Audi wins 13th Le Mans title on world stage

All photos by Laurent Charniaux, www.xpbimages.com LE MANS, France -- Shakespeare wrote "All the world's a stage" and Audi took on the world at Le Mans and in a race that was not unlike a three act play from "The Bard" earned its 13th overall victory at Circuit de la Sarthe, besting Toyota and Porsche in this 24-hour duel of speed and technology that also was staged with the new rules that reduced fuel by 25 percent over last year, but did not reduce speed around the track nor race excitement. Overcoming significant challenges throughout the week, Audi started from an uncharacteristic third and fourth row in race with World Endurance Championship (WEC) series leader Toyota grabbing the glory with a scintillating qualifying run that saw Kazuki Nakajima become first Japanese driver to earn the pole position at Le Mans. In this first act of the play that is called the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Loic Duvall, driving the No. 1 Audi crashed hard early on Wednesday, destroying the defining Le Mans and WEC champion. He spent an overnight in the hospital in Le Mans, and while he was "OK" was not allowed to drive for the rest of the week by medical staff. He spent the race weekend at home in Geneva, recovering. Marc Gene, who was actually driving for another team was called into action to replace Duvall and the Audi mechanical team went into hyper mode, totally building the No 1. car from a new tub between  Wednesday afternoon to Thursday afternoon. The No. 8 Toyota was joined by the No. 20 Porsche, as the brand with most overall wins at Le Mans rejoined the LMP class after a 16 years hiatus. When the French flag dropped on Saturday afternoon to start the race, starting the second act of this French drama, it was the Toyota that showed its heels to the field once the race settled into its rhythm. However, during that first 90 minutes "Lady Le Mans" decided to toss a short rain storm into the mix. As a result of the rain and a very slick track, the No. 8 Toyota collided with a GT Ferrari on the Mulsanne straight, punting the Ferrari into the No. 3 Audi. Both the Ferrari and the No. 3 Audi were unable to continue while the Toyota was able to make it back to the garage where it spent nearly an hour getting repaired before rejoining the fray. Meanwhile the No. 2 Audi moved into second position and began pressuring the leading Toyota -- if that is the right word. The Toyota never seemed as if it could not run away and hide from the Audi -- but on the other hand it was never able to put enough distance between itself and the field to become comfortable -- if that is ever possible at Le Mans. As the race passed the mid point, at 3 am, it seemed as if Toyota would be able to run out the string and capture its first Le Man championship. It was running like a fine Swiss watch. However, 90 minutes later the race was over for the team that had led more than 12 hours, as a fault with the wiring loom brought the car to a stop in the middle of the Arnage corner with no way to get the car back to the garage for repairs. With the second act over, it was now a race to the checkered flag between the No. 2 Audi of Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benoît Tréluyer, which inherited the lead about 5 am when the Toyota died, and the No. 1 Audi. The No. 2 e-tron quattro Audi was in command of the race track holding a sizable lead on the No. 2 race car. When the No. 2 Audi needed to change a turbo charger, the No. 1 Audi of Tom Kristensen, Marc Gene, and Lucas DiGrassi assumed the lead and it seemed as if a fairy book ending might be in store. But Shakespeare is not know for his storybook endings, and neither is Le Mans. When a turbo charger  problem apparently hit the No. 2 car too,  repairs caused the team to drop to third place. It was not long before they moved into second place and chased the No. 2 car home to the checkered flag ending one of the most memorable Le Mans race. Quotes from the race: “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.” “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.”     Alex Wurz, TS040 HYBRID #7: “There’s not much to say other than it is really disappointing. We were leading but we decided not to take too many risks in traffic. Depending on our luck in the traffic we were able to extend the lead in a very controlled manner which is exactly how you have to do it at Le Mans. We were looking forward to the morning sunlight, because our tyres worked very well during the day, but it didn’t come for us. I said earlier this week that you don’t win Le Mans, it lets you win and today it didn’t let us win.”   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!”

Electrical problem shorts out leading Toyota; Audi goes to the front

LE MANS, France -- Racing towards a sunrise, at approximately 4:30 in the morning, the No. 7 S040 HYBRID Toyota suffered a cataclysmic electrical failure, stranding the car on the course, and seemingly putting it out of the race. That left first place to the No. 2 Audi with second place being held down by the No. 20 919 Porsche, that is three laps off the leader's pace. In third is the No. 1 Audi, that was a lap down to the Porsche, but which has been making up time with every lap and as the sun began to rise, was only 40 seconds out of second place. The No. 14 Porsche 919 is running in fourth place 11 laps off the leader's pace while the No. 8 Toyota is in fifth place another 30 seconds behind the Porsche.

With 12 hours to go, Toyota leads

LE MANS, France -- With 12 hours left in the 82nd running of the 24 Hours of Le Man, it appears that only thing that can stop to the race-leading No. 7 Toyota hybrid is the No. 7 Toyota hybrid. Driven by the trio of Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin, and Kazuki Nakajima, the No 7. TS040 HYBRID Toyota had set top time and was the pole-setter. It has shown speed and handling and at the mid-point of the race held an approximate two minute lead on the No. 2 Audi. A heavy rain had a drastic effect on the  No. 8 Toyota, which was involved in a multi-car accident in very poor visibility on an extremely slippery track. Driver Nicolas 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 but the damage was done. That same incident also took out the No. 3 Audi, as the team Ingolstadt continued to be snake-bit. However, the No. 2 e-tron quattro Audi with Marcel FÄSSLER, André LOTTERER, and Benoit TRÉLUYER, two time winners, have pushed into second position. While they do not seem to have the all-out speed of the Toyota they have continued to keep the pressure on. The No. 1 Audi, the defending Le Mans and WEC champion had been running as high as third (as of the mid-point) and on the same lap as the leaders before an injector problem forced the car into the garage for a repair session dropping it out of the top three. Team Porsche saw its No. 20 car driven by Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber,  and Brendon Hartley take over third place when the Audi went to the garage. Interestingly enough, Bernhard won the 24 Hours of Le Mans driving for Audi.
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