Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Audi outlasts rivals to win French thriller

Audi triumphed for the 13th time in a 24 Hours of Le Mans that was never short of drama.

The No. 2 R18 e-Tron Quattro of Andre Lotterer, Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer headed home the sister car of Lucas Di Grassi, Marc Gene and Tom Kristensen whilst the No. 8 Toyota of Nicolas Lapierre and Sebastien Buemi fought back from an early crash, which wiped out the third Audi, to finish third.

The podium finish for the No.1 Audi was made all the more remarkable after the car was completely destroyed and subsequently rebuilt after a huge crash for Loic Duval earlier in the week. The incident ruled Duval out of the race and he was replaced by Marc Gene who was originally scheduled to race the No. 38 Jota Sport Zytek-Nissan in the LMP2 category. Gene was replaced by McLaren F1 tester Oliver Turvey.

It wasn't the only pre-race incident to rule a driver out of the race with James Calado and Fernando Rees also crashing hard and ending up in hospital. Calado was replaced in the No. 71 Ferrari by Pierre Kaffer while the Aston Martin that Rees shared with Alex MacDowall and Darryl O'Young was withdrawn.

For the first time in recent memory Audi didn't go into the race as favourites for the win, that went to Toyota who controlled the first half of the race but retirement for the No. 7 car put paid to the Japanese manufacturer's chances once again. Porsche then looked like they could take the win in their return to La Sarthe but problems for the team's No. 20 car allowed Audi to take the lead in the closing hours.

In the battle for LMP2 honours, Jota Sport were victorious. The car of of Simon Dolan, Harry Ticknell and Turvey didn't look like winning the race until the No. 35 Ligier was hit with engine issues which took it out of contention. Ligier still managed to get one of their cars on the podium with the No. 46 Thiriet by TDS Racing car taking second in class while the No.36 Signatech Alpine of Paul-Loup Chatin, Nelson Panciatici and Oliver Webb finished third. The French team led into the early hours on the morning until suspension failure set them back to fifth before they climbed back up to the top three.

In the GTE classes, after a thrilling fight with the No. 97 Aston Martin, the works Ferrari of Gianmaria Bruni, Toni Vilander and Giancarlo Fisichella claimed first place, the Aston retiring with power steering issues. the Chevrolet Corvette of Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor finished second in GTE Pro with Marco Holzer, Frédéric Makowiecki and Richard Lietz third.

In the GTE Am class, the No. 95 Aston Martin took class honours, one year on after Allan Simonsen was killed behind the wheel of the car at last year's race. The No. 88 Porsche and the No. 61 Ferrari completed the GTE Am podium.

Nissan's 'Garage 56' ZEOD RC experimental car made history in the warm up by completing the first ever all-electric powered lap of the Circuit de la Sarthe, although the Deltawing-esque machine retired less that half an hour into the race with gearbox troubles ending their race.

Image - Joest racing

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