Pressure mounts in closing hours

Pressure mounts in closing hours

In a 24 Hours of Le Mans with clear weather and aggressive pacing, the 20th hour included numerous spins, breakdowns and new developments as the final hours approached. ...

In a 24 Hours of Le Mans with clear weather and aggressive pacing, the 20th hour included numerous spins, breakdowns and new developments as the final hours approached.

#9 Audi Sport North America Audi R15: Mike Rockenfeller, Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

The leading No. 9 Audi R15 was able to maintain the gap to the chasing No. 1 Peugeot 908 by virtue of a more favorable pit schedule. Despite occasionally gaining three seconds a lap in the hands of Alexander Wurz, the unscheduled pit stop to repair an alternator in the eighth hour has come back to haunt the No. 1 Peugeot squad.

The 14 minutes lost and the extra stop -- despite Peugeot generally getting 13 laps per tank of fuel to 12 by the Audi -- has left the leading Audi with one less stop for the race. In the final four hours, the No. 1 Peugeot can get to second place and possibly get back into the lead lap, but cannot catch the leading No. 9 Audi R15 shared by Romain Dumas, Timo Bernhard and Mike Rockenfeller unless it experiences a problem. There's an insurance policy for the German team as well.

Audi has the No. 8 R15 in second place -- one minute, 16 seconds behind the leading Audi with Andre Lotterer at the wheel. But that was just before Lotterer missed his braking at Arnage and damaged the nose, allowing Wurz to close in.

The No. 9 Audi lost time in the pits to repair a sideview mirror that was damaged when a camera man working for Speed TV was hit on the pit road at the end of the fourth hour. But Audi elected to make the repair on a regularly scheduled stop and held to its pit schedule.

In other signs of the race's pace and pressure, the 007 Aston Martin had to go into its garage for an unspecified engine problem that dropped it out of the top ten. The sister Lola-Aston Martin of Signature Plus had an off-track excursion at Indianapolis, which damaged bodywork and dropped the car from eighth to tenth before Vanina Ickx took the wheel. Also, the 009 Aston Martin looped at Arnage before continuing.

This development helped put Strakka Racing up to second place in the "fuel category" for LMP1's that are not powered by diesel.

#1 Team Peugeot Total Peugeot 908: Alexander Wurz, Marc Gene, Anthony Davidson.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

After a race-long battle in LMP2, the Highcroft Racing HPD began suffering from cooling problems, which necessitated long stops to replace fluids. By the 20th hour, it had fallen to fourth in class behind the HPD RX-01c of Strakka Racing despite maintaining a similar pace while on the track in the hands of Marino Franchitti.

In an always-busy GT2 class, after an heroic recovery from the crash of Emmanuel Collard occasioned by the No. 1 Peugeot in the Porsche Curves, the No. 64 Corvette blew its engine and was withdrawn. Prior to that, the team made extensive repairs in 32 minutes to get the C6.R back on track, where it ran highly competitive lap times.

"It backed into the barrier really hard and took the inner frame bumper off, the rear tail, wing, and quarter panels," said team manager Gary Pratt. "The clutch was damaged so we had to install a clutch and bellhousing. We changed the front nose box, and the exhaust was pushed under the rocker panel. Fortunately it didn't tear off the suspension and all four wheels were pointing straight."

Collard explained what happened in the incident that took his car out of the class lead. "I turned to the second left in the Porsche corner and the Peugeot was on the inside," Collard said. "I didn't know he was there, I was focused on my driving. There was no contact, but he was there on the inside and I missed the right line. The car lost grip, and I crashed."

Giancarlo Fisichella was another crash victim, although he went off on an escape road with enough speed to damage the front end of his AF Corse Ferrari enough to drop it from second to fourth in the GT2 class. That left the Felbermayr-Proton Porsche GT3 RSR with a comfortable two-lap lead over the steady Hankook Team Farnbacher Ferrari GTC, which in turn had four laps in hand over the BMS Scuderia Italia Porsche.

It appeared that was not enough time remaining for a comeback bid of the Young Driver AMR Aston Martin in the GT1 classs. With the ever-fast Tomas Enge behind the wheel, the DBR9 was five laps behind the Labre Competition Saleen S7R. Both cars were trailing the GT2 leaders by a considerable margin.

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About this article
Series Le Mans
Drivers Giancarlo Fisichella , Andre Lotterer , Anthony Davidson , Tomas Enge , Marc Gene , Alexander Wurz , Emmanuel Collard , Vanina Ickx , Timo Bernhard , Marino Franchitti , Romain Dumas , Eric Gilbert , Mike Rockenfeller
Teams AF Corse , Strakka Racing