Monday, 13 June 2011 04:00
At one of the most thrilling and dramatic 24 hour races in Le Mans history Audi ultra-lightweight technology has prevailed.
At the fascinating thriller which kept 250,000 spectators at the race track and millions in front of their TV sets watching in awe Marcel Fassler (Switzerland), Andre Lotterer (Germany) and Benoît Treluyer (France) in the innovative Audi R18 TDI clinched the tenth Le Mans victory in total for the brand with the four rings.
The drama at the 79th edition of the world’s most famous endurance could hardly be surpassed. After Audi had lost two of its Audi R18 TDI cars as early as in the first third of the race due to accidents all hopes were pinned on car number "2" that had secured the pole position in qualifying for Audi.
For 16 hours Fassler, Lotterer and Treluyer were on their own in the battle against three factory fielded Peugeot cars that left no stone unturned to keep Audi from taking victory.
On Sunday morning the four quickest vehicles were still within just a few seconds of each other at the front of the field. The lead kept changing, also on account of the different strategies.
And Fassler, Lotterer and Treluyer continually brought the performance advantage of their diesel sports car to bear which in the first year of the engine downsizing was clearly the fastest car in the field at Le Mans.
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At 3'25.289 Andre Lotterer on the 229th race lap even managed to beat the fastest time set in qualifying.
The reliability of the new Audi R18 TDI was impressive as well. Across the entire race distance the vehicle designated as number "2" did not have to come in for a single unscheduled pit stop.
Only a problem with the fuel tank caused a bit of a headache for Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich and the Technical Director of Audi Sport Team Joest, Ralf Juttner.
The full 65 liter capacity could not be used. Consequently, Andre Lotterer had to achieve a sufficient lead for an additional refueling stop in the final phase, in extremely difficult conditions in drizzling rain at times which made the track extremely slippery.
Lotterer mastered this hurdle as well. After the final stop the German started his last stint with a seven second advantage over the second placed Peugeot.
In the end he crossed the finish line after 24 hours being frenetically cheered by his team colleagues Marcel Fassler and Benoît Treluyer and the entire Audi squad in first place with a lead of 13.420 seconds.
For the three Audi drivers who had finished as the runners up last year this marked the first Le Mans exploit, and the tenth for Audi.
"It was a fantastic triumph of Audi ultra-lightweight technology in extreme conditions," commented Rupert Stadler, Chairman of the Management Board of AUDI AG, who had watched the captivating race himself in the pits.
"After we celebrated a record victory last year primarily thanks to reliability and efficiency, we not only had the most reliable but also the quickest car this year."
Management Board Member for Development Michael Dick said, "The team as well as the entire Audi squad did a first class job that deserves great respect. This tenth Le Mans success of our brand was no doubt the one that required the toughest battle, which perhaps also made it the most valuable one. At the same time, albeit involuntarily, we proved that our engineers design very safe cars."
Allan McNish and Mike Rockenfeller sustained no injuries in extremely severe accidents in the first third of the race.
McNish in the Audi R18 TDI designated as car number "3" had taken the lead shortly before the end of the first hour when a GT car hit his left rear wheel in the "La Chappelle" section.
The R18 TDI spun off the track, hit the track barrier in a heavy impact and rolled over, the Audi R18 TDI’s one piece carbon fibre monocoque withstood the crash and McNish was able to climb out of the wreckage uninjured and returned to the race track after a precautionary medical check at the hospital.
Mike Rockenfeller had an even greater guardian angel when shortly before 23h00 while running on position two he was also touched by a GT vehicle on the left rear wheel while running at a speed of about 300 kph.
The Audi R18 TDI turned left and at 270 kph hit the guard rails on the entrance to the "Indianapolis" turn. The carbon fibre monocoque developed and produced by Audi using a new type of technology withstood the impact.
The front crash absorber and all other passive safety devices of the car fulfilled their purpose as well. Mike Rockenfeller was able to climb out of the wreckage. As a precautionary measure, last year’s winner spent the night in the hospital but was released again on Sunday morning.
"The safety standards at Audi are simply incredible and have saved my life. I’ve never had such an accident before in my career and hope I’ll never have such an experience again," said Mike Rockenfeller.
Allan McNish commented in a similar vain: "I want to thank the Audi designers for having developed a car that you can climb out of unharmed after such severe accidents."
On clinching its tenth victory in 13 years Audi has added another impressive chapter to its success story at the Le Mans 24 Hours.
After the first success of a TFSI engine in 2011, the first triumph of a diesel powered car in 2006 and the first exploits with variable turbine geometry, VTG, last year Audi again triumphed with innovative technology.
"Audi ultra technology has passed an extreme acid test this weekend. If you pursue new paths this always involves a risk. But this risk has absolutely paid off. The Audi R18 TDI was in a class of its own at Le Mans 2011. Particularly due to the two extremely serious accidents this has been the most difficult Le Mans race for us in an emotional sense so far," said Head of Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich after the car had crossed the finish line.
"That our team managed to keep the strong competition at bay for 16 hours with just one car is almost unbelievable. Everyone at Audi can be proud of this triumph. However, the news that Allan (McNish) and Mike (Rockenfeller) came out of these extremely heavy accidents so well is at least as important as that of the tenth Audi victory."
Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich (Head of Audi Motorsport):
"2011 was no doubt the most difficult Le Mans race we’ve ever contested, but in the end with the sweetest result we’ve ever had as well. From such a difficult situation we managed to recover again on our own power and in the end to defeat, albeit with a narrow margin, our really strong competitors from Peugeot. After eight hours we’d lost two of our three cars and knew that it would be extremely difficult with just one car. The entire squad gave everything to do the best for this car. Of course the drivers had to drive it. And they did a really fantastic job, although it was the squad with the least experience at Le Mans. Of course it’s extremely important that Allan (McNish) and Mike (Rockenfeller) came out of both accidents, which were really severe, without any injuries."
Marcel Fassler (Audi R18 TDI #2):
"This has been a tremendous day. The last six hours were incredible. It just seemed like they wouldn’t pass. When I looked at the time I kept thinking it had stopped. I said to myself: The clock can’t be running, it would have had to be over a long time ago. I tried to stand somewhere where I couldn’t listen to any commentators. But that was simply impossible. You could see the dream coming closer and closer. And then there were moments when everything became increasingly difficult, like the situation with the slow puncture just before the end when Andre (Lotterer) was driving. And then you start trembling again: Will the dream really come true. And then it did come true. It’s really fantastic. We worked hard for this all winter. Le Mans is the most important race. I’m particularly happy to be the first Swiss to have won it."
Andre Lotterer (Audi R18 TDI #2):
"It was a very intensive race. I was pushing like crazy from the first to the last minute. I felt no boredom in the car. I gave everything that was possible. And I had no choice but to do that either. In the end it worked out. I’m simply happy that together we’ve managed to do this. All the mechanics and everyone else worked so hard to prepare the car. This is a great reward for many hours of overtime. Due to the two accidents yesterday was a difficult day for Audi Sport. I’m very happy that Allan (McNish) and Rocky are okay and that despite the accidents we’ve got a reason for joy."
Benoît Treluyer (Audi R18 TDI #2):
"We’ve won an incredible race. A fantastic feeling! That was clearly a team victory. We only did the driving. The biggest job was the preparation. Without a fast and reliable car like our Audi victory at a 24 hour race wouldn’t have been possible. I’d also like to mention Marco (Bonanomi) who helped us very much. The victory belongs to the team that has gathered here today. It’s like in soccer: If just one person is missing you can’t win. It’s particularly nice that I attended the same racers school here at Le Mans as Marcel (Fassler) and Sebastien (Bourdais). This makes it all the better to be on the podium here at this venue with them."
Timo Bernhard (Audi R18 TDI #1):
"I’m incredibly happy for the team. The whole team stuck together tremendously in the preparation phase. I take my hat off to car number 2. They drove a superb race. A very strong performance. Naturally, we would have liked to have been among the front runners with our car number 1 as well. But even when we were forced to just watch we could see that the car was incredibly competitive. Until our retirement we were in contention. I can’t deny my disappointment as a driver. But the most important thing is that Mike is okay. He had no choice but to react the way he did in that situation. Congratulations to the whole Audi Sport team. A superb showing. I’m happy that victory has been clinched."
Romain Dumas (Audi R18 TDI #1):
"For sure it’s a good race when you work for nearly one year to prepare and then win this race. Okay my car wasn’t on top of the podium today but I am very happy that it is Audi that has won. We all share this victory. We all work together. That is the strength of this incredible team. Last year we won. Benoit, Andre and Marcel were second and they were very happy for us and now we are very happy for them."
Mike Rockenfeller (Audi R18 TDI #1):
"I was driving my fourth stint. Just three or four more laps and the tank would have been empty. After the Mulsanne corner I was on the long straight heading for Indy. In the second right hand there was a GT car in front of me. It was running on the left hand side and I used the headlight flasher. For me it was clear that he would stay on the left as he had the lap before too. We overtake very often at this place of the track. Just as I was running alongside him at 300 km/h he misjudged this. He suddenly pulled over to the right. I still wanted to evade him by going out on the grass. Nevertheless he must have still slightly touched me at the rear. I immediately turned left. It was a severe accident. But the most important thing is that I’m basically okay. The safety standards are simply enormous and have saved my life. I’ve never had such an accident in my life and hope that I’ll never have such an experience again. I’m extremely sorry. We had good chances of being in contention for victory. I would always take advantage of such a gap again because I believe that it was not a risky manoeuvre. It was quite a normal act of straight overtaking. Consideration should be given to perhaps finding another solution for amateur drivers. it’s simply too dangerous. There were several dangerous incidents for me while I was driving. At that particular moment, unfortunately, the outcome wasn’t so good."
Dindo Capello (Audi R18 TDI #3):
"After the bad start of the race and the big fright we had at seeing Allan’s and then Rocky’s accidents we are pleased that they are fortunately in very good shape. We now can enjoy this great moment and congratulate the team of car #2. The drivers, the team, the engineers but especially all the people from Audi who are back in Ingolstadt at the moment who gave us not only the most beautiful racing car on the starting grid but also the fastest car. That is something unique and now we celebrate. We got pole position and fastest lap and we won the race. It’s more than we expected. Congratulations to everyone."
Tom Kristensen (Audi R18 TDI #3):
"A fantastic result for Audi. All the energy went into one car after we lost two. I was extremely disappointed at the time but overwhelmed by the fact that nobody was hurt, neither Allan (McNish), spectators or any of the photographers and the same for Mike (Rockenfeller’s) accident. Of course we have mental pain but nobody got badly hurt. My biggest respect to Benoit (Treluyer), Andre (Lotterer) and Marcel (Fassler). They have done a fantastic Le Mans race. Not to have been behind the steering wheel is personally something I haven’t enjoyed but being witness to a really fantastic Le Mans race is something which goes down in the Audi history books as one of the greatest achievements at the legendary circuit."
Allan McNish (Audi R18 TDI #3):
"Congratulations to Audi. Congratulations to the winning team. A superb result. Andre (Lotterer) drove superbly as did Marcel (Fassler) and Ben (Treluyer). The tears in the garage just show the pressure they were under all of the way through the race. For our car’s situation, and for Rocky and his car, as well there is a touch of sadness as it’s not an Audi 1, 2, 3 like last year but today’s race winning performance was just incredible. Regarding my accident: I went down the inside of a GT class Ferrari which was just ahead. As I got past the first thing I knew was I was spinning towards the wall on the left hand side and so immediately realised that he’d tagged the left rear of my car with the right front of his, after that I was just along for the ride. It was a very big accident. I have to say a huge thank you to the Audi designers because they have produced a car that could survive an enormous impact allowing the driver to open the door and get out unharmed."
Ralf Juttner (Technical Director Audi Sport Team Joest):
"A completely crazy race, I don’t think the world has ever seen anything like this before. Maybe there have been races at Le Mans before with an even closer outcome. But to be duelling with several cars over the period of 24 hours within gaps of just seconds, I don’t think this has ever happened before. It was really nerve wracking. Everyone who has been here will only realize what happened a few days from now. After Spa we were sitting together. Not everything was going as planned there. At that time Jo Hausner wished for us to have a race here in which Audi and Peugeot would be within seconds of each other up to the end. And that’s exactly what we got, I could curse him for that ... It was a great victory for Audi, but also for Allan (McNish) and particularly for Mike (Rockenfeller). We had horrible accidents. We’ve got to thank Audi for building such safe cars."
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