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«The Club Arnage Guide to the 24 hours of Le Mans 2015 Every input was pure reflex - things were coming at me everywhere I looked. For about 50 ...»

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As in 2010 the race started with 4 Peugeots taking on 3 Audis in the feature LMP1 race with all 7 mixed up in the top 7 slots. Even before the first lap was completed both teams were aware of the ability of the Peugeot to run one lap longer on a tank of fuel than the Audi. Over the course of the 24 hours this could crucially mean 2-3 less stops for the Peugeot team with respect to the legendary efficiency in the pits of the Audi team.

Within the first hour the first major incident of the race took place. Allan McNish exited the pits and thought he had an opportunity to dive past one of his team-mates just after the Dunlop Bridge. Unfortunately the No.58 Ferrari was lurking on the other side of the Audi, unsighted by McNish, who collected the Ferrari on his trip to the gravel. The Ferrari was relatively unscathed and re-joined the race but McNish was sent flying into the catch fencing before finishing up on his roof. The car was destroyed and the crowd held its breath and then released a collective sigh of relief as McNish opened the door and walked away. A spectacular accident that 20 years ago may have had a much sadder ending. The safety car came out whilst the crash barriers were repaired and due to the length enabled the Audis to make back one of their pit stop deficits whilst retaining the lead.

8 hours later and the crowd were stunned by a copycat incident involving the No.1 Audi (driven by Mike Rockenfeller) at the time and the No.71 Ferrari. In the dead of night Rockenfeller appeared to misjudge the routine pass between the Mulsanne and Indianapolis corners. He careered off the track and smashed into the barriers, the video footage showing the Audi disintegrating into thousands of pieces. Again the pilot was able to walk away much to the credit of the safety technology of the modern race car. The resulting safety car came out for over 2 hours whilst the barriers were repaired, an indication of the massive forces in the shunt. The length of this safety car resulted in a Le Mans first where a replacement safety car was deployed as the first one ran low on fuel.

17 The Club Arnage Guide to the 24 hours of Le Mans 2015 As the morning broke the remaining leading Audi and Peugeot pack were close together with the staggered fuel stops causing the lead to change on several occasions. The teams began work on a finish strategy to ensure they wouldn’t be pitting with only a couple of laps to go. Spectator calculations seemed to think that in this case the Peugeot No.7 would benefit and take the win but Alex Wurz through a curve ball, hitting the barrier at Indianapolis and dropping back 3 laps. This epitomized the closing hours of what many are saying is the best end to a race in a long time. Audi had worked their pit stops to give themselves back the advantage but a fuel tank issue meant they couldn’t use the full 65litre capacity and an unscheduled stop was forced. At the final stop Lotterer in the No.2 Audi took the time to put on new tyres as well as fuel. Pagenaud in the No.9 Peugeot only added fuel and both he and Lotterer emerged from the pits seconds apart with the Audi ahead. The tyres paid dividends as both cars hammered round the track in a desperate sprint to the finish line with Lotterer’s Audi pulling clear by only 13.8 seconds from Pagenaud’s Peugeot to take the victory with the final lap at full race speed as opposed to the usual processional luxury afforded to the leader. This marked Audi’s tenth win at Le Sarthe and moves them clear into second of all time wins from Ferrari on 9 and behind Porsche on 16.

A dramatic end to the GTE Pro race saw the AF Corse Ferrari narrowly missing out on the class victory to the Corvette Racing C6 despite finishing on the same lap. Corvette wrapped up a successful 24 hours by winning the GTE Am class.

2012 - The first hybrid car wins 2012 was another landmark in the long history of this race. First of all Le Mans became part of a FIA sanctioned series again, the WEC - World Endurance Championship. Almost 20 years after the last world sports car championship went down the drain; a new attempt to promote this sport worldwide has been made. The series didn’t really have a dream start, just weeks before the first round Peugeot decided to pull the plug on their endurance racing program. The A.C.O.then managed to convince Toyota to step in - they actually had planned 2012 just as a test year. Without any dress rehearsal the Japanese sent a 2 car team to La Sarthe and for the first time there was petrol vs. diesel powered race fought by 2 large manufacturers, both using hybrid systems. Toyota did well for a couple of hours and even led the race for a short time - but after they had lost both cars due to an accident and mechanical trouble the race soon became another clear run for Audi. However, the German team had been unsure if the conventional car or the hybrid system would perform better and had brought 4 cars, 2 conventional and 2 hybrids. In the end Le Mans saw another landmark victory with a hybrid car taking the overall win for the first time.

2013 - Hybrid battle overshadowed by tragedy The 2013 24 hours had overtones of the previous year with Audi vs Toyota for overall honours and plucky private teams trying to keep in the same league, followed by a big grid of LM P2 competitors that were very closely matched.

In GT it would be a battle between Aston Martin, Ferrari and the newly resurrected factory Porsche Team. Corvette were, as usual, heroically upbeat but on this occasion somewhat off the pace. The Vipers looked sexy but were more optimistic than confident.

The cloud that overshadowed the race was the tragic death of Allan Simonsen driving the number 95 Aston Martin, who just at dusk ran wide at the exit of Tertre Rouge and hit the barrier at considerable speed. The 34 year old Danish driver had a huge following in his homeland along with a sizeable fan base in UK.

GT drivers don't always attract that type of admiration. Tributes poured in from people who had worked with him and raced against him and without exception they all talked of one the 'good guys' of racing. This sad event cast a massive shadow over the race.

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The expected Audi domination was spoilt by the Toyotas. They never looked likely to win outright but they gave Audi a serious run for their money as far as podium places were concerned. They didn't have the pace of the Audis but they were more economical and the weather seemed to suit them. It was the number 8 that squeezed onto the podium and knocked one of the Audis off the perch… it was a brilliant effort with the other Toyota coming 4th despite a big accident. The LM P2 honours went to the fast and reliable No 35 OAK Racing Morgan-Nissan followed by the 24 OAK Racing Morgan-Nissan.

Aston Martin arrived with big hopes of victory in both 'Pro' and 'Am' classes but sadly these plans were knocked sideways both emotionally and tactically. Porsche on the other hand were preparing for battle in LM P1 next year and 18 The Club Arnage Guide to the 24 hours of Le Mans 2015 what better way than to run a pair of factory cars to get their act together. Initially it was thought the threat to Aston would come from the reliable, nimble and economical Ferraris but it never materialized. For Porsche this was surely a dress rehearsal for their return to LM P1 next year and a very good one it was too… the team functioned well and they got what they wanted, a 1st & 2nd in LM GTE Pro. Not bad for their return to the big time. Corvette kept their hand in with an 'old' car. The C7 could not arrive soon enough for them. Aston's misfortune was complete, and at the finish of terrible 24hrs for them, the No 76 IMSA Performance Matmut took the LM GT Am class.

2014 - Threesome Le Mans 2014 was a vintage race in so many ways. Visiting the racetrack, no one could be in doubt from the extensive marketing livery and banners from Porsche and Audi that manufactures believe in Le Mans and sports car racing and Le Mans in particular. Record attendees demonstrated the continued popularity of Le Mans with some 262,000 spectators. Finally the events of the weekend were fit to have been the storyline of a Hollywood film script.

Three top flight manufacturers, Audi (3 cars), Toyota (2 cars) and now Porsche (2 cars) all entered LMP-H hybrid cars. Rebellion taking up the non-hybrid LMP-L baton. Despite Audi, Toyota and Porsche each having a different architecture for their hybrid powerplants, there was little to choose between them in outright pace. The story started even before the race began, in Free Practice, Loic Duval badly crashed the LMP1-H '1 Audi in the Porsche Curves and put himself, and so we thought, the car too, out of the race. Amazingly the car was rebuilt, Marc Gené from Jota Sport’s Zytek #38 being drafted into Audi, leaving a place that was filled very late by a surprised but very happy Oliver Turvey.

In LMP1, Toyota looked very strong having come from a win at Spa, and Porsche having found good outright pace.

Qualifying suffered frequently from crashes that led to safely cars, (new) slow zones and early finishes. Despite a frustrating qualifying, the grid of Toyota in first and third position, and Porsche second and forth with Audi taking the fifth-seventh places appeared to reflect the relative speeds and it looked as though Audi's domination of recent years had ended. The prevailing view was that Audi's chance lay in reliability and team performance. In the race Toyota, Audi and Porsche all led and it looked as though any could win outright. But the race was far from predictable and there were many twists and turns from changes of places and retirements due to crashes and car unreliability. In the case of Toyota #7 caused by the failure of FIA monitoring equipment. Audi, Toyota and Porsche all lost a car. Audis came first and second, and the remaining Toyota in third. In fourth place, finishing fourteen laps behind was the remaining Rebellion. There was no shortage of excitement in the other three categories, either. LMP2 saw a fierce battle between over ten teams, with Jota Sport winning in the class (with Oliver Turvey). Meanwhile, in the GTE categories, Porsche, Corvette, Ferrari and Aston Martin fought each other in a part of the Le Mans race that should not be overlooked. Corvette, Aston Martin and Ferrari cars all claimed the top spot in GTE Pro at different times, but the AF Corse Ferrari won at the end. GTE Am was also an interesting race, with Aston Martin winning two laps ahead of the Proton Porsche.

Nissan returned to Garage 56 with their new ZEOD, an electric hybrid experimental car. It qualified 27th, behind the LMP2 and ahead of the GTE cars. It made a credible top speed of 300 km/h (186 mph). Although it succeeded in completing a lap solely on electric power it became the race’s very first retirement, having a fatal gearbox issue after only five laps. Overall, the racing was extremely close and somewhat unpredictable in all areas. Spice and excitement was added through reliability, rain showers and driver misjudgements. However, for 2015, Nissan will be joining Audi, Toyota and Porsche in LMP1, which can only bring more unpredictability to the already very promising race…

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In 1972, the ACO continued its revisions and decided it needed to have greater control over the track. More land was purchased and a completely new section was created between Arnage & the Ford Chicane, by-passing Maison Blanche completely, before rejoining the existing track just before the start straight at the Ford Chicane, which was also modified. This lengthened the track to 13.64km, pretty much the distance today. The circuit stayed in this format between 1972 and 1986 with only some modifications to the Tertre Rouge corner to allow for the widening of the N138. The Mulsanne corner was also re-profiled for the construction of a roundabout.

In 1987 the Dunlop chicane was added.

This slowed the cars dramatically on their approach to the Esses and destroyed a classic section of track. The circuit, along with most other European ones, was also falling victim to enlarged runoff areas that have evolved into acres of gravel with the public having to face increasing amounts of mesh fencing between them and the cars, to the point where now, almost the entire track is fenced off. However, worse was to come in 1990. The “Les Hunaudieres” straight - along with the character of the entire track - was changed when two chicanes where added. Gone were the Langheck specials, corner speeds went up and top speeds fell. The track had fallen victim to a bitter dispute between the A.C.O. and the FIA, who had brought in a 1982: Dunlop Curve © Rupert Lowes new rule limiting the length of a single straight. The lap times went up by about 15 seconds. Whether the track is any safer with the chicanes is open to debate; true the top speeds of the cars were slowed by about 30 mph on the straight, but as a consequence higher down force set-ups were used then which has pushed up the corner speeds on the rest of the track. The one good thing to come out of this is that the small WM Peugeot team will forever hold onto the fastest speed down the shute. Set during the 1988 race Roger Dorchy hit 405 km/h (251.1mph) strapped into his WM88 Peugeot. The fastest in 1990 was a Jaguar XJR-12 at 353km/h (218mph) some 50km/h (31mph) slower. Despite some meddling with the Dunlop chicane and the construction in 1991 of a new pit complex, the track was to remain largely unchanged throughout the growth and death of the GT1 cars of the 90’s.

In 2002 the Esses were extensively reworked at the request of the bikers to slow the bikes entry onto the short Bugatti track. This led to the loss of another seminal section of track. The Esses between the Dunlop bridge and Tertre Rouge, once an exciting, tight yet flowing section of track, now became a wide open section of sweepers set in 22 The Club Arnage Guide to the 24 hours of Le Mans 2015 masses of gravel that could just about be on any circuit in the world. For 2006 the bikers once again demanded changes. The Dunlop chicane was tightened up still further. The sight of the cars sweeping up the slight hill at the end of the pit straight, then under the Dunlop bridge before dropping down into the Esses and onto Tertre Rouge is now a distant memory.

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For 2014 there are completely new regulations for the P1 cars in the book, basically limiting energy consuption by almost 30%, restricting tyre size and overall widths of the cars. Let's see what the new generation of P1 cars can do, but I bet they'll beat the 3:30 mark again.

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