Weber to Porsche, will Audi stand pat?

SILVERSTONE, Uk -- No sooner was the wax on the 2013 24 Hours of Le Mans trophy dry inAudi headquarters in Ingolstadt, than Porsche fired the first shot across the bow of both Audi and Toyota, that Porsche's return to the storied Circuit de la Sarthe in 2014  will be with with the full intention of dethroning its cousin Audi and not allowing its Japanese rival a sniff at the the podium, by announcing the signing of Formula One  Red Bull driver Mark Webber for the next three years. According to reports Weber will team with current Porsche drivers Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas for the new LMP1 Porsche with form F1 test driver Neel Jani also joining the team. Webber has raced at Le Mans twice previously and with Bernhard and Dumas will form the core of the Porsche team that is focused on wrestling the trophy away from Audi. Both Dumas and Bernhard are former 24 Hour winners, taking the title in a storied battle with Peugeot in 2011 when along with Mike Rockenfeller, they overcame two serious crashes to other team members and out-dueled the entire Peugeot team to win the race by 12 seconds. Both of the Porsche drivers raced in the GTE Pro division at Le Mans this year with Dumas a member of the winning Porsche 911 RASR team and Bernhard a member of the second place team. Since Porsche has announced that it will race two cars at Le Mans in 2014 (and perhaps a third in its attempt to compete with Audi) it would appear that additional team members will be announced in the future. What this means to Audi is not clear at this point. Certainly Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, the head of the Audi racing program has to be satisfied with the current mix of drivers  on the team. Indeed,  the No. 1 car, the team of Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer, and Marcel Fassler have proven that they are smooth and fast and might have won a third consecutive 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2013 if it had not been for costly mechanical issues. In the No. 2 car is Mr. Le Mans, Tom Kristensen, who won his ninth over-all 24 Hour title this year along with three time winner Allan McNish, and new comer to the team Loic Duval, who put the car on pole. A third team this year was comprised of Marc Gene, Lucas DiGrassi, and Oliver Jarvis. Audi's R18 e-tron quattro is a hybrid car that uses a Williams Hybrid Power designed flywheel accumulator system (flybrid) for energy storage which delivers 500 kJ (approximately 200 horsepower) to the front wheels via an electric motor, giving the car four (quattro) wheel drive. The system, as per the regulations, is only available at speeds above 120 km/h (75 mph). Some of the early development work actually came from a Porsche project with its 911 RSR, and while one would expect that Porsche would be coming to the 2014 party with a hybrid car, nothing definitive has been released regarding its configuration. Certainly the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO) which along with the FIA sets the rules for the World Endurance Championship of which Le Mans is a part, has put the focus on innovation and the rules for 2014 will basically put the focus on both speed and efficiency. Teams will be able to run virtually any engine configurations but have only a limited amount of fuel on which to complete the race. For the big three: Audi, Toyota, and Porsche it should make for a battle royal.

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