The Audi of Tom Kristensen, JJ. Lehto and Marco Werner and Michelin tyres have come through motor racing's longest day to claim the 2005 Le Mans 24 Hours. The N3 car took the lead shortly after the three-hour mark before controlling from in front, profiting from its near-clockwork reliability to keep its sister machines and the Pescarolo-Michelin challengers at a safe distance. For Tom Kristensen, the result is a fairytale ending to his bid to become the first driver to win the celebrated endurance classic for a record seventh time.
Despite the exceptional heat that reigned throughout the weekend, Michelin runners secured the top six places at the finish to ensure the firm's fourteenth win -- and eighth in a row! -- and also monopolised the podium in the LMGT1 and LMP2 categories.
Neither the blistering heat, nor the very real challenge of the locally-based Pescarolo-Michelin team, nor any of the other Audi R8 drivers could prevent this being Tom Kristensen's weekend here in Le Mans.
His chances of taking a record-breaking seventh win in the Le Mans 24 Hours were a subject he preferred to evade before the start of the 73rd running of the French race, but after a marathon final stint behind the wheel of the N3 Audi-Michelin, the Dane took the flag to go one win clear of the legendary Jacky Ickx with whom he drew level in 2004.
In the end, the regulation changes introduced for 2005 failed to dent the recent, merciless domination of this event by the German carmaker and Kristensen and his team-mates JJ. Lehto and Marco Werner took the chequered flag on the stoke of 4 p.m. with a two-lap cushion over the chasing Pescarolo-Michelin of Erik Comas, Jean-Christophe Boullion and Emmanuel Collard.
After qualifying on pole-position, the N16 Pescarolo led during the early part of the race and lapped consistently faster than the winners throughout the race, but its chances of taking a win on home soil were essentially thwarted by a gearbox problem which immobilised the car for the better part of half an hour on Saturday evening, dropping it to 23rd position overall!
The two other Audi R8-Michelins present in La Sarthe crossed the line in 3rd and 4th places, with the second Champion-run machine of Biela/Pirro/McNish (N2) finishing on the podium ahead of the similar Oreca-run car of Montagny/Gounon/Ortelli (N4).
The N17 Pescarolo-Michelin shared by Eric Helary, Soheil Ayari and the reigning World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb saw its efforts poorly rewarded. The all-French crew qualified on the front row of the grid alongside its sister car and tailed it in 2nd place during the opening hours of the race before a run of relatively minor incidents saw it too drop down the order. Its comeback bid, which enabled it to slice its way back up to 5th spot, was truncated however when the team deemed that the damage sustained in a smash on Sunday morning was too extensive to be repaired and announced its retirement.
One of the weekend's most thrilling contests was provided by the factory Corvette-Michelins and Aston Martin-Michelins which traded top place in LMGT1 practically from start to finish. In the end, the American make not only repeated its 2004 success in the category but the N64 and N63 cars -- crewed by Gavin/Beretta/Magnussen and Fellows/O'Connel/Papis respectively - also claimed 5th and 6th places in the overall standings! Aston Martin's challenge ultimately faded in the dying stages of the race although the British team's best-placed crew (N59, Brabham/Sarrazin/Turner) had the joy of joining their Corvette rivals on the LMGT1 podium.
The LMP2 podium was also monopolised by Michelin runners, with the N25 Lola MG-Michelin of Erdos/Newton/Hughes squeezing past the N36 and N37 Courage-Michelins on Sunday afternoon when the two Paul Belmondo Racing cars both hit trouble.