Surviving Audi Wins Le Mans
Audi’s long, scary weekend at Le Mans ended in joy Sunday when the R18 TDI of Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler won the 2011 edition of the 24-hour race which is the most prestigious in sports car racing.
The victory was particularly sweet after the factory-backed Audi team lost its two other cars in horrific wrecks early in the going on Saturday.
Nobody – neither drivers Allan McNish and Mike Rockenfeller, nor spectators – were injured in those wrecks but it put a serious damper on the Saturday portion of the event for the German team.
On Sunday, it made the celebration all the more emotional.
Audi boss Wolfgang Ullrich was brought to tears by the victory, which was the 10th for the German car-maker at the 8.4-mile Le Mans road course.
“We concentrated, all of us, on one car,” he said.
Out of the hospital and suffering only an injured leg he sustained trying to get out of his wrecked car, was McNish.
“This one was a real team effort, to see everyone pulling together,” McNish said after the race.
Finishing second in the 79th running of the legendary race was the Peugeot 908 driven by Sebastien Bourdais, Simon Pagenaud and Pedro Lamy.
The actual victory, which came amid light rain, did not come easy.
With Lotterer driving, the AudiSport Team Joest R18 came in for its final pit stop with 36 minutes to go and with about a 40-second lead. But the stop was slow as the team took tires and had a slight problem with the change.
The second-place Peugeot came in right behind and just took fuel. When the 908 left the pits, Pagenaud, a Frenchman who now lives in Indianapolis, had cut the lead to 6 seconds.
But with the fresh tires, Lotterer was able to stretch his lead. After two laps, the lead was 11 seconds.
The victory was by about 13 seconds.
Third in LMP1 was the Peugeot of Nicolas Minassian, Franck Montagny and Stephane Sarrazin. They were two laps back.
A 908 driven by Marc Gene, Anthony Davidson and Alex Wurz was fourth, four laps behind the winners.
In LMP2, the Zytek/Nissan driven by Olivier Lombard, Thomas Kimber-Smith and
Karim Ojjeh got the victory.
But the team owned and co-drove by Kansas City’s Scott Tucker finished third in its first prototype run at Le Mans. Co-driving the Lola/Honda were Frenchman Christophe Bouchut and Portugal’s Joao Barbosa.
Tucker, whose team is based in Madison, Wis., was the only American driver in the prototype classes this year.
In the GTE Pro division, Corvette dominated. Winning was the C6-ZR1 driven by Oliver Beretta, Antonio Garcia, and American Tommy Milner. The victory came in the 100th anniversary year of Chevrolet.
Milner made the pass for the lead on the Mulsanne Straight on lap 283.
“That was the hardest drive of my life,” said the 25-year-old racer. “It would have been a lot easier if it hadn’t been sprinkling, raining, not raining, and then wet – all that plus the pressure of the situation. I’d been super comfortable in the car all day long, but I was certainly not comfortable then. I was just trying to drive the car to what the track would allow. Every lap it changed, every corner it changed.
“When you start racing, you hope that one day you can compete for a win,” Milner said. “To get one here at Le Mans in my first year with Corvette Racing is very cool.”
Finishing second was the Ferrari 458 Italia of Giancarlo Fisichella, Toni Vilander and Gianmaria Bruni.
Third was the BMW M3 of American Joey Hand, Andy Priaulx and Dirk Muller.
In the GTE Am division, the American team of Robertson Racing placed third in a Ford GT. The car was driven by Dave Murry, David Robertson and Andrea Robertson. The team was competing in its first Le Mans 24.
Winning the class was the Corvette of Patrick Bornhauser, Julien Canal and Gabriele Gardel.
The No. 71 AF Corse Ferrari 458 driven by NASCAR veteran Michael Waltrip, Rob Kauffman and Rui Aguas retired due to transmission failure after racing about 16 hours in the 79th annual running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The team placed 13th in the GTE Pro class and 38th overall. Only 28 of the 56-car field finished the endurance race on the historic eight-mile track.
Despite the early exit, Waltrip and Kauffman are enthusiastic about a potential return to Le Mans.
“We had a blast and we hope to return in the future,” said Kauffman. “It was a privilege to participate in the Le Mans 24 Hours.”
Waltrip said the week-long events culminating with the race will be one of the highlights of his career.
“I’m a NASCAR guy and will always be a NASCAR guy,” the two-time Daytona 500 winner said. “But, this was pretty cool. It’s been a wild week. It started with rushing out of the television booth at the Kansas truck race and taking planes, trains and automobiles to get here in time for scrutineering the next day. The events in Le Mans during the week were awesome and you could really start to feel the intensity build as the race drew closer.”No Comment