Mission accomplished for Michelin and Audi at Le Mans Frank Biela, Emanuele Pirro and Marco Werner scored a landmark victory in the 2006 Le Mans 24 Hours this afternoon in front of 235,000 spectators who had the privilege of seeing motor sport...
Mission accomplished for Michelin and Audi at Le Mans
Frank Biela, Emanuele Pirro and Marco Werner scored a landmark victory in the 2006 Le Mans 24 Hours this afternoon in front of 235,000 spectators who had the privilege of seeing motor sport history in the making. Audi has effectively succeeded in its bold bid to win the world's most demanding endurance race with diesel technology. And Michelin rose to the challenge in style too to join its partner on the top of the podium, its ninth consective victory at Le Mans. The French tyre firm was also successful in the LMGT1 category with Chevrolet Corvette and in LMP2 with the RML-run Lola. Michelin runners monopolised the top thriteen places at the finish.
Rising to major technological challenges has always been an integral part of motor sport, and more especially perhaps in the world of endurance racing and the Le Mans 24 Hours. This fact only serves to reinforce the impact of what Audi and its longstanding tyre partner Michelin have acheived this weekend in the world's toughest but also the most famous long distance race.
The idea of racing a diesel-powered prototype at Le Mans germinated some three years ago, yet the car only existed in virtual form on the German carmaker's simulation and CAD-CAM software until as recently as its official launch at the end of 2005.
For Michelin, the challenge began when Audi took Michelin Competition into its confidence mid-2003. Since then, the firm's competition, research and development staff have been busy working on advanced new tyres capable of coping with the V12 diesel's exceptional power and torque characteristics, as well as working harmoniously with the configuration of the R10's chassis and aerodynamics.
"A big bravo has to go to everyone at Audi Sport Team Joest which today pulled off its bid to win Le Mans with diesel power," said Frederic Henry-Biabaud, Competition Director of the Michelin Group. "At Michelin, we are extremely proud to have worked at its sides throughout this exciting adventure. The timing of the programme was respected to the letter, from the new tyres' initial design to our first tests together and our wins at Sebring in March and here today at Le Mans where the objective was always for the R10s to cover triple stints with the same tyres." The no-nonsense victory of the N8 Audi (Biela/Pirro/Werner) at Le Mans this afternoon effectively speaks volumes for the ground covered in the interim, a result compounded by the presence on the podium of the N7 sister R10 (3rd, Capello/Kristensen/McNish) and the N17 Pescarolo (2nd, Helary/Loeb/Montagny) which were both competing on the same tyres.
"We didn't have the slightest problem with tyres all weekend," beamed the N8 Audi driver Marco Werner at the finish. "Michelin has produced a genuine exploit by enabling us to triple stint despite the hot weather. Bravo, Michelin, and my sincerest congratulations to them for all their tremedous work both before and during the race." The N8 Audi inherited the lead shortly prior to the four-hour mark on Saturday evening before producing a near- faultless run to take the flag four laps clear of the Pescarolo which remained on its heels throughout, not once permitting the German and Italian driver line-up to relax an instant. Meanwhile, the N7 Audi fought back from 15th overall at one point after a series of incidents to clinch the bronze medal and, in the process, a new lap record for the 13.65km circuit (3m 31.211s, an average of 232.658 kph).
In addition to monopolising the top-twelve places at the finish, Michelin runners also starred in three of the four official categories: in the LMP1 class of course with Audi and Pescarolo, but also in LMGT1 (top seven places) in which the N64 Corvette C6R (Gavin/Beretta/Magnussen) finally got the better of its Aston Martin rivals. Finally, there was also a trophy for Michelin's partners in the LMP2 category with the N25 MG Lola of Erdos/Newton/Wallace (9th overall, and second consecutive LMP2 win).
* Frederic Henry-Biabaud (Michelin Group Competition Director): "This year's Le Mans has shown yet again that this race is all about spending the least time possible in the pits, whether for mechanical reasons or to change tyres. In addition to Audi, I would also like to congratulate Pescarolo for their excellent run. They succeeded in taking the fight to their faster, more fuel efficient opponents and pushing them all the way. Finally, this win for diesel power at Le Mans is a truly landmark success which I believe marks the beginning of a new era. It confirms that endurance racing has the makings of becoming an exciting 'battleground' for carmakers to promote innovative technologies. Peugeot's return in 2007 - with Michelin - is a perfect illustration of tendency."
* Michelin 2006 Le Mans statistics... Michelin's 9 thconsecutive Le Mans victory this weekend takes the firm's total record to 15 outright wins since the race's creation in 1923. Michelin tyres also claimed the top-thirteen places overall in this year's event, plus the top-seven places in LMGT1 (led by the N64 Corvette C6R of Gavin/Beretta/Magnussen) and victory in LMP2 (with the N25 MG Lola of Erdos/Newton/Wallace).
* Reward 1... Matthieu Bonardel (Michelin Competition's Circuit Racing Activities Manager): "We are all thrilled with today's result. It's our reward for all the hard work everyone involved with Le Mans at Michelin put in upstream of the race and also for our speed of reaction during it. Both Audi and Pescarolo successfully triple stinted with a single set of the new tyres we developed for the LMP1 cars, and that was one of our key objectives this weekend."
* Reward 2... Matthieu Bonardel: "It's also very gratifying too to see Michelin runners on top of both the LMP2 and LMGT1 categories, as well as in the top thirteen places overall. At the same time, I'm disappointed with our result in LMGT2. We've dominated this category in performance terms for the past two years but each time the podium has slipped from our hands. That was quite frustrating."
* Au revoir, Le Mans... Michelin Competition's Endurance Programme Operations Manager Gerard Aussage was working at the Le Mans 24 Hours for the very last time this year before bowing out to take a well- earned retirement. A long-time motor sport fan (he was beaten only by future F1 driver Rene Arnoux in the semi- finals of the Volant Shell find-a-driver scheme in 19XX*), Gerard channeled his passion for the sport into his work at Michelin Competition which he joined in the mid-1980s after thirteen years with the company as tyre test driver. He tasted World Rally Championship success with Peugeot in 1985 and 1986, then again with Lancia before being appointed chief of Michelin's endurance racing department in 1994. "I suppose my heart still really belongs to rallying because the notion of adventure was still preponderant when I first became involved," he recalls. "But I've had some unforgettable times too in endurance racing which has always been such a friendly discipline. For sure, this evening is a very emotional moment for me. My career in competition began in rallying with Peugeot and ends just before Peugeot's return to Le Mans. It's time to make way for my younger colleagues, and I know that Michelin's endurance department is in excellent hands." (*) he refuses to admit in which year exactly!
* All-rounders... Sebastien Loeb and Luc Alphand are not the only people to have switched disciplines here this weekend. Franck, Pierre-Louis and Didier are all motor sport technicians on Le Mans duty this weekend who work with the Michelin Group in other championships. Pierre-Louis and Didier operate in the World Rally Championship alongside the Skoda Red Bull and Ford teams respectively, but for the past few days they have traded their usual mission to work with the IMSA Performance and Noel del Bello Porsche 911 teams. Meanwhile, this isn't Franck's first taste of circuit racing. "In 2004, I was a technician with DAMS in the FIA GT Championship. And last year I was in F1 with Red Bull, as well as working at Le Mans with Larbre Competition. This year, I am essentially involved with BP Ford in rallying." Franck's WRC career kicked off with consecutive wins on the Monte Carlo and Swedish Rallies earlier this year. "There are fewer tyre choices to make in circuit racing than in rallying. On the other hand, tyre pressure management is more complex since the set-up of the cars is that much more finely-tuned in racing. Le Mans also focuses more on race strategy and tyre management."