LM24: Audi survives Peugeot onslaught.

A short-lived, full-strength Audi charge leads the field for the opening lap of the 2011 race. - Image courtesy John Dagys.

After the intensity of Friday’s final qualifying session, any prediction that 2011 would be the tightest in recent history would be validated soon after. Although fraught with attrition, drama, searing intensity and many hours of caution periods, the event failed to disappoint.

Delivering stunning battles on virtually all fronts, the 2011 rendition of the race will likely be remembered for years to come as one of the closest-fought ever.

Intensity in the battle for outright honours was felt early for many at the head of the field. Audi’s hopes for defending victory suffered a massive blow during the early stages of the race.

Departure of the team’s #3 machine of McNish, Kristensen and Capello within the first hour, following a violent incident involving Luxury Racing’s Anthony Beltoise, had left many stunned. To the relief of all onlookers, McNish would walk away from the incident with little more than minor bruising.

Audi's Alan McNish walks away from Saturday afternoon's horrific crash. - Image courtesy Audisport.

Audi's Alan McNish walks away from Saturday afternoon's horrific crash. - Image courtesy Audisport.

A second horrific incident involving the #1 entry of reigning champion, Mike Rockenfeller and the #71 AF-Corse machine of Rob Kauffmann would occur during the eighth hour. The incident occurring as Rockenfeller attempted to pass Kauffmann on the high-speed section of the circuit between Mulsanne and Indianapolis.

Kauffmann later claimed the brightness of the R18’s headlights lead to his being unable to prepare for Rockenfeller’s attempted passing, and consequently made contact with the Audi driver at considerable speed. Rockenfeller would also escape from the wreckage uninjured – both incidents a testament to the build quality of Audi’s R18 chassis.

Remaining remnants of Rockenfeller's high-speed collision; Audi's second of the day. - Image courtesy Jean-Francois Monier.

Remaining remnants of Rockenfeller's high-speed collision; Audi's second major incident of the day. - Image courtesy Jean-Francois Monier.

Later analysis of the incident led officials to believe the #71 was at fault. Although allowing the AF-Corse-run entry to continue, race officials would take action against Kauffmann, excluding the American driver from the remainder of the event. The #71 would later retire.

Following the subsequent retirement of reigning champions Rockenfeller, Dumas and Bernhard, Audi’s hopes for a tenth Le Mans victory lied solely on the shoulders of young driving trio Treluyer, Lotterer, and Fassler in the #2 machine.

Audi #2 cruises Mulsanne with an evident lack of support; A much repeated scene throughout the remainder of the event. - Image courtesy AudiSport.

Audi #2 cruises Mulsanne with an evident lack of support; A much repeated scene throughout the remainder of the event. - Image courtesy AudiSport.

Hassled by a full-strength Peugeot onslaught throughout the remainder of the race, Audi’s young trio seldom faltered. Electing to quadruple-stint its driving trio (3-4 hours) to minimise time spent in pitlane, the marque faced an epic battle against both the scale and fuel efficiency of Peugeot’s attack.

With the French manufacturer capable of 12 lap stints, and Audi often running 11 laps within the same period, differences in operating efficiency would often be justified through outright pace and daring tyre strategy.

AudiSport pit strategy once again played a vital role in the team's success. - Image courtesy AudiSport.

AudiSport pit strategy once again played a vital role in the team's success. - Image courtesy AudiSport.

Late race drives by Treluyer and Lotterer would particularly impress the scale of Audi’s undertaking. With both drivers navigating slower traffic in an almost-manic fashion, pushing the very limits of grip afforded by sections of the 13.6 km circuit.

Despite spirited efforts from the Peugeot onslaught the #2 would never stray far from the overall lead. For a short period onlookers remained silent as race officials summoned Audi #2 engineer, Leena Gade to the stewards office with a tone of urgency on Sunday morning. This would prove to be of little consequence.

Having been seemingly immune to periods of carnage affecting virtually all competitors, cracks began to appear in Peugeot’s then-unhampered showing.

Bourdais commandeers Peugeot #9; later revealed as the marque's last hope for victory. - Image courtesy FotoOlaf

Bourdais commandeers Peugeot #9; later revealed as the marque's last hope for victory. - Image courtesy FotoOlaf

As Peugeot’s efforts began to falter, the prospect of victory, regardless of how close, would begin to slip out of reach. Oreca’s privately-entered 908 HDi-FAP would prove first to stagger during the night. As rapid Frenchman, Loic Duval damaged the team’s chassis on Mulsanne. Only barely managing to limp the injured car back to pitlane for repairs.

This scenario was later repeated with little under three hours remaining, as Duval experienced a second spin at Indianapolis under dampening conditions, further damaging the rear of the chassis.

The manufacturer’s all French squad of Sarrazin, Montagny and Minassian in the #8 found themselves the recipients of a drive-through penalty for a lack of respect toward circuit limits during the early morning hours.

The #8 Peugeot crew's efforts would be hampered by a late-race penalty. - Image courtesy J.Frauca Photography.

The #8 Peugeot crew's efforts would be hampered by a late-race penalty. - Image courtesy J.Frauca Photography.

Shortly after the #7 car of Davidson, Wurz and Gene would be damaged in a late race incident at Indianapolis, inflicting injury to the nose of the chassis. Enthusiastic repair efforts allowed the #7 to secure a face-saving fourth overall. Only out-placing the damage-plagued efforts of Oreca, who would manage fifth overall – marginally ahead of highest placing petrol contenders.

As the sole, remaining Peugeot on the lead lap, Pagenaud, Bourdais and Lamy – arguably the marque’s least favoured entry, found themselves in a position of opportunity. With the driver cycle broken, Pagenaud would be ceded to take the #9 to the checkered.

Lotterer brings the #2 Audi to pitlane for post-race celebrations. - Image courtesy AudiSport.

Lotterer brings the #2 Audi to pitlane for post-race celebrations. - Image courtesy AudiSport.

Despite the employment of questionable tactics from Pagenaud’s sister cars in the dying stages of the race, the #2 Audi proved an unstoppable force. With Lotterer at the helm, the German marque powered to one of the closest and, with little doubt, most emotional finishes in the event’s 79 year history.

Lotterer ultimately taking victory over Pagenaud by a margin of 13.854 seconds, covering a distance of 355 laps. The win marking a record tenth victory for Audi (from twelve starts). Allowing the Ingolstadt-based marque to oust Ferrari as the second-most successful marque ever, in terms of overall victories.

Neel Jani brings the remaining #12 Rebellion Lola-Toyota to the finish in sixth overall. - Image courtesy Lola Group.

Neel Jani brings the remaining #12 Rebellion Lola-Toyota to the finish in sixth overall. - Image courtesy Lola Group.

A fierce battle would also be contested within the LMP1 petrol contingent, involving Le Mans Series regulars, Pescarolo and Rebellion. Despite a clear focus on operational efficiency, both squads would face off against one another in an intense duel, exchanging the lead on many occasions throughout the race.

Pescarolo’s prospects suffered a cruel blow in the later stages of the race. With long-time Pescarolo stalwart, Collard falling victim to a race-ending shunt through the Porsche curves within two hours of the finish.

Rebellion Racing’s remaining #12 Lola-Toyota of Jani, Prost, and Bleekemolen would inherit the position vacated by Pescarolo’s retirement. The squad going on to secure sixth overall to place highest of the LMP1 petrol runners.

Kronos Racing’s seventh overall finish salvaged much-needed pride for an otherwise underhanded showing from British manufacturer, Aston Martin. With both factory AMR entries having bowed out of the race within hour one.

Oreca's factory LMP2 efforts would ultimately be undone as a result of late-race driver error. - Image courtesy J.Frauca Photography.

Oreca's factory LMP2 efforts would ultimately be undone as a result of late-race driver error. - Image courtesy J.Frauca Photography.

Predictions of an attrition-fraught race for LMP2 runners would turn out be unfounded, with P2 entries providing an intriguing display of mechanical reliability over the duration of the event.

Much of the first twelve hours saw the class lead exchange hands between Oreca-Nissan entries of SignaTech and the Oreca factory, along with reigning LMP2 champions, Strakka Racing’s HPD entry.

As the race developed, favoured HPD-powered entries of Strakka, Level5 and RML experienced minor hindrances. Strakka’s demise ultimately brought about due to damage sustained to the car’s undertray and engine, the result of overzealous kerb usage employed by the team’s drivers.

Both SignaTech and Oreca would also face issues throughout the event. The latter retiring due to an arguably over-ambitious drive by French Oreca driver, Hallyday in the final hours.

A quiet performer; the Greaves Motorsport Zytek-Nissan beat many higher-fancied entries to class victory. - Image courtesy J.Frauca Photography.

A quiet performer; the Greaves Motorsport Zytek-Nissan beat many higher-fancied entries to class victory. - Image courtesy J.Frauca Photography.

Nissan’s P2 engine package turned to be an unpredicted star of the category. The Zytek-tuned engine package seeing British Team, Greaves Motorsport to its maiden class victory – affording both Nissan and Dunlop their first LMP2 triumphs at Le Mans.

Although likely costing the team a victory, SignaTech’s woes proved not to be terminal. Allowing the squad of Ayari, Mailleux, and Ordoñez to take the checkered second in LMP2. Rounding out a 1-2 finish for the Japanese auto-giant.

Level5 Motorsport trio of Tucker, Bouchut and Barbosa fought against several issues to secure third in class. Salvaging pride for HPD’s already challenging 2011 campaign.

BMW Motorsport #56 leads chasing entries of Felbermayr and Luxury Racing to the start/finish straight. - Image courtesy J. Frauca Photography.

BMW Motorsport #56 leads chasing entries of Felbermayr and Luxury Racing to the start/finish straight. - Image courtesy J. Frauca Photography.

Highlighted by heated exchanges between the Pratt & Miller Corvette outfit, AF-Corse and, of course BMW Motorsport – the now premier GT category of GTE received surprisingly little television coverage over the course of the event.

After blistering performances in the lead up to the race, and during qualifying, BMW Motorsport discovered that outright pace does not seal the deal.

Recurring difficulties and race incidents plagued the Schnitzer squad’s efforts. With both the #55/56 entries encountering issues on a number of occasions.

Having lead from pole in the early stages of the race, the team’s #56 entry of Priaulx, Hand, and (D) Müller would recover to secure a podium finish for the Bavarian marque, with third position in class. The team’s #55 sister car of Farfus, (J) Müller and Werner failed to finish.

Flying Lizard's #80 approaches Tertre Rouge. - Image courtesy Olaf Foto

Flying Lizard's #80 approaches Tertre Rouge. - Image courtesy Olaf Foto

Albeit lacking in single-lap pace, Porsche’s hopes for class victory suffered similar blows. Despite the presence of several all-professional runners within the field, the highest-placed Porsche entry of reigning GT(2) champions, Felbermayr-Proton #77 would finish fourth in class.

Fielding a two car Le Mans assault for the first time, North-American team Flying Lizards also encountered their fair share of difficulties, from tyre punctures to electrical wiring faults. The squad’s #80 GTE-PRO entry of Bergmeister, Long, and Luhr finished the event taking sixth in class. Despite technical hindrances.

Porsche’s luck (or lack of) would persist in the GTE-AM category. After having lead for much of the race, the class-leading #81 Flying Lizard entry of  Neimann, Law, and Pumpelly succumbed to mechanical difficulties in the dying hours of the event.

Late race heroics from P&M #73 narrowly saved Corvette's Le Mans victory. - Image courtesy J.Frauca Photography.

Late race heroics from P&M #73 narrowly saved Corvette's Le Mans victory. - Image courtesy J.Frauca Photography.

For all the wrong, and right reasons the GT show was stolen by Corvette Racing’s Pratt & Miller-led operation. Having lead its class for most of the race, the US squad’s #74 entry of Magnussen, Gavin and Westbrook left the race in dramatic fashion during the final three hours.

Attempting to correct a corner exit leaving the Porsche curves, Magnussen collided with the #63 GTE-AM Felbermayr-Proton entry, with Felbermayr Snr then at the helm, making direct contact at a considerable speed with the drivers side door.

Magnussen would emerge unscathed. Much to the dismay of onlookers, Horst Felbermayr Snr – the oldest driver in the paddock – would slowly be removed from the battered Porsche chassis before exiting the circuit via ambulance.

Jack Leconte's privateer Larbre Competition squad secured a second victory for Corvette in the GTE-AM category. - Image courtesy J.Frauca Photography.

Jack Leconte's privateer Larbre Competition squad secured a second victory for Corvette in the GTE-AM category. - Image courtesy J.Frauca Photography.

Then second in class, AF-Corse inherited the GTE-PRO lead. To the dismay of Ferrari fans, this was short lived. Determined not to succumb to a second consecutive dramatic loss, Corvette’s chances for victory improved ten-fold courtesy of a hard-charging Milner in the remaining #73  P&M Corvette.

Milner’s recovery of the class lead soon after would be maintained, securing the US manufacturer’s maiden victory under GTE regulations at Le Mans.

Although providing the new 458 a podium finish on its La Sarthe debut, the #51 crew of Ferrari factory drivers Alesi, Fisichella, and Bruni were left to settle for second-placed finish.

Success at the hands of the Jack Leconte-lead #50 Larbre Corvette squad saw the achievement of a double victory for the US manufacturer. The squad’s French lineup of Bornhauser, Gardel, and Canal triumphant in the GTE-AM category. Affording Corvette consolation for the loss of its second factory machine.

Larbre Competition’s #70 GTE-AM Porsche entry also finished second in class. Rounding out a 1-2 finish for the outfit.

US team Robertson Racing finished third to secure a podium on debut. Also providing the FordGT its first podium at Le Mans in over 40 years.

Advertisements

LMS: Full-time Return for Pescarolo Team.

 

Pescarolo Sport's Pescarolo 01-Evo during the 2009 1000KM of Okayama.

Pescarolo Sport's Pescarolo 01-Evo during the 2009 1000KM of Okayama. - Image Courtesy John Dagys / SpeedTV.com

Following the purchase of the defunct PescaroloSport operation and its assets by Nicolet and Rivière late last year, and it’s subsequent return to the hands of Henri Pescarolo (covered here), the newly named Pescarolo Team effort is beginning to gain momentum.

Having wasted little time regaining control, Pescarolo immediately began sourcing partners for the team’s 2011 programme and, following many positive releases in regards to sponsorship, details of Pescarolo Team’s LMS effort for the coming season are beginning to emerge. The most recent of which, are details of the squad’s new (and, at the same time old) driver lineup.

As many had already speculated, former Porsche and Corvette factory driver Emmanuel Collard returns to the squad. Having experienced his last prototype outing at the reigns of the class-winning Team Essex RS Spyder during the 2009 edition of the Le Mans 24 Hour, the announcement marks a return to the LMP ranks for the Frenchman after a season of part-time driving with the US-based Pratt & Miller outfit.

In the spirit of maintaining an all French outfit, Pescarolo stalwart and endurance ace, Christophe Tinseau has been named as the team’s second driver, rejoining the Pescarolo ranks after its twelve month absence. Details of a third driver for the season’s extended endurance events are not yet known.

Certain technical details regarding the team’s package are already known. With Henri Pescarolo having already announced a desire to continue operating a grandfathered version of the outfit’s now well known Pescarolo-01 chassis. PescaroloTeam is also believed to have been provided special dispensation by the ACO to utilise Judd’s 5.5L V10 powerplant throughout the 2011 season.

PescaroloTeam have signaled their desire to compete in both the 2011 Le Mans Series, and 24 Hours of Le Mans. Although opting against participating in the ACO’s new Intercontinental Le Mans Cup series in favour of a gradual and stable rebirth, Pescarolo has stated his intent to take part in future iterations of the ILMC.

LM24: Audi Unveils R18 TDi LMP1 Challenger.

Audi's R18 TDi.

Audi's new R18 TDi LMP1 Coupe. - Images Courtesy AudiUSA.

Following months of rumours and intense speculation within the sportscar racing community, AudiSport today revealed its next generation LMP1 chassis, the R18 TDi.

After achieving nine victories utilising the advantages afforded by open-top roadsters, Audi’s launch of the R18 TDi marks the manufacturer’s second foray into the use of closed-cockpit prototypes, following the use (and subsequent shelving) of the R8C Coupe in 1999.

Manufactured by Dallara, Audi’s latest LMP chassis is quite clearly a product of evolution, utilising a similarly radical (albeit simplified), raised-nose flow design pioneered by its predecessor.

With 2011 LMP1 regulations stipulating the use of both smaller chassis and engines, the R18 arrives sporting a variety of improvements from shortened wheelbase to new engine package. As had been suggested by numerous sources, Audi has confirmed the use of a 3.7L V6 TDi powerplant and, although the nature of the cooling system would suggest the use of a twin-turbo system, this has not been officially confirmed.

Although finer design details were at first overshadowed by the mere revelation of an Audi coupe, a closer observation reveals the effort invested thus far, with updates having taken place on virtually all of the chassis’ viewable surface.

Sidewall height has been reduced, with rear wheel-archs now extended forward, protruding over what was previously occupied air-intake real estate. Due to the demand for increased mechanical grip, front tyre width has increased and, as a result wheel archs are now heightened and much more pronounced.

The expected addition of the now mandatory ‘sharkfin’ concept can be seen adorning the cars’ rear bodywork. Some form of additional practicality appears to have been achieved, with the fin attached to a now roof-mounted air intake system. The purpose of this modification is not yet known.

Adding to the growing list of overhauled components, halogen headlights have been removed in favour of LED lighting. Despite this, the LED-strip lighting that once adorned the surrounding area of any Audi’s headlights (a feature which became synonymous with the marque’s racing machinery) is no longer evident.

Despite the likely presence of an R18 in Florida during March, Audi has ruled out any possibility of a Sebring debut for its latest LMP. Electing to participate regardless, the team will utilise a modified version of its current R15+ chassis for the 12 hour event.

The R18 will instead make its first public track appearance at the reinstated Le Mans test day on April 24, its maiden competitive debut following shortly after at the 6H Spa on May 8, 2011.

LMS: Toyota-Powered Future For Rebellion.

 

Rebellion Racing's Judd-powered Lola, during the 2010 Le Mans 24H. - Image Courtesy Marshall Pruett/SpeedTV.com

Following a successful 2010 campaign, Rebellion Racing today confirmed the suspicions of many within the sportscar racing fraternity. During a press release, the Swiss team publicly announced the formation of a technical partnership with Toyota Motorsport.

As suggested by brief reports leaked weeks earlier, the agreement sees Rebellion Racing emerge as the official and exclusive partner of Toyota Motorsport within the LMP1 category for the 2011 season, with Toyota Motorsport supplying engines and technical assistance to the squad.

Although technical details regarding the engine package are not yet known, the origins of the powerplant are believed to be of SuperGT derivation and, with the team having reportedly completed successful tests with an interim package in both Portimao and Barcelona, development is already well underway.

Having secured contract renewals for Jani, Prost, Belicchi, and Boullion, the team also confirmed the return of its regular driving outfit for the 2011 season during the announcement. Additional drivers for the 24H have not yet been announced.

Rebellion Racing Team Manager, Bart Hayden issued the following statement:

“We are delighted to partner with Toyota Motorsport and we look forward to working alongside them, with this company with a rich history, ranging from Formula 1 to Le Mans. We look forward to establishing a solid relationship with them based on the long term. ”

Although currently a ‘toe-in-the-water’ approach, the news is perceived by many as the first tentative steps toward a possible factory return, and perhaps an early signaling of intent by the auto-giant to rectify unfinished business with Le Sarthe.

LMS: Hope-Polevision Unveils Hybrid Powered Future.

 

HPV's Oreca FLM09 contesting the ILMC series finale at Zhuhai. - Image Courtesy Hope Polevision.

HPV's Oreca FLM09 contesting the ILMC series finale at Zhuhai. - Image Courtesy Hope Polevision.

Formula Le Mans team, Hope PoleVision have become a familiar name on the European sportscar scene and, after an impressive showing throughout the Le Mans series, have recently rounded out their 2010 season with a successful finish at the ILMC finale in Zhuhai, China.

In a surprise announcement, the Swiss team has revealed ambitious plans to enter the highly-competitive LMP1 category equipped with hybrid technology in 2011. In light of the announcements, the squad has unveiled a partnership with Oreca, which will see the use of a modified Oreca-01 chassis with KERS system attached.

Opting against utilisation of heavy and (currently) inefficient means of battery storage, the team will utilise KERS Hybrid equipment of mechanical derivation, similar to the system seen in Porsche’s GT3R Hybrid. Designed by energy recovery specialists Flybrid, the system will accompany a 2.0L gasoline powerplant, engineered by Lehmann. Technical details regarding the engine package are not yet known.

Team co-owner, Benoit Morand made the following statements:

“We looked at several options that were available, both on the market and specially designed for us that we could implement,” Sayer said. “We chose the mechanical route because we feel for the environment, from the start of the product to the finish of the product, and its life on the track, the mechanical system is 100 percent recyclable and we don’t have any chemicals involved.”

“We want to be in a position to run just behind the works teams, to stand out and catch the eye of a manufacturer for 2012. To aim for outright victory, we’ll need the resources of a factory squad to be able to take the fight to the front runners.”

Although both Peugeot and Audi squads are rumoured to be investigating the feasibility of hybrid technology for inclusion within their respective chassis, the announcement sees Hope Polevision lay it’s stake as the first privateer operation to embark on the hybrid development journey.

LMS: OAK Racing and Dunlop; P1 Partnership Begins.

 

OAK Racing runs Dunlop-shod at Zhuhai.

OAK Racing's Dunlop-shod Pescarolo 01-Judd during the ILMC finale at the 1000km Zhuhai. - Image Courtesy John Dagys/Speedtv.com

After a successful 2010 campaign spanning the Le Mans series, Le Mans 24 Hour, and inaugural running of the Intercontinental Cup, French team OAK Racing has recently unveiled it’s plans for the 2011 season.

During a recent press release, the Jacques Nicolet-led squad announced the formation of a new partnership with tyre supplier Dunlop and with it, unveiled plans to enter the LMP1 category. This agreement will see the OAK team, formerly the pseudo-development squad for Mazda Racing France, take on tyre development duties for the famous British supplier. As of 2011 OAK Racing will enter the premiere category of ACO prototype competition, while acting as the official LMP1 Dunlop tyre development squad.

Despite having already supplied OAK, and several other LMP teams (i.e. Dyson, Oreca, RML etc)  throughout 2010, the move comes at a time when Dunlop, still Le Mans most successful tyre supplier with 34 outright victories to its name, attempts to regain territory since lost to French tyre giant Michelin, and re-establish its winning presence within the sportscar community.

OAK Racing will continue to utilise Pescarolo chassis and, in accordance with 2011 ACO technical regulations, will likely compete with an overhauled version of their current LMP2 Pescarolo-01 package. Technical details have not yet been announced.

Peugeot 90X Revealed.

 

Peugeot 90x, Monza test.

Peugeot's 90X, seen testing at Monza. - Image Courtesy Peugeot.

During last weeks’ testing at Monza, PeugeotSport has revealed the first glimpses of the much awaited successor to its 908. The new chassis, having hit the track for the first time without a confirmed name, continues to bear the codename designation ’90X.’

Director of Peugeot sporting activities, Olivier Quesnel, made the following statement:

“Our intention was to take it out onto a track before the end of the year. I am pleased to report that we have now done that. Even so, there is still a long way to go and a considerable amount of work to be done as we prepare for 2011.”

Despite the obvious (and uncanny) resemblance the 90X bears to its predecessor, the 908, an inspection of finer design details reveals the scope of development work completed thus far. The addition of mandatory 2011 aerodynamic components such as the infamous sharkfin, are only the beginning. The 90x test mule images reveal the car sporting a new roof-scoop air-intake (in addition to the current, rear-wheel arch mounted intakes), remodeled/widened sidepods.

Both front and rear sections of the car have undergone significant design changes, with the 90x nose area now shorter, and more narrow than that of the 908. The car’s rear body work also saw radical changes, with a redesigned fender, exhaust system, and tail lights now transplanted to a more traditional (raised) position.

Many believe the car seen in testing utilised Peugeot’s current generation V12 diesel powerplant, as details regarding the 90X engine package are still yet to be confirmed by official sources. PeugeotSport technical director, Bruno Famin would neither confirm or deny rumours relating to a possible return to gasoline power, and made the following statements in regard to the new engine:

“We are still exploring several options with regard to the engine and technology we will use. Work on the engine’s development is ongoing. Endurance racing is a proving ground that provides us with an opportunity to showcase all the brand’s technologies.”

Peugeot’s new LMP will see it’s first competitive outing at the 12 Hours of Sebring next march, alongside yet-to-be-unveiled prototypes from both Audi and Aston Martin camps.