Audi hanging on to lead in closing hours

The No. 2 Audi Sport Team Joest R10 TDI of Dindo Capello leads the 76th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but Jacques Villeneuve in the second-placed No. 7 Team Peugeot Total 908 HDI is now on the same lap as Capello's Audi, praying for a miracle with just four hours remaining.

#2 Audi Sport North America Audi R10: Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen, Rinaldo Capello.
Photo by Tom Haapanen.

Villeneuve overtook Capello on lap 317, getting by the defending American Le Mans Series co-champion in the Dunlop Chicane. Since that pass, Villeneuve has been a man on a mission, reeling off laps up to nine seconds a lap quicker than the Audi.

However, both the Peugeot and Audi teams have been using its team cars to try new strategies out before putting it in their leading machines. As the 8.5-mile Circuit de La Sarthe begins so slowly dry, Audi called in both its Nos. 1 and 3 entries for intermediate tires. This may have proven costly for Marco Werner, though as the German spun on his out lap and slowed on track. The No. 1 car later pitted and was wheeled directly to the garage with clutch failure.

Peugeot, meanwhile, had put its Le Mans Series bodywork on the No. 8 car, in hopes of making the 908 more suitable to the rainy conditions. That's just one of the benefits of running three cars in a race.

"There are two very close fights going on for first and third places between Peugeot and Audi," Peugeot Sport Director Michel Barge said. "Our chances took a blow with the arrival of rain tonight and Audi is coming through it better than us. Our cars lack grip and our opponents have more experience. There is still a long way to go, though, and much will depend on how the weather turns, although it looks like it will stay wet for the next three hours at least."

Van Merksteijn Motorsport leads a Porsche RS Spyder 1-2 in LM P2, with Jos Verstappen ahead of the Team Essex entry of Casper Elgaard. The Saulnier Racing Pescarolo Judd has dropped to third in class.

In LM GT1, Antonio Garcia looks set to give Aston Martin Racing its second consecutive class win, but holds only a slight one-lap margin over the No. 63 Corvette Racing C6.R in second.

The battle for the LM GT2 crown has been in the hands of the No. 82 Risi Competizine Ferrari F430 GT nearly the entire race, and if the prancing horse can take it to the finish line, it would mark Ferrari's first-ever GT2 class win at Le Mans and the marque's first La Sarthe class win since Prodrive's GT1 victory in 2004.

As the clock winds down, so do the cars still circulating the track. There have been two more recent retirements, as the No. 21 Epsilon Euskadi Judd and No. 22 Tokai University Courage YGK have both succumbed to gearbox failure. The No. 11 Dome Racing Team S102 Judd suffered a heavy crash in the Mulsanne kink, and the car is in the garage undergoing repairs.