Audi-Michelin. another 1-2-3 at Le Mans, and a seventh consecutive success for Michelin!
our years after the German make's first win at Le Mans back in 2000, Audi- Michelin monopolised the podium in the French endurance classic this weekend for the third time in five years (2000, 2002). Represented this year by privately-run teams, the formidable R8s led from start to finish, victory finally going to the N°5 car shared by Seiji Ara (J), Rinaldo Capello (I) and Tom Kristensen (DK). For the Dane, it was his sixth win in La Sarthe, a result that takes him level with the record of the legendary Jacky Ickx! This year's fiercely fought contest not only saw Michelin tyres secure their seventh straight win at Le Mans, but also the top-six positions overall and victory in the GTS and GT class with the N°64 Corvette (Gavin/Beretta/Magnussen) and the N°90 Porsche (Maassen/Bergmeister/Long) respectively.
Following three successive wins with Audi-Michelin between 2000 and 2002, and again with Bentley-Michelin in 2003, the VAG Group's reign over the world's most famous endurance race continued this weekend with another flag- to-flag triumph for Audi-Michelin. The Franco-German car-tyre association monopolised the final classification and also saw four cars finish inside the top five. Even so, the R8s didn't have it all their own way.
A scary incident two hours into the race very nearly eliminated the N°2 (Lehto/Werner/Pirro) and N°8 (Biela/Kaffer/McNish) machines. Running in very close formation, the drivers of these two cars were simultaneously caught out by a patch of oil which caused them to smash into the guardrail - and into each other. Both chassis sustained serious damage but they were able to limp back to their pits for extensive repairs. That caused them to fall well down the leaderboard though (to 40th and 44th places) before staging staggering comebacks that saw them finish in 3rd and 5th places respectively!
Meanwhile, the pole-position winning car (N°88, Davies/Herbert/Smith) proceeded to pull out an enviable cushion over the N°5 machine which lost a little ground early on after an excursion into a gravel trap. However, a tangle with a slower car during the night and then a 7-minute pit-stop for a suspension wishbone change allowed the Ara/Capello/Kristensen to move into top spot, and that's the way it stayed until the chequered flag at 4 p.m. on Sunday afternoon.
The ranks of the German make were only broken at the finish by the locally- based Pescarolo-Michelin team which had spent much of the race in 3rd position with its N°18 car (4th, Ayari/Comas/Tréluyer) before ultimately being hauled in by the N°2 Audi.
One of the weekend's fiercest fights was in the GTS category, with defending winners Ferrari-Michelin facing stiff opposition from Corvette, the American firm looking for revenge after its defeat twelve months ago and switching to Michelin tyres for the first time this year. The first third of the race saw the N°64 Corvette pull progressively clear but damage following a tangle with the then-race leader (Audi N°88) braking for a corner at 1 o'clock in the morning forced the Gavin/Beretta/Magnussen car to pit for repairs, allowing the N°66 Ferrari-Michelin to take control. But when the Italian car pitted later in the morning to replace a stub axle, the Corvette not only found itself back in front but was also joined at the top of the classification by its sister car (N°63, Fellows/O'Connell/Papis) to secure a surprise GTS one-two.
Finally, the winner in GT was the N°90 Porsche-Michelin of Maassen/Bergmeister/Long. After qualifying at the top of its class, the Dale White 911 GT3 quickly emerged as the team to beat. However, a throttle problem in the early hours of the morning allowed the similar N°85 and N°87 cars to sneak past. But when they in turn hit problems, the Michelin-shod car found itself back in front and successfully went on to pop the champagne.
Of the 48 cars that started the race, 28 crossed the line and 26 were classified. The winning car covered a total of 379 laps (a new record, and two more than the winning Bentley-Michelin in 2003) at an average speed of 215,418 kph
MICHELIN'S 24 HOURS AT LE MANS.
A seventh consecutive win for Michelin tyres at Le Mans!
Michelin's vital statistics. The win of the N°5 Audi driven by Seiji Ara, Rinaldo Capello and Tom Kristensen was Michelin's seventh consecutive success in the Le Mans 24 Hours, and its thirteenth win since the creation of the race in 1923. The top six finishers overall raced on the French firm's tyres.
Michelin runners led from start to finish, not only in the overall classification but also in the GTS category which the French tyre firm won for the second year running, this time with its new partner Corvette (N°64, 6th overall). In the GT class, the N°90 Porsche set the pace early on, fell back with a throttle problem before fighting back to claim top spot.
The N°5 Audi employed a total of thirteen sets of Michelin tyres on its way to winning the 2004 Le Mans 24 Hours (plus ten sets during qualifying).
[pic] A memorable weekend of racing. In addition to its win at Le Mans, Michelin's busy weekend of world class motor sport saw it secure its 5th MotoGP win of the season in Catalonia today with Valentino Rossi (Yamaha- Michelin), as well as victory in the Nürbürgring 24 Hours with Muller/Muller/Stuck/Lamy (BMW-Michelin).
Michelin is also in a strong position in the Canadian F1 Grand Prix where the top five places on the grid are monopolised by its partner cars (pole- position: Ralf Schumacher, BMW Williams F1-Michelin).
Multiple stinting. The advantage of covering multiple stints with the same set of tyres is obviously the valuable saving of 20 seconds it represents each time the car pits for fuel. Michelin's technical staff is therefore particularly pleased with the fact that many of the top LMP1 cars were able to put in triple-stints and even quadruple-stints on a regular basis this weekend.
Michelin's GTS partners also put in triple stints, including the GTS- winning Corvettes which, until their switch to Michelin at the start of 2004, were unable to cover more than one stint at a time at Le Mans.
For information, each part of the tread of a tyre that covers a quadruple stint (exterior diameter 65 cm, as is the case of the Audi fronts, for example) strikes the ground close to 350,000 times (52 laps)!
Frédéric Henry-Biabaud, Deputy Director, Michelin Competition.: "It's been an exceptional Le Mans 24 Hours this year. The race got off to a blistering start and the suspense in the different categories lasted practically all the way to the flag. We are obviously very proud of our result this weekend which I believe speaks volumes for the consistency, performance and durability of the products we develop especially for this unique race.
"One important issue about this fantastic event that still needs to be addressed in association with the ACO and all the other tyre manufacturers involved, however, is the type of stones used in the gravel traps. The current sharp flint is the cause of an excessively high number of punctures, which would be significantly reduced if rounder stones were used."
Matthieu Bonardel, Circuit Racing Manager, Michelin Competition.: "One of the aspects of this year's race that has impressed me the most is the twin battle we have seen on the tyre front. Firstly, the fight between our partners who have attempted to exploit the full choice of Michelin tyres available to them to try and get the upper hand, as well as the battle with the other teams running on rival tyres. That's been a fascinating match to follow."
Hot and cold. The cool conditions at Le Mans this year ensured that the full range of slick tyres was used by the winning Audi in the course of the 24-hour race, from the special hard compound developed for the highest temperatures (just after Saturday's start) to the softest options employed at night, including a new evolution 'night-time' compound. For the record, track temperatures ranged this year from a high of 42°C to a low of 15°C.