By Kris Hansen
In order to win, first you must finish.
Going into this year’s 24 hours, Audi was on paper a decided underdog. We say on paper because in previous encounters with their chief rivals Toyota and Porsche, the Audi R18 e-tron quattros showed decidedly slower in many cases than the others. The Audi squad faced teething issues with their new R18, as well as some massive crashes, which required building new cars more often than normal.
The 24 hours started relatively well for Audi, right up till the #1 R18 e-tron quattro with Loic Duval at the wheel somehow left the track and became completely destroyed, during the first practice session. Audi were able to build a completely new car overnight in time for qualifying, but Duval was deemed unfit for the race, requiring the call up of Marc Gene.
After the dust of qualifying had settled, the on paper predictions seemed to be holding true, with the 3 Audis firmly behind their rivals on the grid. Knowing what we know about Audi and the 24 Hours of Le Mans though, we knew that anything is possible, and Audi have a way of making things happen when others can not.
When the green flag fell, as usual Audi showed that their qualifying pace was essentially their race speed, and they were able to truly match Porsche and Toyota when they ran their own race speed. Audi were working their way up through the pack, when during a period of very heavy rain the #3 car was hit from several directions in a significant crash, taking that car from the race.
As the race went on, the remaining #1 and #2 Audi were showing major pace, running very well solidly in the top 5 consistently. As we’ve know for a very long time though, outright pace is only part of what it takes to win this amazingly tough race. As the hours and miles wore on, the machines started wearing down. The car that had been strongest in terms of speed was the #7 Toyota, suffered a mechanical failure effectively handing the race to Audi, it became a question of which Audi would win.
It did seem that we’d be seeing the #1 car of Lucas di Grassi, Marc Gené and Tom Kristensen take it, but ultimately a mechanical problem of their own put them several laps down to their sister car, the #2 of Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer, Benoît Tréluyer, who ultimately became 3 time Le Mans 24 Hours winners.
This Audi victory proves more than ever that, in order to win, first you must finish.