Le Mans, France, Saturday 16th June 2001: At 18:45hrs the Gulf Oil challenge for the 2001 Le Mans 24 Hours ended when the Johansson Racing Audi R8 retired with engine problems, probably the result of an electrical fault. It was a frustrating end...
Le Mans, France, Saturday 16th June 2001: At 18:45hrs the Gulf Oil challenge for the 2001 Le Mans 24 Hours ended when the Johansson Racing Audi R8 retired with engine problems, probably the result of an electrical fault. It was a frustrating end for a team that had prepared so thoroughly for the event, assembled a first-rate driver line-up and shown such promise in its build-up races - the two rounds of the European Le Mans Series and Sebring 12-Hours.
Competing for honours at Le Mans requires a share of good fortune to accompany good preparation, the good fortune was clearly missing in the Gulf camp. After 15 minutes the team lost three laps when Stefan Johansson spun in torrential rain. On returning to the track Stefan swiftly brought the Gulf Audi back into contention with a series of very fast laps that took him from 38th to 13th place.
Another anxious moment arrived during the third series of scheduled pit stops when the second placed works Audi, driven by Aiello, lost control on its approach to the pits, striking several Gulf team members and damaging an air hose. Thankfully there were no serious injuries, although one of the Gulf personnel suffered minor bruising. The end came just before the three-hour mark when the car, still piloted by Stefan Johansson, stopped shortly after negotiating the first chicane on the Mulsanne Straight. Stefan explained "there was no warning, I changed down into the chicane and the engine just cut-out on me. This is such a frustration for everybody attached to the team and our sponsors. The Audi R8 is bullet proof, and we were so well prepared. We are not exactly sure why the engine stopped, it's probably a very minor electrical fault. I can't ever remember being out of Le Mans so early into the race, but we'll be back with a vengeance next year."
For Gulf Oil, Vasant Bharath, Vice President - Global Brand Manager, comments "this is a great disappointment for us all. We have seen during the past two months a highly professional team and drivers going to great lengths to ensure that our Le Mans campaign had the best possible chance of success. It's been an unfortunate end to our 2001 Le Mans challenge but rest assured there will be another chapter in the history of Gulf at Le Mans. This season we will now concentrate our efforts on winning the European Le Mans Series."
The team currently lie in third in the Series, the next round takes place at Estoril, Portugal, over the weekend of 14/15 July.