Audi racked up its twelfth victory at Le Mans last weekend in a battle with Toyota that tested both cars’ speed and reliability, as well as the respective drivers’ stamina, concentration and skill.
The 24-hour race at the 8.5-mile French circuit – made up of a mix of public roads and bespoke race track – is a gruelling test of man and machine that sees four different classes of vehicle race twice round the clock to win one of the most coveted prizes in world motorsport.
With changeable conditions over the weekend it was difficult for the engineers and the drivers as they searched for the right car setup, but Audi came out on top in qualifying, locking out the front row.
The pair of Toyota TS030 LMP1 cars couldn’t match the German R18s for pace, but could go longer on a tank of fuel – it was shaping up to be an interesting in close race.
Come Saturday, the race started under drizzly weather, with the Toyota’s showing excellent early pace that surprised the Audis. The number 8 car overtook the number 3 and 1 Audis and matched the lead car.
However, the battle was cut short after a crash for the number 95 Aston Martin Vantage, which brought out the safety car for over an hour while the barriers were repaired.
In a tragic turn of events, driver Allan Simonsen later succumbed to his injuries sustained in the crash, shocking the whole field. However, at the request of Simonsen’s family the Aston Martin Racing Team carried on, vying for the lead in the road car based GTE Pro and GTE Am categories.
More rain and more periods behind the safety car ensued throughout the night, but the battle between the German and Japanese teams at the front remained tight, with the Toyotas in second and third one lap down on the lead Audi.
Problems hit one of the other four-ringed racers when an engine sensor failed, requiring repairs that dropped the number one car back to 11th place.
The lead Audi started to stretch its legs in the evening, with the Toyotas unable to match its pace. However, the Japanese petrol hybrid cars could go longer on a tank of fuel than the diesel hybrid German prototypes, meaning less time spent in the pits.
The gap remained constant until the end of the race, but a heavy downpour in the 23rd hour meant the fourth place Toyota lost control at the Porsche Curves, killing its chances of overtaking the Audi it was hunting down for the final podium position.
After 24 hours of non-stop racing, Audi reigned victorious at the famous French race, taking first and third spots, with Toyota taking a brilliant second place in its second year back at Le Mans.
The GTE Pro battle went the way of Porsche in the 911 model’s 50th anniversary year. The new 991 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR took first and second places in class, with the Aston Martin coming home in third after the late downpour meant a pit stop for wet tyres halted its hunt for the lead Porsche, closing at over one second per lap.
The German marque notched up its 12th overall win in Le Mans in 2013, edging ever closer to Porsche’s total of 16. Next year, both brands will race side-by-side at the circuit de la Sarthe as Porsche enters with its 2014 LMP1 car – it’ll be a battle of the two most successful marques ever at the famous 24-hour endurance race.
Did you go down to Le Mans or did you watch the race on television? What were your favourite bits of the epic battle? Why not let us know on twitter @twwhiteandsons or on our Facebook page.