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GP Week : Issue 14
I MUST admit; I have not had the interest in the Le Mans 24 Hour race I might have had in recent years. Audi’s dominance, while great for the company and Audi owners, has not been good for the event. If we accept that the Bentley that won the race in 2003 was, in fact, a green Audi with a roof, the marque is unbeaten since 1999, and the Frank Biela/ Emanuele Pirro/Marco Werner combination is shooting for three wins on the trot this time around. Those are the types of statistics that make people stop watching races. But Ingolstadt’s famous R10 TDI, which ushered in the diesel era, is under fire. The three Audis enter the race as underdogs, having been comprehensively outpaced this season by Peugeot. The French company came into the race with a diesel of its own last year and, while expectations were high, the company downplayed talk of a win, stating that a 2008 victory was its realistic goal. And they are right; Peugeot’s 908 Hdi FAP has outpaced the German roadsters so far this season, and the traditional test day at the start of the month confirmed what many already knew – the Peugeots were faster than the Audis at Le Mans. Conditions for the day were largely wet and unpredictable but, when it did dry out, the French cars were quick, and it was no fluke; the car that topped the sheets completed three laps after its best time before pitting. The Germans have not been lying around, making aero updates to their proven cars and, reportedly, working on a coupe version of their own to beat the French at their own game. But that may have to wait until next year. The clash of the titans will take centre stage but the depth of the field has rarely been better. There are 15 other entries in the LMP1 class, with the Pescarolo Sport Judds (Emmanuel Collard and Jean- Chrostophe Bouillion lead the drivers) and the ORECA Courages (look for Olivier Panis and Simon Pagenaud) expected to fly the tricolour for France, even if on speed, the task of beating the diesels looks daunting. In LMP2, things would be much more exciting if the Acuras were coming, but they aren’t, so Porsche’s RS Spyder looks to have victory there for the taking. Vetrans John Nielsen and Jos Verstappen look set to fight it out, but the Zytek of Michael Vergers showed promising speed in the test. 22