Audi Sport UK Team Veloqx claimed a magnificent 1-2 finish in the opening round of the Le Mans Endurance Series at Monza near Milan today (9 May) having dominated the 1,000km event from start-to-finish.
Johnny Herbert earned the British Audi team their maiden pole-position in only their second race - Johnny's first since the infamous Brands Hatch F3000 race accident when he suffered serious ankle and feet injuries - while Allan McNish lined-up third on the 38-car grid.
McNish snatched the lead from Herbert's starting co-driver, Jamie Davies, on the opening lap and led until making a pit-stop on lap 47 allowing Herbert, having taken over #88 Audi from Davies the previous lap, to inherit the lead.
With two hours on the clock (lap 70), Herbert and McNish were nose to tail, the Goh Audi (Ara/Capello/Kristensen) third, already 35secs adrift, but one lap after mid-distance (lap 87), McNish re-took the lead.
McNish pitted from the lead after a 180min driving stint, his German co-driver Pierre Kaffer resuming 1.6secs ahead of Herbert who had pitted moments earlier. Eight laps later the Briton, who won the 1995 Italian F1 Grand Prix at Monza, dramatically snatched the lead after a daring manoeuvre which saw Herbert drive over 50yds on the grass verge, pull alongside Kaffer, and dive through under braking for the Parabolica corner.
McNish took over from Kaffer with 25-laps to the finish, resuming 68secs behind leader Herbert. Rain five-laps later made the track treacherously slippy forcing both Herbert and McNish to pit for full wet tyres.
With seven laps to run, Herbert held a slender 11.775secs advantage over McNish but the Scotsman, despite a straight-on at the first chicane and contact with another car the following lap, had closed in to within just 0.663secs at the chequered flag in the incredible 173-lap, 305min race. The third-place Goh Audi finished one-lap behind the Veloqx Audis. The winning Veloqx Audi R8 of Davies/Herbert averaged 122.16mph.
The four-race Le Mans Endurance Series continues at the Nurburgring on 4 July although the British-based Audi Sport UK Team Veloqx squad will be focussed on the Le Mans 24 hours next month (12-13 June) before the German race.
Audi R8 - #8
Pierre Kaffer (D). Age 27. Born: Bad-Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Ger. Lives: Burgbrohl, Ger:
"Second place gives me a nice feeling, after all, this was only my second ever sports prototype race and having won at Sebring, to be on the podium again is good for me. I am always learning, every time I sit in the R8. On Friday, I drove it for the first time in rain and I also need to gain experience in traffic. I could do little about Johnny taking the lead from me - I tried to follow him closely but traffic held me up."
Allan McNish (GB). Age: 34. Born: Dumfries, Scotland. Lives: Monte Carlo, Monaco:
"We had a strong, hard race with the 'sister' Veloqx Audi throughout which I believe was one of the best sportscar races I've ever been involved with, so I can't be too disappointed with the result. The closing stages were exciting - I was pushing hard and another lap would have been mighty interesting. We've got points on the board in terms of the championship which was important and sets us up nicely for Le Mans."
Audi R8 - #88
Jamie Davies (GB). Age 30. Born / Lives: Yeovil, England:
"A great, perfect weekend. For me to start from pole-position in only my second race for Audi and for Johnny and I to score this victory is a dream result. I locked-up under braking for the first chicane at the start which allowed Allan to slip through but thereafter I got in to a good rhythm and was pleased with my performance. Third at Sebring, second fastest in the Le Mans Pre-Tests and now first - life is good."
Johnny Herbert (GB). Age 39. Born: Brentwood, England. Lives: Monte Carlo, Monaco:
"The Audi never missed a beat - it was perfect all day. Going on to the grass to overtake Pierre was worth the risk and the close finish ultimately proved that I needed to push and build up a small cushion. Victory today was very important for our championship title hopes. The team have done a lot of hard work in testing at Paul Ricard and at Le Mans and it's paying off with Veloqx scoring a 1-2 finish at Monza. Team moral will be high heading to Le Mans which is vital.
Sam Li, Team Principal:
"A fantastic result but probably not good for my heart! By starting this race from pole-position and ultimately finishing first and second, we successfully delivered a strong message that we're ready for the Le Mans 24 Hours. To win our first two races [Sebring & Monza] with Audi, and to have topped the Pre-Test at Le Mans, is magnificent. But we are under no illusion the 24 Hours will be very tough and we will take absolutely nothing for granted."