CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It was anti-climatic.
While this past weekend’s Le Mans 24-Hour had more dramatic moments than most in the end its conclusion mirrored the pre-race predictions of the experts.
Out front after a full day of high-speed running, interspersed by fits of “dodge-em” car action, at the historic Sarthe circuit, the expected Audi victory was confirmed. In the form of a one-through three sweep, with Audi’s final entry taking fifth to make it foot out of the top five.
Leading the way were last year’s winners, Andre Lotterer, Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer, the trio becoming the latest to join the select few who have scored consecutive triumphs in the long-distance classic which was celebrating its 80th running. Right behind were Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Rinaldo Capello, with Oliver Jarvis, Marco Bonanomi and Mike Rockenfeller third.
However, all three cars, the first two hybrid turbocharged diesel variants of last year’s winning R18, and the more normal turbo in third, taking a well deserved had a less than smooth ride to the
finish, all hitting solid objects along the way that required trips to the garage for repairs. Indeed, the fifth-place R18 turbo diesel of Romain Dumas, Loic Duval and Marc Gene tore off its right-front suspension not once, but twice during the event during the affair.
Even so, the German team’s luck was far better than that of the American factory Corvettes neither of the two present. The Jordan Taylor, Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia entry, or its sister, manned by Oliver Gavin, Tom Milner Jr., and Richard Westbrook, were classified because of accidents and mistakes on the track and in the pits.
Ultimately the GTE Pro division in which they ran was a Ferrari 458 Italia benefit with the top three positions all occupied by the Italians.
Only in the GTE Am class did a Corvette shine, last year’s “professional” production winner, now owned by the French Larbre team, again taking a well deserved victory, this time on the” amateur” side with Patrick Bomhsauser, Julien Camal and Pedro Lamy aboard.
For American fans, though, that effort wasn’t the only one to cheer about, for in the “second Tier” LMP2 sports racing division it was the Grand-Am’s Starworks organization leading the way to the finish, Enzo Potolicchio , Ryan Dalziel and Tom Kimber-Smith accomplishing the feat in their HPD Ax-03b.
Unfortunately, while all the categories except for LMP1 were hotly contested, and all featured their own attention getting string of spins and accidents, the premier LMP1 prototypes where the focus should have been, was only memorable for one horrific crash that involved the LMP1 Toyota Ts-030 Hybrid of Anthony Davidson, co-driving with Stephane Sarrazin and Sebastien Buemi.
That mishap occurred late Saturday afternoon at the end of the long Mulsanne straight when a GTEAM Ferrari barged into the Japanese sports racing coupe, sending it spinning through the air before crashing into a tire wall.
Despite the severity of the incident and the fact that the Ferrari came to rest upside down, the only injuries were a couple of cracked vertebrae suffered by Davidson, whose car landed right side up.
That wasn’t the wasn’t the end of the Toyota team’s day, though as on the restart, after a more than hour full course yellow flag session to make repairs to the fencing at the accident site, Kazuki Nakajima slammed his remaining TS-30 into the side of Duncan Dayton’s unique Highcroft racing Nissan-powered DeltaWing experimental machine, putting the latter into a barrier and out of the race.
While the Toyota mechanics were able to repair the TS-030 to some extent, it wasn’t enough to keep it running, and it too was added to the retirement list. There was a bright side to all of this however, the Delta Wing which involved Dan Gurney’s All-American Racers group, proving it could achieve credible lap times despite the skeptics saying it couldn’t do so. Equally heartening was the highly competitive performance of the Toyotas which were last minute replacements for Peugeot which had withdrawn from racing on short notice this spring because of financial issues.
Initially, the Japanese car maker had planned to debut its hybrids next June, but were persuaded to bring them to bring the program forward because of Peugeot’s withdrawal, and the fallout in terms of interest that decision created.
For 2013, with the promise of an all out battle between Audi and Toyota, the organizers of Le Mans, the L’Automobile Clun du L’Ouest, could well have an abundant amount of interest in its event if the potential shown by the TS-030 this is translated into hard results 12 months from now.
Interestingly, though, the cars fielded by both Audi and its Japanese rival could be “short termers” given the fact that radial new rules for the top end prototypes are slated to go into effect for 2014.
Under the new scriptures not only will the cars be smaller, lighter and more aerodynamic efficient, they will also face a 30-percent reduction in the amount of fuel they used for the 24 hour. That loss will be made up by alternative energy sources whether they be electrical Hybrid driven, or Hydrogen derived.
If there is anything clear about the future of Le Mans, it is that it will be a venue not only for entertainment but innovation.