In front of nearly 300,000 spectators, Audi continued its unique string of victories in the Le Mans 24 Hours. In the 82nd running of the world’s most important endurance race, Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benoît Tréluyer with Lucas di Grassi, Marc Gené and Tom Kristensen made for a one-two Audi victory.
It marked the 13th Le Mans success for the brand with the four rings in only 16 runs – and may have been the most valuable one to date, as Audi Sport Team Joest prevailed against massive competition by Le Mans returnee Porsche and Toyota in an extremely tough race that was completely open for a long time. The decision in favor of the two Audi R18 e-tron quattro cars was only made in the final phase.
“We’ve seen many exciting races and celebrated great victories at Le Mans but this success has a very special significance,” said Professor Rupert Stadler, Chairman of the Board of Management of AUDI AG, following the triumphant finish by the two Audi R18 e-tron quattro cars. “We didn’t enter this race as favorites and in Porsche and Toyota had two very strong rivals. That we managed to win Le Mans again this time in spite of this is a fantastic achievement by the whole Audi squad. We’re tremendously happy and my thanks go to all who have made this success possible.”
Following a serious accident of Loïc Duval in Wednesday’s free practice, Audi Sport Team Joest had to prepare the #1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro in record time again from scratch and to replace Loïc Duval with Marc Gené. That this team was on course for victory on Sunday morning says everything about the feat performed by the mechanics. However, in the end, the change of an injector and a turbocharger narrowly prevented this fairy tale from coming true. With a gap of three laps Lucas di Grassi, Marc Gené and Tom Kristensen took second place.
Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benoît Tréluyer took the lead for the first time on Sunday morning, shortly after 5 a.m., after having put consistent pressure throughout the night on the Toyota that had been leading for a long time. As the turbocharger had to be changed on their R18 as well, car #2 temporarily dropped to third place before moving back to the front in a remarkable recovery during which André Lotterer also set the fastest race lap of 3m 22.567s.
Major misfortune was suffered by the squad of the third Audi R18 e-tron quattro with Filipe Albuquerque, Marco Bonanomi and Oliver Jarvis. Following a strong early phase, car number ‘3’ during a safety car period in pouring rain, was hit in the rear at high speed by a GT Ferrari on the Hunaudières straight. The powertrain of the R18 was so heavily damaged in the incident that Marco Bonanomi was forced to retire after just an hour and a half.
The Number 8 Toyota Hybrid TS040 of Anthony Davidson, Nicolas Lapierre and Sébastien Buemi finished third to maintain their lead in the World Endurance Championship and record Toyota’s fifth top-three finish at Le Mans. The team experienced bitter disappointment, however, when the No7 car of Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin and Kazuki Nakajima was sidelined from the race while holding a strong lead. Having started from pole position, the Toyota Hybrid fell victim to electrical problems as the race neared the 14-hour mark.
Earlier, the number 8 car saw its prospects of contesting victory dashed when it was involved in a multi-car accident during a sudden downpour. Lapierre managed to get the damaged car back to the pits, but 50 minutes were lost while repairs were made. There followed a determined fight back from eight laps down to ensure as many championship points as possible were secured.
In spite of a further delay later in the race, Davidson, Lapierre and Buemi climbed up the leader board to claim a bittersweet third place at the chequered flag.
Anthony Davidson said: “We had the speed all along but it didn’t go right in the tricky conditions and the car was heavily damaged. From there we were on the back foot. It could have happened to anyone, it was just one of those things. I was surprised to be standing on the podium. From not having been in the top 30 after the accident, to end up on the podium just goes to show the speed. The win comes to you, not the other way around in this race.”
After an early strong performance by both 919 Hybrids, the Porsche Team was left empty handed on the Stuttgart marque’s return to the top LMP1 category at Le Mans after a dramatic final stage of the race. After more than 22 hours, the crew of car number 20 Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and Mark Webber suffered a powertrain problem at the most famous sports car endurance race in the world. The second 919 Hybrid prototype – in the hands of Romain Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb proved to be very competitive, but was hampered by a drivetrain problem in the closing stages. However, the number 14 car crossed the finish line under its own power.
After a thrilling start to the race with changing weather conditions, numerous accidents and a relatively calm night, Timo Bernhard took the lead in the Porsche 919 Hybrid. This was after 20 of the 24 hours. At 12:36 on Sunday he handed the leading car over to Mark Webber. Less than 20 minutes later, the Australian was forced to slow down and drove solely on electric power back to the pits. The team could not repair the damaged powertrain.
Not even half an hour later, the sister car with Marc Lieb at the wheel had a gearbox failure. Car no. 14 was lying fourth before it was pushed into the garage at 12:54. Shortly before the chequered flag was waved, the Porsche 919 Hybrid returned to track, but in the end was not classified.
Mark Webber said of his drive. “That was tough for everyone. It would have been such an amazing achievement to go through to the finish. I think we never expected to be in such a great position towards the end of the race. What Porsche did is a very big feather in its cap. Few people know how hard it is to get the cars to this point in the race. I’m really sorry for the guys. There is never ever a good retirement in Le Mans, but today is one of the best you could probably have in a way, because we went so far and we learned so much. If you stop early you learn nothing and it’s tough. When you stop with a lap to go it’s probably even more brutal. It was our first time here at Le Mans and we were very close to the podium.“
“It was a race of the kind you can only experience at Le Mans,” said Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. “There were many incidents and none of the top cars made it across the distance without any problems.”
The next round of the 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship will be at the Circuit of the Americas in Texas, in September.