Audi maintained its
unbroken podium finishes
at the Le Mans 24 Hours
since it entered the
sportscar arena in 1999.
And it did so courtesy of a
rule that was introduced
to address the crowd-pleasing exploits of one
of its former drivers.
Think back to Le Mans
2002 and the third
consecutive victory for Tom
Kristensen, Emanuele Pirro
and Frank Biela. Pirro was in
for the finish and completed
an ultra-slow lap, with much
of the final third on the
pitlane speed limiter, as he
took in the crowd’s
applause. A lap of
nine-minutes led to the
introduction of the
six-minute rule that derailed
the No. 5 Toyota. Et voila,
an Audi on the podium...
This year, Audi endured a
disastrous race. But was it
totally out of the game with
the low-downforce version
of the latest car to bear
the R18 e-tron quattro
name? Not entirely.
The No. 7 entry shared
by Andre Lotterer, Benoit
Treluyer and Marcel
Fassler was out of it in the
second hour courtesy of a
20-minute stay in the pits
to change the car’s
turbocharger. The sister
car that ultimately
finished third in the hands
of Loic Duval, Lucas di
Grassi and Oliver Jarvis
wasn’t on the pace of the
Toyotas and Porsches –
or, not consistently so.
But at times it was at
least a match for them.
Audi’s up and down
race could be explained
by problems in keeping its
Michelin tires within the
correct operating window.
That included nearly all of
the night, but on Sunday
morning and then again
after lunchtime it was
right on the pace.
The two-lap deficit to
the leaders that the No. 8
Audi maintained until
intervened in the 20th
hour could largely be
explained away by time
lost early in the race to
replace a door and then an
panel. Given di Grassi’s
super-quick final stints, it
suggests Audi might have
been able to make it a
three-way fight at the
front with a little less
misfortune going its way.
“It would have been
difficult to challenge, but
maybe we could have
done it with a perfect race
and a perfect strategy,”
said di Grassi. “Our
problem was simply that
we spent too much time
in the pits.”
FORGOTTEN, BUT NOT GONE
MEANWHILE, OVER AT AUDI...
No. 6 Toyota shared with Stephane Sarrazin
and Kamui Kobayashi immediately after the
race went green again, while Jani was less
than a couple of seconds behind in third.
It was in the 20th hour that the No. 5
TS050 began to take a grip on the race.
Lieb’s 919 had moved into the lead after
Davidson took over the Toyota from
Buemi, but the Briton overhauled the
Porsche before the next round of pitstops.
Davidson pulled away, helped by a
series of slow zones, as Lieb struggled on
four-stint old tires. Pole winner Jani got
back in the car with just over three hours
to go, made small inroads into the leader’s
advantage and then closed to within 29sec
when Nakajima took over the TS050 for
the final two stints. That was as close as it
got until those fateful final minutes.
The Toyota had the advantage when it
mattered on Sunday. The Porsche had been
quicker during the night, but as the
temperatures rose in the morning the two
cars were equally matched, with the TS050
at least equal to the 919, if not a tad faster.
That, combined with Toyota’s strategy of
an extra lap on a tank of gas compared with
its rival, turned the tide of the race.
Porsche was backed into a tactical
corner from which it would not fight its way
out. The team had to put the No. 2 onto the
same 14-lap fuel strategy as Toyota –
starting in the final quarter of Lieb’s final
stint – to avoid a late-race splash ’n’ dash.
That came with a performance penalty.
At the same time, it started quadruple
stinting its tires for the first time in the
hours of daylight in an effort to negate
the Toyota’s strategic advantage.
“When it became clear that it was going
to be difficult to beat the Toyota, we had to
try everything possible strategy-wise,” said
ANDREAS SEIDL, PORSCHE
“As it became clear it would
be difficult to beat Toyota,
we had to try everything
Audi’s 2016 visit to Le Mans wasn’t pretty, but despite some
misfortunes it still managed to maintain a podium streak
that stretches back to its first race in 1999.
(TOP) Early rain kept drivers on their toes.
(BELOW) Having dominated the closing
stages, a distraught Kazuki Nakajima is
consoled by Toyota team members after
last-gasp dramas for his TS050 HYBRID.