I am rooting for the Audi

LEMANS, France — At six am Saturday morning here in the Seattle area the 82nd running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans will get underway and since this year for the first time in seven years, I will not be at the track nor in the press room that overlooks the front chute of this very famous track I will be in front of my television watching the action with hundreds of million race fans around the world and celebrating another Le Mans father’s day weekend.

Of course when you are sitting in the press box, the cardinal rule is “No Rooting” — but since I won’t be there my hopes are for the No. 1 Audi. There are several reasons for my rooting interest.

First and foremost, I remember as if it were yesterday getting up at o-dark-thirty and watching the end of the race on Sunday morning with my son. It was his interest in Audi and his penchant for endurance car racing brought us to our first race at Le Mans in 2007, where among other things we produced this. We have shared many moments together watching the 24 Hours of Le Mans and at Circuit de la Sarthe. There is nothing like sharing a common love with your son.

But I am also rooting for the No. 1 Audi because I love an under dog and of the seven factory cars in the race at this writing they are perhaps the 100 to one shot of winning. You will recall that on Wednesday Loic Duvall reduced the car so much flotsam and jetsam after a hard crash at speed at the Porsche curves.

Thankfully, Duvall was not seriously injured but was not cleared to drive. He was replaced by Marc Gene who will team with Mr. Le Mans — Tom Kristensen and Lucas di Grassi for the race.

While I have the greatest admiration for all who are racing this weekend, I have had the chance to talk with a couple members of the Audi Team. I have further seen this team perform at the highest level when they have been under the gun.

Last year when Kristensen, Allan McNish (now retired), and Duvall won, Kristensen wanted to dedicate the win to his father who had recently passed away after a bout with cancer.

On the victory podium, speaking to 25,000 fans or so, he spoke from his heart. It had been a hard fought win over the Toyota but the victory was tempered as a result of the death of countryman Allan Simonsen in an accident early in the race.

He said from the top of the podium, “This victory is very special to me. I recently lost my father to cancer. Before his death he told me, that I would win Le Mans this year with my teammates. He gave me the strength and passion for motorsport and has been in my thoughts throughout the race – therefore this victory was for him. But my father can wait. This Le Mans success I am dedicating to Allan Simonsen. A friend and a great fellow countryman.”

This year the Audi team has been uncharacteristically off-song. They crashed out at the first World Endurance Championship (WEC) race at Silverstone where the Toyota finished first and second. At the WEC race at Spa the Toyota was a winner again and the No. 1 Audi was second, a moderate achievement given that the team had to rebuild both cars.

So now, they are seventh on the grid and are still looking to dial in the car after it was virtually built from the scratch between Wednesday afternoon and Thursday afternoon.

But most of all I would like to see Tom Kristensen be able to dedicate one last victory Le Mans win to his father.

On Father’s day. How appropriate!

Toyota on the pole, Porsche on second row, Audi on third row

LE MANS, France — Ok it’s not a Prius — not even close — but for the 82nd running of the 24 hours of Le Mans Toyota’s TS040 HYBRID and the World Endurance Championship series leader found itself on the pole after chasing the Audi e-tron quattro for the last two years.

The No. 7 Toyota with Kazuki Nakajima at the wheel posted the top qualifying time 3mins 21.789sec more than half a second faster than last year’s time. Second fastest in qualifying was the Porsche 919 hybrid with Romain Dumas at the wheel which came in at 3mins 22.146 seconds. The second Toyota was third followed by the second Porsche in fourth.

However, much of the Toyota thunder was stolen by a valiant Audi effort to rebuild its No. 1 car that was totaled in accident during practice on Wednesday when Loic Duvall lost control of the car at the Porsche curves and went off the track at high speed.

Before the first qualifying session began on Wednesday the Audi team was busy assembling a new car on the base of a spare monocoque. The three Audis ran slightly off the pace of the four front runners with the fastest time turned in by the No. 3 Audi that was just a bit more than three tenths of a second slower than the fourth place qualifier.

According to Audi,  Duval’s name will continue to be present on the #1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro at Le Mans. His place in the cockpit was taken over by the Spaniard Marc Gené. Together with Lucas di Grassi and Le Mans record winner Tom Kristensen, Gené will start the race from grid position seven.

The fastest time of car #1 was achieved by di Grassi in 3m 25.814s.

One must remember that this is not a 250 mile race, or even a 500 mile Indy race — but a 24 hour long race in which the winning cars will travel nearly 3,000 miles. In this twice around the sun race there is likely to be more plot twists than an hour of “24”. Toyota and Porsche seem to hold the high cards at this writing. But this is Le Mans and anything can happen.

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

It is Porsche on top after initial qualifying; Audi working late

LE MANS, France — In the game that is qualifying at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Porsche team celebrated its return the Circuit de la Sarthe by posting the top time of qualifying after running three or four seconds off the pace set by World Endurance Championship (WEC) series leader Toyota during the free practice earlier in the day.

The No. 20 Porsche driven by Mark Weber, Timo Bernhard, and Brendon Hartley toured the track in 3:23.157 for top time Wednesday evening. The No. 14 Porsche 919 Hybrid was second fastest .771 seconds behind the leaders while the Toyotas were another two seconds off the pace in the third and fourth positions.

During the free practice Loic Duvall in the No. 1 Audi e-tron quattro, the defending Le Mans and WEC champion, crashed hard at the Porsche Curves. Duvall was alert and talking and was taken to the medical center at the track before being transported to hospital in Le Mans.

His status, considered satisfactory, will not allow him to take part in the 82nd edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Saturday June 14th and Sunday June 15th. Medical representatives submitted a report to the marshals disallowing him from racing after the accident he experienced.

Marc Gené, Audi reserve driver, entered until now in the No. 38 Zytek Z11SN-Nissan, has been authorized by the college of marshals to join the No. 1 Audi driver line-up as of tomorrow. At the same time, the college authorized the Jota Sport team to replace him with the Brit, Oliver Turvey as of tomorrow. Turvey will proceed with all administrative verifications before taking his place in the No. 38 Zytek during Thursday’s session.

Gene 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.
Also, following the incident, the No. 1 Audi chassis was reduced to rubble. Audi Sport Team Joest presented a request to the technical marshals to be able to use a new tub, and presented this to the marshalls. They gave their authorization for Audi Sport Team Joest to rebuild the No. 1 car around this new tub. The team will present it tomorrow for technical inspection.

The first qualifying session, scheduled for two hours, lasted but 50 minutes due to other accidents the caused the red flag to come out yet again.

“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.”

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


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