Now, we are ready! The Le Mans dress rehearsal feverishly anticipated by BenoÃ®t Treluyer and his team mates Andre Lotterer and Marcel Fassler finally commenced under the angry skies of the Ardennes last weekend. Be it stormy showers, sunshine...
Now, we are ready!
The Le Mans dress rehearsal feverishly anticipated by Benoît Treluyer and his team mates Andre Lotterer and Marcel Fassler finally commenced under the angry skies of the Ardennes last weekend. Be it stormy showers, sunshine and unpredictable track conditions, the three newcomers to Audi Sport Team Joest experienced it all at the wheel of their R15 plus TDI. As with many drivers there were mistakes, but that was all part of a learning process that involved becoming more efficient, stronger and greater aware of their potential. Today, following the Spa 1000kms, they are, along with their mechanics, a united team.
"On the first day," explained Benoît, "there were two one-hour free practice sessions with another on the Saturday, so we decided to complete one each. It was not originally planned like that but as the weather was bad, it was the best solution. Marcel (Fassler) had the most knowledge of the track out of the three of us so he went first, Andre (Lotterer) the second and I did the third. Unfortunately, when it was my turn, a fuel connexion issue arose, leaving me stuck in the garage for nearly 45 minutes, the time it took our mechanics to solve the problem and clean the car which was covered in diesel. I was only able to set six fast lap times and I have not driven at Spa since 1998. It was a bit short just before the qualifying session and the race."
Lotterer had the honour of qualifying the car, setting an impressive fourth fastest time despite his R15 plus running with a set-up similar to the one it will use at Le Mans next month.
The next day, it was under a threatening sky that the Spa 1000kms began. Alas, the lights went out without the #8 Audi R15 TDI in sight after Andre made a mistake on the warm-up lap.
"Whether it was the difficult track conditions, unfamiliarity of the Michelin tyres or of LMP cars in the wet, there was no shortage of reasons to explain the off," said the Frenchman. "Andre was not able to catch the car when it snapped sideways and he ended up making contact with the tyre wall."
Despite being returned to the pits, the damaged R15 TDI could not be repaired before the lights went out, ensuring the trio were several laps down when they returned to the fray.
"This did not stop us attacking in an effort to climb back up the order, even if our objective was to carry out a standard race simulation instead of fighting for a result. With this in mind, it was a bit extreme as in Spa it is harder to overtake than at Le Mans."
As well as being extreme, it was also a very positive experience for the team ahead of the 24 Hours.
"We have had problems, we have learned a lot and we are now prepared to face Le Mans," admitted Benoît. "The mistakes we have made here will not be repeated at La Sarthe. It's true that we had completed a lot of testing but that's not the same as having other drivers and cars around you amid changeable and challenging weather conditions. We were missing the pressure of competition!"
Benoît, Andre and Marcel could not have expected much worse conditions during their first race together. Their mechanics meanwhile were also put to the test, rebuilding the car in record time which will stand them in good stead should a similar situation arise again.
Having battled back up to 13th position in the final overall classification, the trio were delighted with their first competitive experience as factory Audi drivers and reassured that they have the machinery at their disposal to pose a serious threat at next month's endurance classic.
Whilst Spa marked Benoit and his co-drivers' final planned track testing duties before Le Mans, that doesn't mean that the work stops altogether. Indeed, after the chequered flag fell, the trio headed for Germany to participate in a working session aimed at fine tuning pit stops so that conscious thinking becomes automatic practice. They will also support the mechanics' preparation as the Le Mans 24 Hours is more a fantastic team adventure than individual race; an adventure that Benoît is now ready to face!