24-hour race: the dreams and tears of Le Mans

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The dreams and tears of Le Mans

24-hour race: the dreams and tears of Le Mans-car

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Past the checkered flag: The Audi R18 E-Tron driven by Frenchman Benoit Treluyer (right) is the first to cross the finish line at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Source: AFP

24-hour race: the dreams and tears of Le Mans-series He led the field until three laps before the end. ">

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Tense wait: Former Formula 1 driver Australian Mark Webber is waiting in the pit lane to be deployed. He led the field until three laps before the end.

Source: AFP

24-hour race: the dreams and tears of Le Mans-start number

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Alexander Wurz, who also used to be in Formula 1, in his Toyota TS 040 Hybrid.

Source: AFP

24-hour race: the dreams and tears of Le Mans-onboard camera

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Breathtaking atmosphere: View over the paddock with the ferris wheel.

Source: dpa

24-hour race: the dreams and tears of Le Mans-France

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A touch of romance under the French sun: the car from Audi Sport Team Joest, which was driven by Lucas Di Grassi, Loic Duval and Tom Kristensen.

Source: Getty Images

24-hour race: the dreams and tears of Le Mans-onboard camera

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Brand colleagues among themselves: Benoit Treluyer leads Audi driver Tom Kristensen.

Source: REUTERS

24-hour race: the dreams and tears of Le Mans-series

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Hard work: Mechanics screw on Webber’s Porsche 919.

Source: AFP

24-hour race: the dreams and tears of Le Mans-Toyota

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The winner’s podium: the German Andre Lotterer, the Swiss Marcel Fassler and the French Benoit Treluyer from the victorious Audi team.

Source: AFP

The 24 Hours of Le Mans were more exciting than in a long time. Audi’s lead over Toyota is gone, even newcomers Porsche could have won. But should be happy that it didn’t work out.

M.an shouldn’t praise the day before evening, and Porsche boss Matthias Muller didn’t do that either. He spoke specifically in the subjunctive on Sunday morning, and he only answered one question. So: what if the race was waved off at nine o’clock? “Then I would be a very satisfied Porsche boss. Second place would be a grand finale. ”It was to turn out differently.

The 24 Hours of Le Mans are the biggest and the toughest race in the world. Sensitive prototypes race at a pace similar to Formula 1 over a distance of 13.6 kilometers, and pretty much anything can come up here that you can think of.

That is why Ulrich Hackenberg, Head of Development at Audi, is so cautious that he even avoids the subjunctive. Even when around 2 p.m., just under an hour before the end of the race, all the hopes of the opponents had vanished and two Audis were comfortably ahead, Hackenberg said: "First drive to the end."

Audi and Porsche could not follow

That succeeded, and so there was yet another victory for Audi, the 13th out of 15 participations, this time in the line-up of Andre Lotterer (Duisburg), Marcel Fassler (Switzerland) and Benoit Treluyer (France). It was the most unlikely triumph of all, because this year the Audi racing cars had finally lost their superiority.

The number seven Toyota TS040 set the pace, hour after hour after hour. Alexander Wurz, the former Formula 1 driver, had wrested the car from a speed that the three Audi R18 e-trons and the two Porsche 919 Hybrids couldn’t keep up with.

And the second Toyota was robbed of all chances of victory in the first heavy rain phase on Saturday afternoon. A crash with a lower-end GTE Ferrari caused the Toyota to sneak back into the pits, the subsequent repair took so long that all dreams were over. On the other hand: You can do everything at Le Mans, just not give up.

This only applies when the car can no longer enter the pits on its own. This is what happened to the third Audi (starting number three), which was also involved in the accident. His driver Marco Bonanomi tried in vain to get the car running again, and you could see his tears under his helmet – the onboard cameras in Le Mans really do offer all-round coverage.

Many overtaking maneuvers can be seen

After the long safety car phase, the sun came out again as if nothing had happened, and as soon as some teams had switched from rain tires to slicks, it was pouring again and the safety car had to be deployed again.

Because it’s not just the big three manufacturers who drive for fame and honor, a total of 56 cars from four classes were at the start. In Le Mans you get to see what is not offered so often in Formula 1: overtaking maneuvers.

The marshals certainly have tired arms after 24 hours, that’s how often they have to wave the blue flag to indicate to a GTE car or an LMP-2 prototype that an Audi, Porsche or Toyota from the LMP-1 class is approaching.

These bolides are a good 20 seconds faster per lap, so it’s not worth fighting – sometimes LMP-1 cars grapple with a GTE from the left and right at the same time so as not to lag behind the actual competitor when lapping it.

At five in the morning it was all over

For a long time, the drivers of the leading Toyota did not have to worry about any of this. Car number seven had pulled away and was continuously expanding its lead. And whatever Audi and Porsche did, they couldn’t keep up.

Until it was all over at five in the morning. Electronics problems, possibly the sensors, the Toyota rolled out and could no longer be activated. Again there were tears of men to be seen, this time broadcast from the cameras in the Toyota box.

Because of course everyone knew: the chances of overall victory have never been so good. Toyota’s developers had continuously improved their car since 2012 and made it victorious. Toyota’s managers were so good politically that they were able to enforce a nice difference between the gasoline and diesel cars: The diesel tank of the Audi R18 e-tron holds about 14 liters less than the gasoline tanks of Toyota and Porsche, which the Audi managers consider a disadvantage is understood. Toyota was also very well organized in the pits.

They want to attack again next year, they say, what else can they say? But next year it will be much more difficult: Porsche will have improved, Audi is always good for victory anyway, and with Nissan there is another opponent.

Audi’s problems with the turbocharger

But at least it paid off a bit that Toyota’s number eight car hadn’t given up. In the end, the crew of this racing car came in third because both Porsches retired just under two hours before the end.

After the end of the leading Toyota, the two remaining Audis marched in front, but suddenly the turbocharger on starting number two went on strike. The repair took 24 minutes, which caused the car to drop to third place, putting Porsche in second place.

And it got even better. Audi will probably talk to the person who is responsible for the turbochargers this week. Because this part also had to be changed on the car with starting number one, and suddenly the Porsche with starting number 20 was in front.

Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel’s teammate in Formula 1 until last year, was behind the wheel and drove towards a sensational victory. What a story: Record winner Porsche (16 times) wins again after a 16-year break.

The Porsche is not yet capable of winning

But in this phase on Sunday morning it became clear that the 919 Hybrid is not yet capable of winning. Webber and his colleagues complained of problems with the brake balance and lost too much time as a result. The repaired Audi, which had restarted the race 90 seconds behind, took Webber’s Porsche three or four seconds per lap.

And when everyone was already calculating when the showdown would come on the track, all Porsche dreams were shattered: Webber’s oil pump failed. He got back into the box, but there he stood and stood and stood and stood.

To make the accident perfect, the second Porsche joined them 30 minutes later, and so – never give up – Toyota inherited a podium place behind the two Audis, while the Porsche 919s finished eleventh and 13th overall.

Sure, the disappointment is great in Zuffenhausen, but Porsche should actually be happy not to have won. If it had worked out with victory, it would only have been because of the problems with Toyota and Audi. Durability is of course important on the long haul, but a win always tastes sweeter if it is based on the performance of the car. And Porsche still has some way to go – which you can now do in peace without having to bear the burden of defending its title for 2015.

"We compete to win"

Despite the double victory, Audi will be concerned about whether the diesel hybrid drive might not be a dead end. The efficiency advantages inherent in fuel have now been negated by the tank sizes stipulated by the regulations, at least that’s what you can see in Ingolstadt.

"We are competing to win," says Hackenberg, the board member. And if you can’t win according to the current regulations (or only if the competition fails), then of course you have to think about alternatives.

And whether the flywheel storage system, which stores the energy recovered during braking for the additional electric drive, is on the right track in terms of transferring it to series production is still in the stars. Porsche’s idea of ​​using the engine’s heat to generate electricity seems to be far more effective. You won’t see this technology in series production anytime soon, but Porsche boss Muller also says: "We are working on industrialization."

Despite all the competition and all the differences in technical solutions: What all teams have in common is the desire to lead endurance racing to its old level. New manufacturers are therefore always welcome: Nissan has made a firm commitment for 2015, and there are rumors about Honda. And even Ferrari boss Montezemolo publicly flirted with an involvement in Le Mans in the “Wall Street Journal” at the end of last week.

The trip to the 24 Hours of Le Mans was supported by Audi. You can find our standards of transparency and journalistic independence at www.axelspringer.de/unabhaengigkeit

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