Torture test of man and machine around the clock

The world's great motor manufacturers have triumphed at the Le Mans 24 Hour including Ford, Ferrari, BMW, Porsche and Jaguar ­ but next weekend a new name could be added to that list. Audi, Cadillac, Chrysler and brash newcomer in Panoz will...

The world's great motor manufacturers have triumphed at the Le Mans 24 Hour including Ford, Ferrari, BMW, Porsche and Jaguar ­ but next weekend a new name could be added to that list.

Audi, Cadillac, Chrysler and brash newcomer in Panoz will lead the attack in the world's most famous motor race.

After dominating the pre-event test day, Audi loom as early favorites but the trio of American manufacturers are all desperate to take the prize back to the U.S..

Australia's David Brabham is also out to join his brother Geoff on the list of winners.

Brabham will team up with fellow ex-Grand Prix driver Jan Magnussen and world motorsport legend Mario Andretti in the lead Panoz entry.

Now aged 60, Andretti has won the Formula One World Championship, Indycar Championship, Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500 ­ only the Le Mans 24 Hour is the only race missing from his illustrious C.V.

Should Andretti triumph, he will become the only man have tasted success in all these illustrious events.

Brabham is hopeful he can lead the charge to victory after strong recent testing performances.

"We've carried out extensive testing in a number of areas, particularly our aerodynamic package, which have all produced very positive results," Brabham said.

"I am now confident that our cars, combined with our highly experienced driver line-up, can offer a serious challenge to our competitors.

"Every single member of the team wants to win this race - it's now up to us to get out there and prove it is possible."

The two lead Panoz cars will feature prominent signage promoting Adelaide's Le Mans Series race which will be held from December 29-31 this year - putting the Adelaide before millions of television viewers throughout the world.

Audi's driver strength include ex-Formula One drivers Michele Alboreto and Emanuele Pirro as well as sportscar stars Alan McNish and Tom Kristensen.

McNish is paired with Le Mans 24 Hour winning team-mates Stephane Ortelli and Laurent Aiello. The trio previously triumphed in 1998 with Porsche.

Audi return this year after making its Le Mans debut in 1999. After success at the Sebring 12-Hour, Audi is hopeful of repeating BMW's efforts of last year when they took the Sebring/Le Mans double.

"They are probably better prepared than anybody else in the pack," Brabham said.

"They have a very efficient car, good drivers and the Joest team obviously have an outstanding history at Le Mans. We are going to have to be at the top of our game to try to beat them."

Both Chrysler and Cadillac will be making their debuts in the prototype class.

While Chrysler has proved to be a dominant force in the GTS class in previous years with the Dodge Viper, the French Oreca team had entered two Chrysler powered Reynard chassis.

The outfit has recruited four-time Le Mans 24 Hour winner and ex-Grand Prix driver Yannick Dalmas to head its driver line-up.

The Cadillac team also have some aces up their sleave include sportscar greats Andy Wallace, Erik Bernard and Wayne Taylor.

In all there will be two Chryslers, three Audis, four Cadillacs and five Panozs gunning for success in the 24 Hour.

But one fly in the ointment for the factory squads could be the privateer Rafanelli team Lola of Mimmo Schiattarella, Emanuele Naspetti and former 500cc Grand Prix rider Didier de Radigues.

An ex-Formula One team-mate of Brabham, Schiattarella set pole position for the recent Silverstone round of the Le Mans Series but had their race ruined by a broken throttle cable.

Brabham believes the Lola could be one to watch.

"They are definitely a very strong prospect! The Lola has come a long way and this team is probably the third favorites behind Audi and Panoz," Brabham said.

"They have done well in a very short space of time and their pole position at Silverstone showed they have the speed."

While the outright Prototype battle will keep more than fanatical 250,000 race fans at the rural French circuit on their toes, the GTS and GT class races within the main race will be equally as fierce.

The GTS fight will feature a contest between the Dodge Viper and Chevrolet Corvette. The two American marques fought out titanic battles at the Daytona 24 Hour and Sebring 12 Hour earlier this year and look set to continue this close rivalry.

The GT class will have a distinctly Australian flavour with Perth businessman Rohan Skea entering a Porsche GT3-R for Brit Johnny Mowlem, American David Murry and and Dane Sascha Maassen.

The Le Mans 24 Hour kicks off at 4.00pm France time (11.30pm Australian Eastern Standard Time).

-PAUL RYAN-

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About this article
Series Le Mans
Drivers David Brabham , Tom Kristensen , Jan Magnussen , Wayne Taylor , David Murry , Stéphane Ortelli , Mario Andretti , Michele Alboreto , Emanuele Naspetti , Mimmo Schiattarella , Johnny Mowlem , Emanuele Pirro