Only minor ailments for Audis at Le Mans Only minor ailments for Audis at Le Mans

With just over four hours left in this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans, Audi maintains a stranglehold on a third consecutive victory, holding the top three positions on track.

Frank Biela, Audi R8.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.
However, Frank Biela, driving the leading #1 Audi, did have a wake-up call on his latest pit stop: the car's direct-injection V8 failed to start after refueling. The team ended up wheeling the car back into the garage, with the crew pulling the engine cover off to track down the problem.

The engine did finally fire, but the pit stop stretched out to just over seven minutes, losing Biela and teammates Tom Kristensen and Emmanuele Pirro nearly two laps' worth of track time.

Meanwhile, the #2 Audi of Rinaldo Capello, Johnny Herbert and Christian Pescatori suffered yet another puncture -- its fourth of the race -- to make up for some of the time the sister car lost with the starter problem.

The three Joest-run factory Audis have now had a total of nine punctures throughout this race: four for the #2, three for the leaders, and two for the #3 car that suffered the first puncture of the race on the formation lap.

Behind the Audis, the Bentley EXP8 continues to soldier on, but now ten laps off the pace of the leading Audi. Eric van de Poele did spin the car in the morning hours, but recovered nicely, with no apparent damage to the car.

Team ORECA Dallara-Judd LMP.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.
After the Bentley, the two Oreca Dallara-Judds hold down the next two spots, separated by less than a minute, both having run reliably throughout the race.

Following the Dallara-Judd pair and the Team Goh Audi R8 is the Racing for Holland Dome-Judd, the Judd engines showing impressive reliability this year: all three Judd V10 engines are still running, when not one has survived to the 20-hour mark in the past.

But for Don Panoz, the Le Mans disaster was complete. After beating the Audis only last month at the Sears Point ALMS race, the Panoz roadsters were never on pace, and, to add insult to injury, suffered from reliability problems as well.

The crew of the #11 Panoz (Jan Magnussen, David Brabham and Bryan Herta) was not able to rebuild its cooling system in time for ACO's morning deadline, and then the engine of the #12 (Bill Auberlen, David Donohue and Gunnar Jeannette) failed as well as midday approached.

"The guys have been babying the car for the past four hours, but you just can't race around here with a thrown rod," admitted Panoz. "We have to close the doors."

But at the front, Kristensen in the #1 Audi is holding a solid two-and-a-half minute lead over the #2. If the drivers of #1 can maintain the pace and the car holds together, the driving squad can make history to win three Le Mans in a row -- a feat never before accomplished.