Chrysler Team ORECA raced to fourth position at the 69th edition of the Le Mans 24 hours, the manufacturer's best result at the world famous Le Mans 24 hours since 1928. The Mopar 6-litre V8 powered Chrysler LMP, driven by Olivier Beretta, Karl Wendlinger and Pedro Lamy, crossed the line behind the winning Audis and Bentley and was immediately swamped by well-wishers who swarmed onto the grid to offer their congratulations.
Beretta, who has been with Chrysler Team ORECA since the first days of the Viper GTS-R in 1996 and who has won multiple international championships with the team, was given the honour of finishing the race. "I am so happy,this is like a victory for us," said the Monegasque. "The conditions were exceptionally difficult during the night when it was raining, but we worked as a team for this fantastic result."
The race started in dry conditions but the rain rapidly set in, creating tricky conditions for the drivers. "We were lucky," said Wendlinger, who drove the final stint in the 2000 Daytona 24 hours to take the chequer flag first overall in the Viper. "The other cars had problems, but we only had minor difficulties during the race. The conditions were very difficult and it was up to us as drivers to decide that we would not push on one lap because the weather was more severe than the lap before. It is something that comes from your instinct as a driver, and they served us well today."
ORECA Director Hugues de Chaunac hosted the post race celebrations in the Chrysler pit. "I want to thank everybody who was involved in this project, including Chrysler, PlayStation, John Caldwell, our engine builder, Dallara, our chassis partner, the drivers, Bosch, everyone who supported us," he said. "This week I saw that we were working well as a team in unfamiliar circumstances, and we all worked towards achieving this goal. I thought that to have a car in the top six would be wonderful, but to finish in the top four against such opposition is a dream. We must all come back next year to win."
Four-time winner Yannick Dalmas, Stephane Sarrazin and Franck Montagny were the first retirements due to a valve train problem that damaged the engine. Portuguese Ni Amorim and his Japanese co-drivers Masahiko Kondo and Seiji Ara, were lying in seventh position overall on Sunday just before midday when an oil leak caused a fire that engulfed the rear of the Chrysler LMP.
Ara brought the car safely to a halt and climbed out in record time as the marshals fought the blaze. When it was extinguished the Japanese returned to the cockpit to use the mobile phone carried in the car to phone the team. He was pictured on television striking the phone in frustration. "The phone was all wet where the marshals had put out the fire," said the embarrassed Japanese. "I needed a waterproof one!"