This weekend racing fans from around the world will converge on the Circuit de la Sarthe as Peugeot seeks to even the score with Audi for its narrow defeat in 2008.
24 Hours of Le Mans
At LotPro.com we know that for NASCAR fans it’s Daytona; for the followers of open-wheel racing here in the States it’s the Indy 500, and for Formula 1 devotees it’s Monte Carlo (and maybe a PETA poster featuring Bernie’s middle daughter).
But for those who are enamored of endurance racing, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is the absolute benchmark. The inaugural race took place on May 26th and 27 in 1923 and the race has been run annually since then (with a cancellation in 1936 due to the depression and from 1940 to 1948 due to World War II).
The race normally takes place the second weekend in June with practice and qualifying sessions occurring on the Wednesday and Thursday prior to race weekend.
Although the waving of the French tricolor still signals the start of the race, a number of things have changed in the ensuing years. For one, drivers no longer run across the track and start their cars before the race begins (the original start led Porsche to locate the ignition switch to the left of the steering wheel so that drivers could both start and put the transmission into gear at the same time).
Another change has been in the classification of the race cars. The top two classes consist of Le Mans Prototypes (LMP) that are divided into LMP1 and LMP2 classes based on horsepower, weight and speed. The next two classes consist of production-based vehicles in the grand tourer (GT) class that is also split and classified by weight, speed and horsepower into GT1 and GT2.
2008: there is no second place
Audi has clearly dominated Le Mans for nearly ten years beginning in 1999 when the R8s finished in third and fourth place. In 2000, 2002 and 2004, the R8’s finished 1-2-3. In 2002 they finished 1-2, 2005 saw a 1-3-4 finish, and 2007 saw a single podium finish, albeit in first place. The lone year that Audi was unsuccessful in placing first was in 2003, when the factory failed to field a team (a privateer team campaigning an R8 finished third).
Beginning in 2007, French manufacturer Peugeot began to make some inroads on Audi’s dominance which by this time consisted of the formidable R10 TDI diesel-powered LMP1.For in 2007, the Peugeot 908 HDi placed second behind the Audi R10 (although it was 10 laps down at the finish).
In 2008, Peugeot certainly had its best chance, ever, to unseat Audi. Previous races that year had shown the 908 to be clearly superior in horsepower and for the first time in nearly a decade Audi found itself the underdog. Following qualifications, Peugeot found itself in the top three places on the starting grid and even led 1-2-3 after two hours.
Things started to unravel for the team shortly after that as two of the cars went down during the third hour with electrical problems. Peugeot and Audi swapped the lead position in both the fourth hour with Audi taking the lead during a Peugeot fuel stop and Peugeot regaining it in the fifth hour with the No. 7 Peugeot 908 overtaking the No. 2 Audi car.
And then came the rain.
The Peugeot cars began having issues with the traction control system and this, coupled with their radiator issues (which were becoming soiled and led to engine performance issues) eventually led to their downfall.
The final results: Audi finished 1st, 4th and 6th while Peugeot finished 2nd (on the same lap as the lead Audi), 3rd and 5th.
This year, for the first time in its modern history, teams at Le Mans had just one qualifying session to claim a place on the starting grid as the preliminary test day was cancelled. Wednesday evening’s free practice was also subject to wet conditions which meant that this year’s teams still had more than a bit of sorting out to do during the qualifying session on Thursday.
As it stands now, Peugeot has one car in each of the first 3 rows (1, 3 and 5), while the Audis, with the new Audi R15 TDI, find themselves in rows 1, 3 and 4 (in positions 2, 6 and 7).
Peugeot has taken the intervening 12 months to address the issues of the traction control system, radiator soiling and, with the help of Michelin, optimizing the tires as well as improving wheel-centering for the mechanics in order to decrease the time spent in the pits.
The race will begin at 3:00 pm on Saturday (10:00 EDT). Audi will cover the race both on Facebook (fb.audir15tdi.com) and Twitter (tw.audir15tdi.com) and we will have the results for you here at LotPro.com next week.