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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.

Audi, Mr. Le Mans do it again — win the 24 hours of Le Mans

LE MANS, France — Audi and Tom Kristensen did it again!

Audi and Kristensen, along with his co-drivers Alan McNish and Loic Duval, earned victory in the 90th anniversary running of one of the most prestigious motor-racing events in the world — the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It was  Audi’t 12th and Kristensen’s ninth wins respectively, and it came on a weekend when the team was challenged to the fullest by its main rival, Toyota, the weather, and the sadness of a death during the opening minutes of the race on Saturday.

Kristensen said the race and the win was a testament to his father, but added that his father would have to wait for a race win to be dedicated to him as this race was dedicated to Aston Martin driver Allan Simonsen, who past away as the result of injuries suffered in a high speed crash not 10 minutes into the race Saturday.

Cloudy, windy, and unpredictable weather was the featured guest at this year’s race as it would give racers and crews everything from a light sprinkle to a major shower throughout the week giving team managers a challenge at setting up cars and keeping them in proper racing trim.

Additionally, it was not the usual efficient Audi attack of the course with all three cars suffering some sort of an incident during the course of the 24 hours. The No. 1 Audi, also the two-time defending champion, lost a generator motor that out them in the garage for more than hour. The No. 3 car had a lessor problem that also cost it time.

Ultimate it was Kristensen, McNish, and Duvall who righted the ship and used a one-lap lead to earn the overall victory, that was tense throughout the entire final hours of the race.


Audi sweeps Le Mans qualifying; Porsche dominates GT classes

LE MANS, France — Audi continued its March through the World Endurance Championship Series with an impressive effort in qualifying at the historic Circuit du la Sarthe, garnering the top three times with its R18 e-tron quattro. So far the Ingolstadt-based team has dominated the series as their main competition, the Toyota TS030 Hybride, has been off the pace.

However, the wildcard in this year’s event seems to be the weather with mother nature dealing a wildcard to the teams for the 90th anniversary running of the event, splashing the track with rain showers on a schedule that has kept team managers guessing on tire set-up.

Leading the Audi charge was the No. 2 car of Allan McNish, Tom Kristiansen, and Loic Duvall. It was Duvall, the new comer to the team, who found a clear track later in the first session to drop low time on the field that was not to be beaten. His time 3:22.349 was faster than last year’s time. The No. 1 Audi, the two-time defending champion, sat in third on the qualifying ladder until late on Thursday evening’s final qualifying session. That’s when Benoit Treluyer got a shot a clean track after a yellow flag bunch the cars together.

Treluyer and McNish in the No. 2 Audi jumped on the gas when the track went green and when Treluyer got by his teammate he had an open track to work his magic. He turned in a 3:23.696 lap that moved the team from third on the grid to second and within sniffing distance of the pole position team. The No. 1 car’s best time to that point had been about four seconds off the pace set by Duvall.

Meanwhile the Toyota Team was only able to earn a fourth place with the No. 8 Toyota finding a 3.36.654 lap. At the Driver Parade on Friday evening, a highlight of the pre-race activities, one of the Toyota drivers was asked about the race and said that his team would “battle the Audi’s as hard as they could”. It was not a concession speech — but it also did not have the ring of optimism.

The Toyota Team can take solace and hope from the fact that the Audi Team found itself in a similar position several years ago when Peugeot dominated qualifying and seemed to have a fast car. When the rains during the race, the Audi’s drove through the rain and into the winner’s circle, much to the chagrin of the Peugeot team.

While the Audi’s have been the leaders all season, they still have to race the race — and therein is the challenge of endurance car racing — it is not always to the swift.


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