Le Mans, France -- For the second consecutive year, Audi has won the toughest motor race in the world: the Le Mans 24 Hours. After last year's searing heat, the Audi sportscar now had to prove its mettle in torrential rain. "This success is even...
Le Mans, France -- For the second consecutive year, Audi has won the toughest motor race in the world: the Le Mans 24 Hours. After last year's searing heat, the Audi sportscar now had to prove its mettle in torrential rain. "This success is even more valuable than last year's," declared Dr. Franz-Josef Paefgen, the Chairman of the Board, AUDI AG. "To get both cars home in the top-two places in these extremely difficult conditions is anything but normal."
The 69th running of the French endurance classic was at times looked more like a boat race and will be remembered as a big rain battle. "During the entire race, the drivers had to be absolutely focused," said Audi Head of Sport Dr Wolfgang Ullrich. Audi works driver Tom Kristensen echoed the sentiments of all his teammates by stating that it was "the toughest race I ever drove".
For hours, rain was so relentless that drivers could only use half throttle on the long straights of the Le Mans circuit. It was also a particularly tough test for the cars' technology. Both Infineon Audi R8 cars, however, turned out to be "water-proof" and managed the 321 laps without major problems.
The Infineon Audi R8 cars battled hard from start to finish for their second consecutive Le Mans win. In the course of the race, new Audi technology proved its worth: a V8 twin turbo engine with direct injection (FSI) powered both works cars. This is a new invention in the Le Mans prototypes class (LMP). The direct injection system helped the cars run more efficiently and also showed a noticable gain in performance.
In a repeat of last year's victory, Frank Biela, Tom Kristensen and Emanuele Pirro crossed the finish line as winners. The sister car of Laurent Aiello, Rinaldo Capello and Christian Pescatori completed an Audi 1-2.
The two Audi customer teams of Champion and Johansson were fast but had little luck: The two R8 cars in 2000-specification retired within the first seven hours of the race.
With its second triumph at Le Mans, Audi continued its stunning series of victories in endurance racing: at Le Mans, the R8 celebrated its 13th consecutive victory in sportscar racing. For almost a year, the successful sports racing car remains unbeaten.
Quotes after the race: Frank Biela (Infineon Audi #1): "To win Le Mans is difficult. To win it a second time is even more difficult. When we came here we new we had a very competitive car, but you have to make sure that everything is reliable and lasts for 24 hours. We made it. Very often we had to make decisions at the right moment. The team did a great strategical job."
Tom Kristensen (Infineon Audi #1): "This was the most difficult race of my career. It was mentally very hard for everybody out there. Jacky Ickx told Frank Biela and myself before we went on the podium that he had never experienced such a hard race at Le Mans. When it comes from him, that really means something."
Emanuele Pirro (Infineon Audi #1): "This is fantastic. First of all it was a very difficult race for everybody because of the weather conditions. To bring two cars to the end in 1st and 2nd position is an incredible success for all of us. Of course I am happy that the one which was in front was ours. We had a lot of luck, especially during the night. Last but not least my thoughts are with Michele. I wished he could have been here with us."
Laurent Aiello (Infineon Audi #2): "It was the first time I experienced conditions like this at Le Mans. This is a new experience for me and will help me next year. The mechanics won the race because they did not make any mistakes and they had the same great car as ourselves. I really enjoyed driving this car in the race. It was such a good car under all conditions."
Rinaldo Capello (Infineon Audi #2): "This was the toughest race of my life. Running with such a low downforce it was impossible to go flat on the straight. The corners were okay, but on the straight you could not do anything about the aquaplaning. I saw a lot of cars spin and crash on the straight. I have to congratulate Emanuele, Frank and Tom. To avoid mistakes in those conditions was very difficult."
Christian Pescatori (Infineon Audi #2):"I was looking for a good result and concentrated not to make and mistakes. The conditions were really difficult with all this water during the night. I achieved this and hope that the team is happy with my performance.
Johnny Herbert (Champion Audi #3): "When I stopped the car was fine. I think we could have caught the number two Audi and made it a good battle. The Champion team did an excellent job - this was just bad luck."
Ralf Kelleners (Champion Audi #3): "It is never nice to retire from Le Mans. But it is even worse when you are making a serious charge at the front as we did. The car was good, the only problem was with the weather."
Didier Theys (Champion Audi #3): "The clutch pedal had a harder feel to it when I left the pit lane to start my stint. The car began to hesitate and I coasted to a standstill. I tried to fix it but it was something internal."
Tom Coronel (Golf Audi #4): "I have never witnessed weather conditions like what we had in the first hour. Stefan drove superbly and we were just unlucky. He had been incredibly fast."
Stefan Johansson (Golf Audi #4): "I immediately backed off when the huge downpour began and felt a tap from behind. Great pitwork got me out again and the Audi was incredibly good before the engine cut out. I spent over an hour working on the car but it just wouldn't fire up due to an electrical problem."
Patrick Lemarie (Golf Audi #4): "After the crash Stefan was very quick and we were all prepared for a big fight throughout the night to get inside the top-three. You could not prepare for weather like that."
Reinhold Joest (Director Audi Sport Team Joest): "The start didn't quite go as we planned, but the pace soon settled as we continued to work our strategy. We fought throughout the night which wasn't easy at all with the weather. In the morning, however, it was more calm. The pit stops were superb, the team was better than ever."
Thierry Boutsen (Project Manager Champion Racing): "Ralf spun early on and left the pits in 27th but handed the car over to Johnny in third. At one point we were the fastest car on the track. It is very disappointing for me and especially the Champion Team who prepared so well for their first Le Mans."
Mike Earle (Team Director Johansson Motorsports): "Stefan believes he was bumped from behind which caused the crash. We managed to repair the car within 13 minutes. Stefan was setting very competitive times which moved him from 40th to 16th, but then the ECU cut out. "
Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich (Head of Audi Sport): "Due to the ever changing weather it was really a difficult race. It was extremely important to react quickly and correctly in every situation and to avoid any risk in tire choice. We were always on the safe side. This was correct because in doing so, we simply avoided any errors."
Len Hunt (Head of Audi of America): "The team and the drivers really did a wonderful job. The weather was terrible, but the cars performed and the team was up to the task. A second Le Mans win provides the team with a lot of momentum to focus on our next title defense -- that of American Le Mans Series Champions."
Race Results: 1. Biela/Kristensen/Pirro (Infineon Audi R8) 321 laps 2. Aiello/Capello/Pescatori (Infineon Audi R8) - 1 3. Wallace/Leitzinger/van de Poele (Bentley) - 15 4. Beretta/Wendlinger/Lamy (Chrysler) - 23 5. Deletraz/Fabre/Gene (Reynard-VW) - 37 6. Rosa/Babini/Drudi (Porsche) - 38 7. Jeannette/Dumas/Haezebrouck (Porsche) - 39 8. Fellows/O'Connell/Pruett (Chevrolet) - 43 9. Perrier/Neugarten/Smith (Porsche) - 46 10. Chereau/Dumez/Goueslard (Porsche) - 47 --- 33. Kelleners/Herbert/Theys (Champion Audi) -240 43. Johansson/LeMarie/Coronel (Gulf Audi) -286