Champion Racing earns their first Le Mans victory

Champion Racing earns their first Le Mans victory

Tom Kristensen, Marco Werner and JJ Lehto won the 73rd Le Mans 24 Hours after a dramatic race that contained series of incidents, mechanical problems and a many surprises. The ...

Tom Kristensen, Marco Werner and JJ Lehto won the 73rd Le Mans 24 Hours after a dramatic race that contained series of incidents, mechanical problems and a many surprises. The #3 Champion Racing team drove a consistent race as other teams suffered problems, they took the lead early in the race and then built up a comfortable lead to cross the line two laps ahead.

#3 Champion Racing Audi R8: JJ Lehto, Marco Werner, Tom Kristensen.
Photo by Tom Haapanen.
The Champion Racing started in eighth position and the team put in a solid performance without making any major mistakes to slowly work their way up the field during the first three hours as and remain in the lead for the rest of the race. Kristensen then put in a strong overnight stint to resist a change from Allan McNish in the sister Champion Racing car but after McNish crashed in an early morning incident he dropped out of contention leaving Kristensen and his team to keep the car on the road for the remaining nine hours with a two lap cushion.

"It was very very difficult after the night", said Werner. "The track was a little bit dirty and there were some stones or gravel on the track. There were a lot of parts where you could go off and it would be very very dangerous - you can lose the race, you can lose everything there. We were in the situation that we could go slow and withstand the pressure, the stratergy was very good and also teamwork was important to win this race."

Pescarolo Sport started as the pre-race favourites and pulled out a substantial lead over the opening laps. Jean Christophe Boullion started in the #16 car in pole position and pulled away slightly over his team-mate during the opening laps. Comas took over and was forced to pit after three hours with a gearbox problem and then pitted again soon afterwards experiencing gear-shift problems out on the circuit.

The team lost 25 minutes while the problem was investigated and dropped from second to tenth place. The drivers slowly worked their way back up the field and at the midway point Comas moved up into third place with Boullion taking over and moving up to second when McNish had an accident. The team then set about chasing the leading Audi and in the final couple of hours Boullion was gaining as much as six seconds per lap on Kristensen, but he was called into the pits to have the sidepods and radiators cleared out and that put paid to any challenge.

"For me it was a real privilege to be in a car capable of winning this event", said Comas. "Had we not had the gearbox problems we would have won the event fairly easily. After the problem we pulled back six out of the seven laps to the leading Audi, and that is a fantastic achievement."

#2 Champion Racing Audi R8: Frank Biela, Allan McNish, Emanuele Pirro.
Photo by Tom Haapanen.
Champion Racing underlined their victory with a third place for the #2 car of Emanuele Pirro, Frank Biela and Allan McNish. Pirro inherited the lead when the two Pescarolos suffered problems but lost it soon afterwards when he hit a tyre barrier. After being repaired the car ran second for most of the evening and night with McNish putting in an extremely strong sting overnight to close the gap to Kristensen down to under one minute. McNish suffered a tyre delamination which put him into the tyre barriers and the damage was sufficient enough to keep him in the pits for just under 20 minutes around Boullion past and demoted the team to third, where it stayed for the remainder of the race.

After the race McNish described how the increased weight and performance reduction measures had affected the Audi R8 and the team's approach to the race: "The weight penalty you could feel more, in my opinion, in the Porsche Curves and change of directions than anywhere else, but with the reduction on the restrictor side it had quite a bit of an effect and it meant that you had to think about your stratergy a little differently and as a driver your overtaking stratergy."

The #17 Pescarolo suffered the lion's share of the problems between the two cars. Soheil Ayari kept his second place at the start and almost kept in touch with Boullion. Eric Helary took over but after three hours suffered a puncture halfway round the circuit and lost six minutes crawling back garage. Ayari took over the driving seat but shortly after midnight collided with the #8 Rollcentre Racing Dallara Nissan of Bobby Verdon-Roe and had lost 20 minutes in the pitlane undergoing repairs. He rejoined in tenth place and Loeb's strong stint overnight moved the car up to eighth position and benefited from technical problems to other cars to move up to fifth place. The team's race was ruined when Ayari clipped a kerb and heavily damaged the car against the tyre wall with four hours to go and the team retired from the event.

The #5 Jim Gainer International Dome Mugen of Ryo Michigami, Seiji Ara and Katsutomo Kaneichi look set for a third place but their challenge was brought to a premature end. The car started in fourth position and Michigami made a bold move down the inside of the Champion Racing Audi R8 of Pirro at the first corner. The team flirted with third position for much of the early part of the race but retired with gearbox problems early in the morning.

The #9 Team Jota / Zytek Engineering of Sam Hignett, John Stack and Haruki Kurosawa put in a strong performance to finish sixth. The team started in ninth place and a good run early in the morning propelled the team up to fifth place but a series of pitstops dropped them down to sixth place for a relatively quiet and uneventful race until the penultimate hour where Sam Hignett ran wide at a corner a lightly touched the tyre barrier. The car went back to the pits and remained there for the rest of the race.

#18 Rollcentre Racing Dallara Judd: Martin Short, Joao Barbosa, Vanina Ickx.
Photo by Tom Haapanen.
The #18 Rollcentre Racing Dallara Judd of Martin Short, Joao Barbosa and Vanina Ickx look set for a shock result when it was running second after a couple of hours and within a serious chance of taking the lead, but then a series of technical problems including a power steering leak, oil leaks and a puncture dropped the team out of contention.

The #7 Creation Autosportif DBA Judd of Nicholas Minassian, Jamie Campbell-Walter and Andy Wallace started in seventh place and spent most of the race hovering around that position, apart from a drop down to eleventh early in the evening when it suffered a water leak, but recovered to finish seventh despite picking a right-rear puncture. The #13 Courage Competition Judd of Jonathan Cochet, Shinji Nakano and Bruce Jouanny qualified in sixth place but soon dropped down to twelfth place in the race and retired late in the evening with accident damage to the back of the car.

LM P2 story

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