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ANALYSIS: Porsche Vs. Audi To Highlight 2015 Le Mans

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, June 12 2015
The Porsche 919s are looking to knock Audi off the top step of the podium at Le Mans this year.

The Porsche 919s are looking to knock Audi off the top step of the podium at Le Mans this year.

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

In the days leading up to the 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans, the folks from Audi had great fun hanging banners around the historic Circuit de la Sarthe road course “welcoming” Porsche back to the LMP1 dvision at the world’s most important buganalysissports car race.

Audi, back then, could afford to be gracious/snarky to the car company which has won more overall titles at Le Mans than any other and for a couple of reasons.

First, Audi and Porsche have become in-laws, thanks to their both operating under the umbrella of Volkswagen. But perhaps more importantly, because of reasons of smug superiority as Audi has dominated the race for almost all the 21st Century.

That domination was extended last year, the year of Porsche’s return, as the new 919 hybrids and their people suffered teething pains and as a result, Audi won
Le Mans for the fifth straight year and for the 13th time since 2000.

It’s 2015 now and the racing world will see how gracious/snarky Audi remains in this year’s race through the French countryside, which begins on Saturday afternoon.

Early signs indicate that in terms of speed, at least, the Porsche 919s are as good as, or better, than the Audi R18 e-tron Quattros as Porsches qualified first, second and third this week.

Pole-winner Neel Jani did his fastest lap time during the first qualifying session on Wednesday night and, despite dry conditions in both qualifying sessions on Thursday, it remained unbeaten.

With his lap of 3:16.887 minutes, Switzerland’s Jani set a new qualifying record for the current track length of 13.629 kilometres by beating Peugeot’s pole position time from 2008 (3:18.513 min).

This is the 17th pole position for Porsche in Le Mans, and prior to this the most recent one dates back to 1997. Furthermore it is the ninth time since 1968 that three Porsche race cars have locked out the front of the grid for the Le Mans 24-Hours with a one-two-three. This happened last in 1988.

Timo Bernhard of Germany was second fastest on Wednesday in his 919 and his time of 3:17.767 minutes was also good enough to beat the old record. In the third Porsche LMP1 Nick Tandy of Great Britain improved his lap time in Q2 on Thursday to 3:18.862 minutes and claimed P3.

Jani shares the black No. 18 with Romain Dumas of France and Marc Lieb of Germany. Bernhard partners Brendon Hartley of New Zealand and Mark Webber Australia in the red No. 17 919. Tandy’s team mates in the white No. 19 prototype are Earl Bamber of New Zealand and Formula One driver Nico Hülkenberg of Germany.

Starting drivers for the Porsches on Saturday will be Bernhard, Jani and Hülkenberg.

The results left the Porsche management team and drivers ecstatic.

Fritz Enzinger, vice president of Porsche’s LMP1 effort, said, “Finishing first, second and third in qualifying at what is only our second attempt in Le Mans is outstanding. A big thank you to the team at the track and back at the factory in Weissach. We are still a very young team and every bit of success is important. This result helps us to start the race full of confidence. It will be a hard race with tough competition, but we are looking forward to it.”

But, as always, speed is not the only ingredient needed for success at Le Mans or any other endurance race. The still-young Porsches will need to prove their reliability.

“Now,” Enzinger said, “we have to prove that we have built not only a fast car, but also a reliable one.”

Especially against Audi R18s that have been known for their ability to sprint their way around tracks for six, 12 and 24 hours at a time without even so much as burping.

On Saturday, R18s will occupy spots four through six on the starting grid.

Audi has captured the first two rounds of this year’s World Endurance Championship with victories in 6-hour races at Silverstone in England and Spa in Belgium. Porsches have finished second in those races.

But Le Mans, the third race on the WEC schedule, is, well, Le Mans.

And, it will not just be Audi that Porsche will have to worry about. The Toyota TS 040 hybrids have given the R18s major challenges over the past couple of years and at times in WEC events this year.

Toyota’s challenge certainly was on the mind of Leena Gade, race engineer for Audi, when we talked on the phone a couple weeks ago. Gade, when asked about taking on the 919s, quickly pointed out that it has been Toyota that has been pushing her team the last several years.

During qualifying, Toyotas struggled, ending up 2.5s behind the slowest Audi and 6.656s off the outright pace with its lead car, the No. 2 TS 040 qualified by Stephane Sarrazin, in seventh ahead of the No. 1 Toyota qualified by Sebastien Buemi.

While saying that her team needs to be aware of the Toyota challenge this weekend in the 83rd running of the Le Mans classic, she also admitted that, yes, Audi vs. Porsche represents a “special” competition. Friendly, yet intense.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, June 12 2015
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