CONSISTENCY MAY BE AUDI TRIO'S BIGGEST WEAPON AT LE MANS Braselton, Ga. - Six-and-a-half seconds the other way, and we could be talking about Champion Racing's No. 2 Audi R8 as the bigger favorite of the two team cars entered in the 24 Hours of...
CONSISTENCY MAY BE AUDI TRIO'S BIGGEST WEAPON AT LE MANS
Braselton, Ga. - Six-and-a-half seconds the other way, and we could be talking about Champion Racing's No. 2 Audi R8 as the bigger favorite of the two team cars entered in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Not that the trio of Emanuele Pirro, Frank Biela and Allan McNish won't contend for the overall title once the 73rd running of the world's most famous sports car race starts Saturday.
Aside from their teammates in the No. 3 Audi, Biela, Pirro and McNish may be the strongest lineup among the 49 entries at Le Mans. They have combined for 31 victories in the ALMS. Each has at least one overall victory at Le Mans to his credit: Biela and Pirro with three each (2000-02 with Audi) and McNish with one (1998 for Porsche).
Still, the trio finished a race-record 6.365 seconds behind JJ Lehto, Marco Werner and Tom Kristensen in the No. 1 Champion Audi, which actually is the No. 3 entry at Le Mans, in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
"Even though we lost at Sebring, the race gave me a lot of confidence," Pirro said. "It proved that we are as fast as the No. 1 Audi R8. It also gave me a lot of motivation to achieve what we missed by a fraction in Sebring."
So far this year, defending driver champions Lehto and Werner have grabbed most of the headlines, with two victories in three races this year. But of the two Champion teams, Pirro and Biela have been on the podium for each ALMS event in 2005. That consistency has kept them within 6 points of Lehto and Werner for this year's drivers title.
The No. 2 car, however, wasn't nearly up to speed during the Le Mans test day on June 5. Pirro and Biela (with McNish racing in a DTM race in the Czech Republic) only mustered a 3:39.418, more than 6 full seconds behind the No. 16 Pescarolo Sport entry, which was fastest in the session.
The R8's handicap played a large role in the slower-than-normal time. For Le Mans, the entries must run with a ballast of 50 kilograms and restricted air-flow into the engine, reducing horsepower. But the reliability, pit strategy and technology that come with the Audi name still remains. Both Pirro and Biela know that if they win the race, it will come down to strategy and planning, not strict speed and power.
"Unfortunately we had some problems in the morning and it's always the same: You come here and you have eight or nine hours of practice and you think this is time enough and then suddenly you run out of time," Biela said. "We had two problems that took up most of our morning session practice time. The car was OK, but the time gap to the quickest cars is quite like we expected. It will be down to reliability, good strategy and good pit stops."
And good luck.
Qualifying at Le Mans is scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday. The 24 Hours of Le Mans will be broadcast on SPEED Channel starting at 10 a.m. EDT Saturday. The next race for the American Le Mans Series is the New England Grand Prix, set for 3 p.m. July 4 at Lime Rock Park. The race will be broadcast live on SPEED (3 to 6 p.m. EDT) and on MotorsTV in Europe, reaching 40 million viewers in 21 countries as well as at www.americanlemans.com.