tough,” reported Gavin. “We lost telemetry. We had to change brakes; Richard was struggling with that. We thought we had fixed the telemetry but that didn’t work. We were trying to monitor the tire pressures, and that didn’t work. I thought I had a tire going down; the car was oversteering massively to the right and it was locking up the left-front. I think it was a symptom of the pressures being cold because we didn’t have a way to measure them with no telemetry. They couldn’t tell me what happened. The tire was low but it wasn’t going down. Then we had a belt come off the alternator and we may have a small gearbox leak. There are a lots of little things that just haven’t run with us over the last few hours. There is still long way to go so we can’t think it’s all over. But the car is quiet edgy to drive. Richard, Tommy and myself will try our hard to keep pushing and pushing. Everyone on the team is motivated but our backs are against the wall.”

Gulf-liveried Aston Martin

The all-Danish crewed #95 Young Driver AMR V8 Aston Martin Vantage GTE raced to victory in the GTE Am class at the 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans. The Gulf-liveried car finished two laps ahead of its nearest rival in what was the largest class of the famous endurance race with 15 competitive GT cars. Aston Martin Racing works drivers Nicki Thiim, Kristian Poulsen and David Heinemeier Hansson will return to Denmark as 24 Hours of Le Mans champions after leading the world’s most famous endurance event for the majority of the race, finishing two laps ahead of their nearest rival.

The GTE Am race win has captured the hearts of millions of fans watching the race around the world as they reflect on the tragic loss of the team’s Danish driver Allan Simonsen here at Le Mans last year. “We have achieved what we were aiming for last year but didn’t succeed,” comments Young Driver Team Owner Jan Struve. “We have now fulfilled it and we know that Allan has been cheering for us and smiling down on us and, of course, he has been in our thoughts. This win is extremely important to us and I’m proud of all of the team and drivers. They are all Le Mans winners.”

In contrast to the joy of the Am class victory, the team’s race-long challenge with the #97 GTE Pro car finished with bitter disappointment as a power steering leak cost them five laps on track and left them in sixth place. The #97 GTE and its drivers Darren Turner (GB), Stefan Mücke (DE) and Bruno Senna (BR) showcased a fine display on GT racing, battling it out with the works Ferraris, Porsches and Corvettes in 18 hours of wheel-to-wheel action before a power steering pipe came loose. “We led the class on and off for the majority of the race,” commented twice-Le Mans GT class-winner and long-standing Aston Martin Racing works driver Darren Turner. “Early on in the race, Corvette showed their pace but the plan was to stay close but out of trouble and to use a triple stint strategy to jump them in the pits. However, the rain came and interrupted our plans and we were left with a new plan; pick them off one-by-one and take the race lead.

“The Corvettes had troubles and the Porsches dropped back leaving us and the #51 Ferrari swapping places at the front numerous times. We were leading and Bruno was on a charge when the power steering issue brought us into the pits.”

Despite the #97 car’s misfortune, the team didn’t miss out on a Champagne celebration this weekend. The pit crew has won an award for the best technical assistance team and presentation. “We’ve seen both sides of motor racing this weekend,” comments Team Principal John Gaw. “The #95 team has long deserved this win and there is a real sense of poetic justice. On the other hand, with cars #97 and #99, we have seen how a very small issue can end the race for the teams that have shown they have everything required to win this race, it just didn’t happen on the day.

“The #99 car drivers have tasted the cruelest side but have dealt with it well and have shown real sporting spirit throughout the weekend. Now we move on and focus on the second half of the World Endurance Championship and look to take as many points from each round as we can.”

Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen and Jordan Taylor were runners- up in the GTE Pro class in Corvette Racing’s No. 73 Corvette C7.R thanks to late-race heroics by the trio. Despite losing valuable laps due to safety car nuances and a faulty valve stem for the Corvette’s air jack system, the No. 73 Corvette and its drivers completed 338 laps and finished a lap shy of the team’s first victory at the French endurance classic since 2011. The runner-up Corvette traveled 2,862.52 miles in the event.

“It’s hard to be satisfied with second since it started so well for us a day ago,” said Magnussen. “We had the car to win but as so often happens in Le Mans, things get in the way. We had some small issues in the pits and quite often picked up the wrong safety car. Three times I was stuck right behind the safety car which means you lose at least one third of a lap. But everybody performed flawlessly – especially Antonio and Jordan – but also the crew and the engineers did a stellar job.”

“My last stint was my best-ever stint in Le Mans, no doubt about it,” said Taylor. “The car was awesome and we were much better on the tires than the Porsche we beat to third at the end. We triple-stinted our tires but they only double-stinted. Regardless we had the strongest package out there today. We were just unfortunate in the beginning of the race.”

The No. 74 Corvette C7.R of Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Richard Westbrook placed fourth in class. The car had been running in podium contention as well before losing eight laps due to a slipped alternator belt and gearbox leak.


Audi quotes after the brand’s 13th Le Mans triumph

Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich (Head of Audi Motorsport): “This was no doubt one of the most thrilling and action-packed races at Le Mans. For us, it was also one of the most difficult ones and that’s why, in my personal ranking of emotions, it takes one of the top spots. The whole week was a period of many highs and lows for us. And during the 24 hours every car was running in front at least once. In the first two thirds of the race, it was our rivals and in the final third we worked our way towards the front. This can only be achieved with a very special team performance. The combination of an efficient concept and a team of strong drivers, who extract the best from it – that was the key to success.”

Chris Reinke (Head of LMP): “The initial concept for the new R18 was created two years ago and for the past nine months we’ve been intensively testing the car. To have reached the aim now, to have overcome all the hurdles and to be on top of the podium is obviously the greatest thing for all of us. Anyone who’s watched the whole race can appreciate the amount of energy that had to be put into this effort. I’m proud of the whole squad.”

Ralf Jüttner (Team Director Audi Sport Team Joest): “This was an exceptional race. Everybody was leading some of the time, pitted for repairs, some retired – this race really offered a lot. And in the end, the best cars with the best drivers and the strongest teams won. Thank you very much guys! Everybody could see how hard they worked and how fast they prepared a completely new car. What nobody saw was the work they did in the past months, which was a whole lot more. All my thanks go to them.”

Marcel Fässler (Audi R18 e-tron quattro #2): “A brilliant race for us, but also one with many highs and lows for all the crews and manufacturers. The spectators saw a spectacular race in which the tables kept turning and that was unpredictable and thrilling through to the final hours. We were within striking distance for a long time, then led the race, and then lost ground again. In the end, fortune was on our side. Not only because of the perfect result but also because of the premiere according to the new regulations, Le Mans 2014 was a milestone for Audi.”

André Lotterer (Audi R18 e-tron quattro #2): “This was a fantastic day for us following some very stressful weeks for the whole Audi squad. The race started well and the spectators saw a great battle between all three manufacturers. When an Audi retired, we chased Toyota as a duo. After our rivals had a problem, the way seemed to be clear. Then we had a problem. But our mechanics never lost their motivation and very quickly changed the turbocharger. They know Le Mans and what needs to be done.”

Benoît Tréluyer (Audi R18 e-tron quattro #2): “I’m overjoyed after this incredible race. There was so much happening and lots of ups and downs. But our team spirit always remained intact. We all felt so sorry about the accident of car number ‘3.’ We subsequently took the lead until we had some problems. When car number ‘1’ was running in front we were sure they’d make it. ‘It’s your turn to win the trophy for Audi,’ we said to them. When they got problems, Tom Kristensen said to us, ’Now it’s your turn.’ There was a nice, positive atmosphere between both driver squads throughout. ‘Thank you’ to the whole team, to our engineer Leena (Gade) and to my fellow drivers.”

Marc Gené (Audi R18 e-tron quattro #1): “When I arrived at Le Mans I had victory in the LMP2 category in the back of my mind. But with all due respect: a podium place in the LMP1 class is obviously a lot more overwhelming. Everything came as such a surprise for me. And of course I also spent some thought on whether my performance was right. But Tom (Kristensen), Lucas (di Grassi) and the whole team gave me great help. Even victory would have been possible for us. But I’m overjoyed with this result as well.”

Lucas di Grassi (Audi R18 e-tron quattro #1): “What a race! I can’t recall when I last experienced such an exciting car race – neither at Le Mans nor anywhere else. Our week with the accident of Loïc (Duval) got us off to a really bad start. The mechanics had to prepare a completely new car so that the qualifying session was just a rollout for us. Then we clearly led the race three hours before the end and the tables suddenly turned again. Even though we’re a bit saddened in the end: this is my second podium in my second Le Mans race, Audi has won and everybody has been rewarded for their hard work.”

Tom Kristensen (Audi R18 e-tron quattro #1): “This race was simply incredible – and that goes for our whole squad. We arrived at Le Mans with a good car. Then we lost a car right at the beginning of the week and Loïc Duval retired. We had to change all our plans. Everybody was telling us that our car would no longer be in contention in the race. The guys prepared everything again from scratch overnight. Then we started the race with Marc Gené as our new team-mate. In the rain, it was a very turbulent beginning. Then we made up ground until an injector had to be changed at night. This was followed by a puncture and subsequently we were leading the race. Our advantage was huge. We just had to reach the finish but then we had a new problem. So we were back in third place but in the end finished in second. We can be proud of this. It was like in a fairy tale and they don’t always have perfect endings. For Audi, on the other hand, the outcome of the race was perfect. This week, we’ve experienced the full range of emotions. Unbelievable!”

Filipe Albuquerque (Audi R18 e-tron quattro #3): “Marco (Bonanomi) drove fantastically. That was a good foretaste of what would have been possible for our car today. I’m sure that we’d have been in contention at the front through to the very end. It’s almost tragic: one minute everything’s okay and in the next it’s all over. When the rain set in somebody hit Marco – he had no chance. This is how tough Le Mans can be.”

Marco Bonanomi (Audi R18 e-tron quattro #3): “I feel incredibly sorry, especially for my two team-mates and the whole squad. Everybody gave everything for success for a whole year during the preparation – and now it was over for us so early. We had the potential to clinch a really good result. I had no chance in the accident. I drove slowly in the heavy rain in order to take no risk on slicks. The situation with the Toyota turned out okay but then the Ferrari drove into my car – that meant the end of my race and unfortunately also for our Audi.”

Oliver Jarvis (Audi R18 e-tron quattro #3): “I’m incredibly disappointed. Not just for me but, most of all, for the whole squad. Many people only see these days here at Le Mans – but preparations that last nearly a whole year are behind this event. I’m sure that today we’d have had a chance for victory too – that makes the retirement through no fault of our own an especially bitter pill following such a strong performance by Marco (Bonanomi).”

an interview with Chris Reinke, Head of LMP at Audi Sport

A long and hard preparation period for the new LMP regulations has been rewarded with victory in the year’s most important endurance race. How demanding was the task?
Of course you can never plan success in a huge sports event. But: we thoroughly prepared for it. It was a huge challenge with respect to the technology, but also regarding the competitors who were also really well prepared. That’s why this 13th victory is particularly valuable.

The regulations this year were designed to result in fierce competition. Were the race cars of the three manufacturers in the LMP1 class similarly fast?

An endurance race is not only about lap times and pure speed. Endurance and team performance are important, but experience and racing luck are crucial too. This weekend was about doing the zero-defect job which all the team members have to deliver. And we arguably managed to do this best. We were the ones to cover the longest distance in 24 hours. That was the thing that counted.

What characterizes the zero-defect job you mentioned?
At the end of the day, you need the best car, the best team and the best drivers at Le Mans. We again had that this year – plus that bit of fortune you always need in life.

For Audi, the program in the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) has not been going completely according to plan so far. Have the tables turned now?
We went full speed ahead in the world’s major endurance race. This success is rewarded with twice the number of points. Although Audi does not lead the standings the victory at Le Mans obviously helps in the World Championship as well. There are five more World Championship rounds to go. We’re far from giving up and continue to expect having good chances.

Facts on the 13th Le Mans victory of Audi

The current Audi R18 e-tron quattro on clinching its Le Mans victory consumed 22 percent less fuel than its predecessor in 2013. With that, Audi has again raised the benchmark.

The regulations allow the Audi R18 e-tron quattro to use clearly less fuel than last year. Audi saved energy through the use of ultra technologies such as optimized aerodynamics, 45 kilograms less weight of the race car, a newly developed 4-liter V6 TDI engine, an optimized hybrid system and a new driveline.

In total, Audi’s victorious hybrid sports car designated as car number 2 used 22 percent less fuel per 100 kilometers than the 2013 R18 e-tron quattro. Ever since the TDI era began in racing in 2006 this has resulted in a 38-percent consumption reduction.

After LED headlights with matrix beam technology had made their way from the Audi R18 e-tron quattro into production cars a year ago, the new Audi laser light is the most recent innovation that has been tested at Le Mans and will now initially be available to customers in a special model.

With 13 victories in 16 events Audi has increased its Le Mans success rate to 81.25 percent. No other automobile manufacturer in the history of the race that has been held since 1923 has clinched such a large number of winners’ trophies in such a short time. Porsche – with a tally of 16 victories – remains the historic record holder. These wins are spread across the period between 1970 and today.

In addition to the winners’ trophy of the organizer, Audi, as the most efficient participant, won the Michelin Total Performance Award in the 2014 Le Mans 24 Hours. Car #2 ranks in front of the #1 sister car in the tire manufacturer’s classification.

At 29 pit stops, Audi changed the tires of the victorious R18 e-tron quattro eleven times, which meant the winners used only twelve sets of tires, most of which had to last for several stints.

Michelin, Audi’s tire partner ever since the LMP1 program was launched, was successful at Le Mans for the 23rd time.

Audi has equaled its own record. From 2004 to 2008, the company won Le Mans five times in succession. The most recent success completes the next five in a string that has been unbroken since 2010.

The team of Reinhold Joest celebrated its 15th victory at La Sarthe. The outfit based in Germany’s Odenwald region won with Audi eleven times and twice, respectively, with a Porsche and a TWR Porsche. In addition, personnel from Joest Racing were instrumental in achieving the 1994 victory of Dauer Racing and the 2003 success of Bentley.

The victorious Audi of Marcel Fässler/André Lotterer/Benoît Tréluyer required 29 pit stops on its 5,165.391 kilometer drive. The aggregated stopping time was 58 minutes and 12.362 seconds. Never before has an Audi R18 covered such a long distance at Le Mans within 24 hours.

The victorious Audi achieved an average speed of 214.927 km/h on its 379 laps. The fastest race lap was driven by André Lotterer in 3m 22.567s. This equates to a speed of 242.213 km/h. For Audi, this marked the tenth fastest race lap at Le Mans.

263,300 spectators watched the 82nd running of the Le Mans 24 Hours on location. A crowd of 245,000 attended last year’s victorious event. When Marcel Fässler/André Lotterer/Benoît Tréluyer won in 2012, 240,000 fans had turned out for the spectacle at La Sarthe.

Tom Kristensen has continued a string of personal top performances. The Dane has been on podium fourteen times in 18 runs now – his nine victories included. His car failed to finish only four events. This means that the Dane has been in one of the top three spots in any of the races he finished.

The long-tail version of the R18 e-tron quattro specifically developed for Le Mans is designed for low aerodynamic drag. This version of the hybrid sports car achieves a top speed that is up to 30 km/h higher than that of the race car for the other WEC rounds.

The safety cars were only deployed four times this year. In total, the race was neutralized for 1.38 hours. In addition, ‘slow zones’ in which the participants had to adhere to a maximum speed of 60 km/h were announced three times. In total, the ‘slow zones’ that were limited to individual track sectors amounted to 1.07 hours.

Following the most recent success, the ten Audi drivers, including reserve driver Marc Gené, have a combined tally of 20 victories in the Le Mans 24 Hours.

Audi has achieved 31 podium results at Le Mans to date. In addition to the 13 winners’ trophies achieved since 1999, the brand has clinched seven second and eleven third places.

Audi’s success marked the eighth Le Mans victory with TDI power, the third consecutive one for the e-tron quattro hybrid system and the 31st victory for a German manufacturer as well as for closed-wheel race cars and turbocharged engines.

Today’s Volkswagen Group brands Audi (13), Bentley (6), Bugatti (2) and Porsche (16) now have a combined track record of 37 victories at Le Mans.

Marcel Fässler/André Lotterer/Benoît Tréluyer decided the iconic endurance race in France in their favor for the third time in four years. Since 1923, the only other unchanged driver squads to have achieved success three times at La Sarthe were Phil Hill/Olivier Gendebien, Jacky Ickx/Derek Bell and Frank Biela/Emanuele Pirro/Tom Kristensen. No driver line-up has ever scored four victories together.

The victorious Audi trio celebrated its success together with the British race engineer Leena Gade for the third time.

For the eighth time, a squad in car #2 has won at Le Mans. Audi was previously successful with the number two car in 2008 and 2011.

38 of the 54 race cars that started the race saw the finish – an arrival rate of 70.37 percent. Two of the three Audis on the grid saw the black and white checkered flag. Only car #3 retired after becoming entangled in an accident on lap 26 through no fault of the driver’s.

This year, Le Mans saw nine race leaders, which meant the lead changed eight times. All three automobile manufacturers from the LMP1 class recorded leading laps. On lap 220, Audi took the top spot for the first time. Audi was the only marque with two different cars leading the field during parts of the race: car #1 recorded 66 leading laps and car #2 was heading the field for 73 laps.

EARLIER: Leaders Dropping Quickly at Le Mans

First it was the leading #7 Toyota, pulled off in the night at the end of the Mulsanne straight. Shortly after sunrise, the #1 Audi that had inherited the lead was in the pits swapping turbos—a 1200 degree hot potato for the mechanics.

With 10 hours remaining of the Le Mans 24 Hours, and having led throughout the night, the #7 TS040 HYBRID stopped on track at Arnage corner, with Kazuki Nakajima at the wheel. The cause of the stoppage has been diagnosed as an electrical problem relating to the loom. The car has officially retired from the race and the team will analyse the car and data to determine more precisely the cause.

The Chevrolet Corvette C7.R remained in contention through the halfway point of the 24 Hours of Le Mans as Tommy Milner’s triple stint kept Corvette Racing’s No. 74 Corvette in the hunt for a class victory. Milner ran second in GTE Pro as green-flag pit stops cycled through at the 12-hour mark. The young American stayed within reach of the GTE Pro class-leading Aston Martin after 12 hours of the French endurance classic while withstanding intense pressure from the highest-placed Ferrari at halfway. Earlier, teammates Oliver Gavin and Richard Westbrook each took turns leading in class.

As the race reached halfway, Westbrook was turning his opening laps of his stint. He and the leading Aston Martin were nearly on the same pit strategy with the Corvette in third place.The top four cars in class were on the lead lap in the dark of night around Le Mans.

Jordan Taylor was fifth in class in the No. 73 Corvette – this after the car lost nearly two laps in the pits when the valve stem that allows the car to be raised on its air jacks failed. Jan Magnussen, Taylor’s teammate along with Antonio, led the race just 40 minutes in before, during and after a hard rain in the opening hour. “I had a couple of hard stints as it seems we’re struggling to find the speed we had earlier,” said Magnussen. “We also had a problem with the air hose of the jacks, which put us a lap down. Antonio is now running on a different tire compound and is making up some of the lost ground. The track also felt different than it did earlier today.”

Garcia also ran a triple-stint during the night to inch the No. 73 Corvette toward recovering its lost lap. “That was pretty good – my first triple stint of the race, with no cautions, just racing,” said Garcia. “It was challenging to find out how far you could push and what to expect from the tires. After the first stint the tires felt great, and they still did after the second, but you still have that question mark in your head on whether they’ll last through the third stint or maybe suddenly drop off. But those Michelins are pretty consistent so no worries there. I managed to keep a pretty decent pace throughout my three stints, and I think I was one of the fastest in our class throughout. It’s a shame what happened to us earlier, because with the leaders racing as close as they do it will be difficult to catch up an entire lap. But I’m glad the other car is up there.”

Corvette has been chasing Aston Martin in GTE Pro

Aston Martin Racing is leading both of the GTE classes at the halfway mark after completing 161 laps of trouble-free racing with its #97 and #95 V8 Vantage GTEs.

The #97 Aston Martin Vantage GTE Pro of Darren Turner (GB), Stefan Mücke (DE) and Bruno Senna (BR) has been in a gripping battle with the #74 Corvette and #51 Ferrari for the hours leading up to the middle point of the race but it is the V8 Vantage that leads after 12 hours. “It was a good stint,” commented Mücke on completing the first double stint in total darkness. “There was some oil on the track, which made driving difficult, but I just took some care. Bruno is in the car now and has done a fantastic job to keep the Corvette and Ferrari at bay.”

The #95 Young Driver AMR Vantage GTE also had a strong lead over the GTE Am class. Kristian Poulsen (DN) completed his double stint and pulled away from the cars behind – at the halfway mark, with David Heinemeier Hansson (DN) behind the wheel, it has more than a two-minute lead.

The identical #98 had a power steering pipe come loose and was forced to pit from the lead of the GTE Am race, but the team was able to quickly rectify it and Pedro Lamy (PT) was the fastest GTE Am car of the session with a lap time of 3:56.224.

“It’s obviously a shame that the #98 lost the lead of the race, but it’s good that #97 and now #95 are leading the GTE classes,” commented John Gaw. “The next few hours of the race are when things get really tough but it’s great that we are leading both classes with such a good margin as we enter into them. It puts us in a very strong position, but anything can happen.”

Skies were either bright blue or pouring rain, now temps are dropping in the night

As Stéphane Sarrazin took over the race-leading #7 Toyota from Alex Wurz during a safety car period, switching to wet tyres in the process, he suffered unfortunate timing. The race poised to restart so the car was held at the end of the pit lane, enduring a frustrating wait as the #20 Porsche eventually passed before Stéphane was allowed to rejoin. He immediately set a quick pace and closed on the leader, a pattern which continued when he returned to slick tyres. The two leaders were on different strategies but the picture became clearer at Stéphane’s second pit stop; he rejoined the track without giving up the lead and began to pull away. When he handed over to Kazuki, after around a quarter of the race, the #7 held a healthy advantage over the #2 Audi.

“It was a tough start for me,” said Sarrazin. “I did four stints and my first in the wet was really on the edge. When I came out of the pits after the safety car I was behind 20 or so cars and I couldn’t see the track; there was so much water on the straight. I had to take a lot of time to overtake all those cars and avoid any problems. After that the track dried up and it was very good. The car has a good balance so I kept pushing to increase the gap between me and the rest of the field.”

Sébastien Buemi had taken the #8 Toyota back on track after its crash, but outside the top 30 and with a tough task to claim a strong result. He was soon setting competitive lap times, which validated the repair work carried out so quickly by the team. As the track dried, he took on slick tyres and started recovering positions, with the #8 drivers having a 16-point lead in the FIA World Endurance Championship to protect. Sébastien gave the car to Anthony Davidson having moved inside the top 20.

“It was very disappointing to have the problem so early,” said Buemi. “There is only one thing to do now which is keep our heads up and push hard until the end. The guys did a great job to repair the car so thanks a lot for their efforts. Because of the damage, it wasn’t possible to get the car back in a perfect condition so we don’t have the ideal set-up but I pushed as hard as I could and we made up a lot of places.”

EARLIER: Isolated Showers, Widespread Chaos at Le Mans

Two isolated showers swamped portions of the 8 mile Circuit Le Sarthe within the gfirst 3 hours of the 24 hour race. The biggest effect was the #8 Toyota slamming into the #3 Audi, ending the German car’s race. “I came on to the back straight before the Michelin chicane,” reported Nicolas Lapierre, who was driving the Toyota at the time. “There was very heavy rain and then I saw some cars very slow, none had a rain light on. They were very slow and I tried to brake. I’m not sure if the GT car hit me first or not. I don’t know really what happened. Then I went against the wall on the right side and a GT car took everyone out. That’s all I can remember from the crash. Honestly there was nothing I could see and nothing I could do.”

Alex Wurz sprays rain in the race leading Toyota

It will be interesting to see Audi’s response to Lapierre’s claim of innocence. Lapierre brought the car back to the pits where team members immediately began to replace the front and rear bodywork as well as the suspension assembly at the front left corner. Efficient work from the team saw repairs completed within 50 minutes so Sébastien could return to the track, eight laps down.

Alex Wurz lined up for the #7 Toyota on pole position and that car continues to hold the advantage after a driver change. “At the start everything was fine and under control,” said Wurz. “The car was running well. The balance was pretty good and I was able to pull away from the cars behind and extend our lead. Then it started raining and it was extremely difficult to survive out there. I had really a lot of aquaplaning on the straight. Thankfully the car stayed straight and I could stay on track. From the road safety training I do, I know that in these situations you have to drop the clutch in order stay straight and that’s what I did.”

EARLIER: 1000+ HP Toyota Hybrid on Le Mans Pole

Not your average Prius…this Toyota hybrid makes over 1000 horsepower

World Championship leaders TOYOTA Racing and the #7 TS040 HYBRID took pole position for the 82nd Le Mans 24 Hours at the Circuit de la Sarthe. Kazuki Nakajima, who shares the #7 with Alex Wurz and Stéphane Sarrazin, became the first Japanese driver to earn the honour with a lap of 3mins 21.789secs, which also marked TOYOTA’s second pole position at Le Mans. The #8 Toyota of Anthony Davidson, Nicolas Lapierre and Sébastien Buemi will start Saturday’s race from third on the grid.

Despite a 25% reduction in fuel consumption, the efficient 1000PS TOYOTA HYBRID System – Racing powertrain helped TOYOTA Racing record a 0.557secs improvement on last year’s pole position time of 3min 22.346secs.

Kazuki and Sébastien took the wheel for the start of final qualifying, which had been extended by 30 minutes due to several red flags in the opening two sessions. They immediately set better lap times than in either earlier session. Fine-tuning continued with all drivers taking turns to evaluate tyres and set-up before a final shoot-out for pole position, with Kazuki and Sébastien returning to the cockpit. However, a late yellow flag zone denied a big crowd the spectacle but confirmed that TOYOTA Racing will start from first and third.

“Even though it is a 24-hour race it is a very good feeling to be on pole position,” said Nakajima. “I am really happy with the car so many thanks to team; we have prepared a great car for the race. I was struggling with the traffic but I managed to get one lap and it was just enough to get the pole. It’s going to be a tough race but tonight I am happy. We didn’t have to compromise our programme and we managed to put in the lap time for the right moment. Now I think we are well prepared for the race.”

“I am over the moon for the whole team for this lap that Kazuki put together,” said Davidson. “Congratulations to car #7 and the team. It feels like I didn’t really get to drive much at all in the final round of qualifying. The way it worked out, Séb was on a roll and we saw that the time was right to throw some new tyres his way and I am glad we did because the track was at its best at that point. He just kept running into traffic but finally managed to pop it into third. To start the race from the second row is good enough.”

The team now turns its attentions to preparing for Saturday’s race when it will challenge to win TOYOTA’s first Le Mans 24 Hours at the 16th attempt, with the race beginning at 15.00. More than 250,000 spectators are expected to attend the world’s most important endurance race this weekend and there were traffic jams for several kilometers around the race track in the early morning on raceday.

Porsche qualified 2nd and 4th

The #1 Audi has seen a little (a lot) too much excitement so far

André Lotterer in the #2 Audi R18 e-tron quattro set the second-best time at 3m 23.741s in the race morning warm-up. The other two Audi R18 e-tron quattro cars trailed him in positions four (car #3) and five (car number #1). All nine Audi drivers participated in the session. Following the warm-up, Audi Sport Team Joest simulated pit stops and driver changes once more.

When the race starts at 15.00 CEST (live on Eurosport) Le Mans record winner Tom Kristensen (#1), André Lotterer (#2) and Marco Bonanomi (#3) will be at the wheel of the three Audi R18 e-tron quattro cars.

Qualifying results
1 Nakajima/Sarrazin/Wurz (Toyota) 3m 21.789s
2 Dumas/Jani/Lieb (Porsche) 3m 22.146s
3 Buemi/Davidson/Lapierre (Toyota) 3m 22.523s
4 Bernhard/Hartley/Webber (Porsche) 3m 22.908s
5 Albuquerque/Bonanomi/Jarvis (Audi R18 e-tron quattro) 3m 23.271s
6 Fässler/Lotterer/Tréluyer (Audi R18 e-tron quattro) 3m 24.276s
7 di Grassi/Gené/Kristensen (Audi R18 e-tron quattro) 3m 25.814s
8 Beche/Heidfeld/Prost (Rebellion-Toyota) 3m 29.763s
9 Belicchi/Kraihamer/Leimer (Rebellion-Toyota) 3m 31.608s
10 Thirlet/Badey/Gommendy (Ligier-Nissan) 3m 37.609s

EARLIER: Loïc Duval Destroys Audi #1

Numerous incidents and red flags marked the first qualifying day for the Le Mans 24 Hours. Last year’s winner Loïc Duval lost control of his Audi R18 e-tron quattro in the Porsche Corners at over 270 km/h and hit the track barrier at high speed. Except for abrasions, the Audi driver was not injured but still declared unfit to drive this weekend.

“The accident looked horrible,” said Chris Reinke, Head of LMP at Audi Sport. “It speaks for the safety concept of the Audi R18 and the Le Mans prototypes that Loïc survived the enormous crash nearly uninjured. We’re relieved to see that he’s well, considering the circumstances.”

On Wednesday night, Audi Sport Team Joest began preparing a new car in the team garage so it is ready for the second qualifying session at Le Mans on Thursday. Instead of Loïc Duval, who stayed in the hospital overnight under observation, Marc Gené will be starting for Audi. The Spaniard has been part of the Audi Le Mans squad since 2011, completed several track tests with the current Audi R18 e-tron quattro and was originally planned to run in the Le Mans 24 Hours in an LMP2 sports car of the JOTA team.

Audi #3 at speed in Wednesday’s night session

The drivers of car number ‘1’ still have to do their mandatory laps at night on Thursday in order to qualify for the race. The same is true for many other drivers, as the first qualifying session was stopped early after accidents and only 50 minutes of the originally planned two hours were available. After a shortened first qualifying session, Audi Sport Team Joest temporarily maintains grid positions five and six. The third Audi R18 e-tron quattro, following an accident in free practice, was not able to participate in the first qualifying session.

“That’s why the lap times we saw tonight are not very conclusive,” said Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. “Marcel (Fässler) set a time in free practice that was two seconds below his qualifying time. Our cars aren’t optimally gripping to the track yet and have more potential than we were able to show today due to the special circumstances. The starting order will no doubt change again tomorrow. But the most important thing for the time being is that Loïc (Duval) is more or less well and can celebrate his 32nd birthday on Thursday.”

Blunt nose Porsches were the surprise 1-2 leader at the end of the day.

The two Toyota TS040 HYBRIDs were lying third and fourth respectively, with Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin and Kazuki Nakajima in the #7 and Anthony Davidson, Nicolas Lapierre and Sébastien Buemi in the #8.

Qualifying started at dusk with Alex and Anthony at the wheel for a programme of set-up optimisation with a view to extracting maximum race performance. First qualifying allowed precious little on-track action and gave an incomplete picture as to the team’s relative performance. An early 20-minute red flag set the tone and allowed a driver switch to Stéphane and Nicolas. Just after the hour mark, Stéphane’s stint came to a premature end early into the #7 car’s 13th lap when a loss of engine oil pressure caused him to stop on track. A separate incident at the same time caused another red flag and ended the session. That meant Kazuki and Sébastien did not get a chance to drive.

Toyota #7 at speed in front of the Le Mans crowd

“The car felt really good,” said Sarrazin. “Unfortunately we had the issue in qualifying but it’s better today than in the race and at least we didn’t lose any track time compared to the others. All three drivers are really happy with the car, the balance is good. We need to test a few things tomorrow to improve it but it’s not been a bad day.”

Earlier in the day, free practice allowed the team to prepare for qualifying. Both cars had an extensive task list of set-up and tyre evaluations but were interrupted by three red flags following on-track incidents. “It was an eventful first day,” said Wurz.. “I am glad that Loic Duval seems to be okay after his accident and will be back soon. In terms of our work on the car, we went through the programme but obviously there was limited time due to the red flags. We had some good tests and interesting results. Now it is a matter of studying the data and making the right choices for tomorrow.”

Nevertheless, all six Toyota drivers completed productive stints, racking up 85 laps, around 1160km, between them whilst showing encouraging performance in finishing first and third, with the #8 and #7 respectively.

The lead GTE Corvette sits 4th behind leading Ferrari

Corvette Racing’s two Chevrolet Corvette C7.R race cars sit fourth and ninth in the GTE Pro class after Wednesday’s first qualifying session at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The day featured a number of lengthy red flag periods due to heavy crashes and damage. Race organizers ended qualifying 30 minutes early to repair barrier damage. An additional pair of two-hour qualifying sessions are set for Thursday and will help determine the grid for this year’s twice-around-the-clock enduro.

Antonio Garcia was the fastest driver for Corvette Racing. The Spaniard set a best time of 3:56.443 (128.935 mph) in the No. 73 Corvette C7.R that he shares with Jan Magnussen and Jordan Taylor. It put Garcia 1.689 seconds behind the provisional pole-sitting Ferrari.“It’s been an interesting day in that we’ve never had that many red flags on the first day of practice and qualifying at Le Mans,” said Garcia. “It wasn’t exactly what we were expecting. Normally we go through our entire to-do-list of changes and things to try, but now we only managed maybe 20 percent of that. We didn’t have much track time, but we will still have to analyze all the data – mainly from out- and in-laps. Still, the car feels very good and is very comfortable to drive. We’re definitely heading in the right direction. Hopefully we’ll have more track time tomorrow.”

Tommy Milner set the best time in the No. 74 Corvette C7.R that he drives with Oliver Gavin and Richard Westbrook – a lap of 3:59.446 (127.319 mph). The crew of the No. 74 car had to change the gearbox during Wednesday evening’s four-hour practice session after Milner lost drive late in a lap during the closing 45 minutes. By the time the car arrived back in the garage, the Corvette Racing crew had a spare transmission, hoist and tools laid out to complete the swap. The repairs took less than an hour. “The best way to put today is that I’m looking forward to tomorrow,” said Milner. “There were lots of little things here and there. The car right at the end was pretty good after some setup changes and after we fixed the issue with the driveline. It felt a lot better but I could never get a lap because of traffic and cars going off. We tried to get Richard (Westbrook) some laps in the car but couldn’t make that happen. So we’re all looking forward to tomorrow now.”

The grid positions for the 82nd running of the Le Mans 24 Hours will be decided on Thursday night from 19.00 to 21.00 and 22.00 to 24.00. The starting grid for the 82nd Le Mans 24 Hours is decided by the fastest single lap of each car from any of the three qualifying sessions, meaning the pole position will be decided at midnight on Thursday with the end of third qualifying.

Results Qualifying 1

1 Bernhard/Hartley/Webber (Porsche) 3m 23.157s
2 Dumas/Jani/Lieb (Porsche) 3m 23.928s
3 Nakajima/Sarrazin/Wurz (Toyota) 3m 25.313s
4 Buemi/Davidson/Lapierre (Toyota) 3m 25.410s
5 Fässler/Lotterer/Tréluyer (Audi R18 e-tron quattro) 3m 26.388s
6 Albuquerque/Bonanomi/Jarvis (Audi R18 e-tron quattro) 3m 26.445s
7 Belicchi/Kraihamer/Leimer (Rebellion-Toyota) 3m 33.117s
8 Beche/Heidfeld/Prost (Rebellion-Toyota) 3m 34.922s
9 Canal/Pla/Rusinov (Morgan-Nissan) 3m 38.843s
10 Chatin/Panciatici/Webb (Alpine-Nissan) 3m 39.490s

Even tech draws crowds at Le Mans

Le Mans 24 Hours (times in Central European and Eastern Daylight)
· Practice/qualifying: 4-8 p.m., 10 p.m.-midnight CET, Wednesday
10 a.m.-2 p.m., 4-8 p.m. ET
· Qualifying: 7-9 p.m., 10 p.m.-midnight CET, Thursday
1-3 p.m. , 4-8 p.m. ET
· Warm-up: 9-9:45 a.m. CET, Saturday
3-3:45 a.m. ET, Saturday
· Race: 3 p.m. Saturday-3 p.m. CET, Sunday
9 a.m. Saturday-9 a.m. ET, Sunday

Le Mans: Watch It! (Saturday, June 14-Sunday, June 15 – all times ET)

FOX Sports
· 8:30 a.m-4 p.m., Saturday (FOX Sports 1)
· 4-5 p.m., Saturday (FOX Sports 2)
· 5-6:30 p.m., Saturday (FOX Sports GO)
· 6:30 p.m., Saturday-1 a.m., Sunday (FOX Sports 2)
· 1-7:30 a.m., Sunday (FOX Sports 1)
· 7:30-9:30 a.m., Sunday (FOX Sports 2)

Corvette Racing 24-Hour Live Stream:
· 9 a.m. Saturday-9 a.m. Sunday (FOXsports.com)