Audi Sport Team Joest takes victory at the 2013 24 Hours of Le Mans ahead of Toyota Racing, with Tom Kristensen sealing a record ninth event win.  

“The storm is coming.”

Haunting words for all concerned as the 2013 24 Hours of Le Mans went into the final hour, since changeable weather had shown its might during the week leading up to the race. Indeed, atrocious conditions saw Test Day as well as qualifying red flagged owing to conditions and various bits of carbon fibre littering the track. In an unusual occurrence, Loic Duval’s best time in the #2 R18 e-tron Quattro was enough to give Audi pole position. An Audi 1-2-3 in qualifying confirmed the German boys and fraus would not be easy to beat.

Audi’s potential dominance early doors (despite a sibling scrap into Dunlop at the green flag, with the #1 machine leapfrogging the polesitting #2 e-tron) was negated when once again the drizzle started to fall. Sure of its performance in the dry, suddenly the conditions were playing into Toyota’s hands. Nicolas Lapierre, having started fifth, was suddenly fourth, and then second within a matter of laps, ripping chunks of time out of the #1 Audi’s lead. Crawling all over the back of the R18, only a safety car and the sun starting to shine through saved stopped the Frenchman snatching the lead from Andre Lotterer.

Fast forward 23 hours. Drizzle and light showers had moderately drenched La Sarthe during the course of the morning (and slightly heavier during the night), but competitors remained unscathed, albeit on tiptoes around the slick track. Suddenly from nowhere, when the paddock now anticpated an Audi 1-3 sandwiched by the #8 Toyota, heavy rain washed the competition aside in spades, prototypes pirouetting into the barriers and smashing their noses with no way to control themselves. Laptimes dropped significantly, every driver concentrating hard on sticking to the black stuff: to exit the race almost within sight of the flag would be too much to bear. All competitors headed pitwards, full wets being dished out (bar the likes of Aston Martin Racing, taking a gamble that the track would dry quickly), only for the rain to stop again. But the threat remained, according to weather reports up and down pit perches.

Behind the safety car with only thirty minutes to run was the lead #2 Audi of Tom Kristensen, Duval and McNish: long-time leaders, a one lap lead in their pocket. Behind them, the second-placed #8 Toyota of Sebastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Stephane Sarrazin. Surely a change for the lead was impossible. But what if Buemi – with a Toyota stronger than the Audi in these tricky conditions – was able to leapfrog Kristensen? And another safety car was thrown? All of a sudden the lead looked less than stable. Fingers were crossed in the pits, knuckles clenched in the paddock. “The storm is coming”, announced Toyota over the radio.

In the end, the weather held fair (just) to allow Audi to collect its fourth Le Mans victory in a row and the ninth for an Audi since 2004. Kristensen meanwhile continued to break his own Le Mans record, while McNish secured his third. A delighted Duval took his maiden event victory.

The die not quite rolled their way, Davidson, Buemi and Sarrazin dutifully took second place in the #8 Toyota (which fell behind the leader as a mark of respect on the final lap) just ahead of Marc Gene, Lucas Di Grassi and Oliver Jarvis in the #3 Audi. In a further historic moment in the event’s 90th anniversary year, British drivers stood on each step of the podium.

An astonishing race for the #1 Audi crew of Andre Lotterer, Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer saw the team overhaul a colossal gap – owing to electrical gremlins requiring a long repair time – to finish fifth. Many wondered whether the #7 TS030 would complete a Toyota 2-3 at Le Mans only for Lapierre to lose the car on a damp patch into the Porsche Curves and slam heavily into the barrier. Devoid of its nose cone, the Toyota was still able to coast to pitroad, get back out and take the chequered flag.

OAK Racing meanwhile took a 1-2 finish in LMP2, the #35 Morgan-Nissan of Bertrand Baguette, Richard Gonzalez and Martin Plowman taking the honours just ahead of class polesitters Oliver Pla, David Heinemeier-Hansson and Alex Brundle in the #24 entry. The #92 Porsche AG Team Manthey – driven by Marc Lieb, Richard Lietz, and Romain Dumas – took advantage of early leader Aston Martin Racing’s late exit to lead home a Porsche 1-2 ahead of the sister #91 911 RSR. An outstanding result in the 911’s 50th anniversary year. An accolade cemented by the #76 IMSA Performance Matmut 911 – driven by Raymond Narac, Christophe Bourret and Jean-Karl Vernay – which took GTE Am class honours.

The storm wasn’t far away though. Audi may well have made history at Le Mans once again, Toyota had proven their worth for that illusive maiden win at la Sarthe, and Porsche suitably paid tribute to their flagship model, all thoughts were still with Aston Martin and Allan Simonsen.

The storm came. Few will ever forget that.

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James Gent first started as a freelance motorsport writer in the UK, before an urge to be paid a monthly wage saw him move to Dubai in late 2011. A keen motoring enthusiast, he hopes that one day his garage will hold a Lamborghini Countach, as well as a WRC Lancia Delta Integrale.

James Gent

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