F Features

Make it Eight

Audi wins 24 Hours of Le Mans for the Eighth Time in Nine Years

It has become common place to see Audi drivers standing on top of the podium at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Prior to 2008, the car maker had won seven of the previous eight runnings of the most prestigious road racing event in the world. But this year, Audi did not come in as the favourite and as qualifying and lap times were revealed, it was apparent that the Peugeot squad had the car to beat. And that’s exactly what Audi did when the checkered flag fell after 24 hours of grueling competition.

Sure, it was no David vs. Goliath battle, but few in the garage area thought the Audi would be able to handle the quicker Peugeot 908. In fact, at the end of the race it was the Peugeot that had the fastest lap, almost three seconds quicker than their Audi rivals. But Le Mans is all about stamina and that is where the Audis continue to shine as Peugeot encountered problems throughout the race and thwarted their attempts at victory.

The winning combination of Dindo Capello, Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen (who also stood on the top step for an eighth time to extend his own record for drivers) were patient and reeled in the Peugeot in the final few hours. Early on, the three-car Peugeot squad was dominant, with the team of Marc Gene, Jacques Villeneuve and Nicolas Minassian leading the way. However, the Audis would eventually make three fewer pit stops and that allowed them to negate the lap speed differential over 24 hours.

It was a tough defeat for Peugeot 908, which was competing in just its second 24 Hours, especially for Canadian Villeneuve. The 1997 World Champion was looking to become just the second driver to win the F1 title, the Indianapolis 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans (Graham Hill remains the only driver to accomplish the hat trick). Late in the race it looked good for the #7 Peugeot, but a flat tire forced Gene to limp home and gave the Audi the precious time it needed to secure the victory after 381 laps.

The LMP 2 class was ruled by the Porsche RS Spyder of Van Merksteijn, Verstappen and Bleekemolen, who finished with 354 laps and 10th overall. They were followed home by another Spyder driven by Elgaard, Nielsen and Maassen (12th overall) and the Pescarolo Judd of Ragues, Lahaye and Cheng Cong (18th).

The Aston Martins took the measure of their Corvette rivals in France as the team of Brabham, Garcia and Turner took the top spot in GT1, 13th overall. The No. 009 finished three laps clear of their closest pursuers, the No. 63 Corvette of Canadian Ron Fellows, O’Connell and Magnussen (14th overall). The sister Corvette with Gavin, Beretta and Papis finished third (15th).

The tifosi were screaming with delight at Le Mans as the Ferrari swept the podium in GT2. The Risi Competizione team of Melo, Salo and Bruni dominated the class, finishing 8 laps up on second and 19th overall. Behind them were a pair of similar F430 GTs as the BMS Scuderia Italia team (Malucelli, Ruberti and Babini) and Farnbacher Racing team (Ehret, Kaffer and Nielsen) completed the podium in that order.

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