By Joey Selmants
- LMP1 rivalry set for 2011 Le Mans 24 hours
- Peugeot and Audi go for supremacy at la Sarthe
- Next head-to-head test will be at Spa
Every sport needs a good, hard-fought rivalry to fuel the passion and emotions of competitors and fans alike. Baseball has the long lasting feud between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, soccer has Manchester United vs Liverpool and college football has the heated Ohio State and Michigan game. Motor racing has seen its fair share of rivalries, just as fierce as the ones mentioned above. Ferrari vs Porsche in sports cars and Ferrari vs McLaren in Formula One are two famous battles that spring to mind, but recently Audi vs Peugeot at Le Mans has been the one to watch.
In 2006, Audi shocked the racing world by contesting and winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans in dominating fashion with the brand new Audi R10, powered by a 5.5. liter V12 TDI diesel engine. Peugeot followed suit the following year and went head-to-head with Audi at Le Mans with a diesel prototype of their own; the Peugeot 908 HDI. The rest, as they say, is history. Audi and Peugeot have battled fiercely at races all across the globe providing racing fans with some of the best racing in the world.
While the Peugeot often proved to be the quicker of the two cars and has won many races -- including Petit Le Mans and the 12 Hours of Sebring -- reliability issues, questionable race strategy and sloppy pit work has hurt Peugeot at the big one: Le Mans. Audi has managed to win when it counts and has come out on top at three out of the last four 24 Hours of Le Mans. 2011 marks a new chapter in the rivalry as both manufactures will contest this year's French classic with brand new cars.
Audi has elected to go with a closed top prototype, the R18, for the first time since the R8C in 1999. Audi has built open topped roadsters in the past with one of the main reasons being to facilitate driver changes. Audi often used their superior pit work to keep them close to the often faster Peugeots. With new pit stop rules only allowing one wheel gun to change tires, pit stops will be more lengthy therefore making the driver changes not as important. Also, new regulations have cut horsepower in LMP1 cars, so the aerodynamic efficiency of the coupes is more important than in years' past.
Peugeot has been hard at work too, with their new Peugeot 908 (very creative nomenclature). The new car looked very quick at the 12 Hours of Sebring before their chances were ruined due to driver error and small technical gremlins.
This past Sunday, the two rivals went head-to-head at the Le Mans test day for the first time with their new beasts at Circuit de la Sarthe, the home of the famous 24 hour race. Audi drivers topped the time sheets in both practice sessions with Tom Kristensen setting the fastest time with a 3m 27.687s. Peugeot was not far behind however, with Stephane Sarrazin running a 3:27.876, good enough for third place.
With both teams being notorious for "sandbagging," and different cars possibly running vastly different setups it is impossible to figure out too much from the test results. We will just have to wait for Spa next month where the two cars will race against each other for the first time and then Le Mans in June where the truth will definitely come out.
2011 is an exciting time for sports car racing.
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