There's little doubt that Audi will face the biggest challenge of its Le Mans career this week. Just ask anyone involved with Audi Sport, and they will confirm it. The second diesel showdown in the world's greatest motor race sees three R10 TDIs...
There's little doubt that Audi will face the biggest challenge of its Le Mans career this week. Just ask anyone involved with Audi Sport, and they will confirm it. The second diesel showdown in the world's greatest motor race sees three R10 TDIs from the Audi camp matched up against a trio of diesel challengers from Peugeot, a year after Audi's 10-lap victory in a rain-soaked 24 Hours.
As it has in seven previous races in eight years, Audi enters as the defending race winner. Ingolstadt's record at Le Mans is exemplary to say the least. Since its first victory in 2000, Audi has recorded 17 podium finishes - an even 20 counting the podiums for the Audi-powered Bentleys in the early part of the decade. But although the green British coupe did take a Le Mans victory in 2003, the challenge that Peugeot represents is unlike any Audi has faced.
"The competition is very strong and is preparing itself meticulously for this 24-hour race," said Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, Head of Audi Motorsport. "This is a huge challenge for us. The main aim is to win the race again. It will probably be the toughest Le Mans race in which we have competed up to now. However the bigger the challenge the greater the motivation."
Last year's win at Le Mans was Audi's only overall race victory against Peugeot. Yes, Audi did win in LMP1 at Sebring with Peugeot in the field but finished third overall behind two Porsche RS Spyders. On the other hand, Peugeot is 3-0 against Audi in the Le Mans Series although Audi has finished second in each round.
"The LMS has shown just how strong Peugeot can be. We expect things to be similar at Le Mans," said Frank Biela, part of the winning trio the last two years with Emanuele Pirro and Marco Werner. "However, we have some advantages in the pit stop and strategy areas. Everything was perfect in these particular areas last year. Our car has stamina which is something that not every opponent can claim. It'll be exciting and we are looking forward to it."
On paper, the race for overall victory will come down to 21 entries in the highest prototype class with challenges expected to come from a fleet of Lolas, Courages, Creations and Pescarolos. But confidence radiates in the Audi camp with two R10 TDIs entered under Audi Sport North America and another by Audi Sport Team Joest, that car being driven by Lucas Luhr, Mike Rockenfeller and Alexandre Premat.
"Of course the focus of everybody is on what happens at the front," said Allan McNish, who will team with Dindo Capello and Tom Kristensen. "But as we have seen during the races in Europe the Aston Martin is very quick, the Dome is doing well and the Courage was on the podium. So I think the LMP1 grid is very full of strong competitors. But of course the duel between Audi and Peugeot is making the headlines and there are good chances that the two will fight for the victory at the end."
"The philosophy and the strength of Audi have always been to concentrate on ourselves and to show our best performance during every lap and pit stop of the race," Pirro said. "Of course we know about the capabilities of our competitors. But we know what a good car we have and we know what good Joest guys we have. We have respect but we are not afraid of anyone."
The 76th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans runs from 9 a.m. ET (3 p.m. local time) Saturday, June 14 to 9 a.m. ET Sunday, June 15 from the Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France. Forty-two drivers will represent the American Le Mans Series, whose teams have captured seven overall victories and 22 class championships since 1999. SPEED will televise the event live, and Radio Le Mans will have flag-to-flag coverage of the race as well as practice and qualifying on June 11 and 12.
The next round of the American Le Mans Series is the American Le Mans Northeast Grand Prix. The race is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET on Saturday, July 12 at Lime Rock Park. SPEED will televise the race from noon to 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 13. XM Satellite Radio will air the event live on XM Sports Nation Channel 144.