Audi will win this year’s Le Mans 24hrs.
It’s difficult to argue against this oft-repeated prediction. Audi Sport Team Joest has, after all, dominated both opening rounds of the World Endurance Championship this season, and has further underlined its pace by placing three of its four car fleet at the top of the timesheets on Le Mans 24hrs test day. Add to that the fact that only twice has Audi not secured victory at the French endurance classic since 2000 – and even then the marque came home third on both occasions – and it seems like only a matter of time before the portly lady finishes warming up her vocal chords.
Considering the success of the factory Audi drivers only serves to hammer this point home too. Last year’s winners Marcel Fassler, Benoit Treluyer and Andre Lotterer return for another bite of the cherry in the #1 car, while former winners Tom Kristensen (’97, ’00-’05, ’08), Allan McNish (’98, ’08) and Rinaldo Capello (’03-’04, ’08) in the sister #2 entry certainly won’t be making life easy. Even Audi newboy Marc Gene is a proven race winner courtesy of his 2009 success with Peugeot. As it happens, Marco Bonanomi is the only factory Audi never to have competed at Le Mans. That just about says it all.
Point taken. But over the years the 24hrs has proven unpredictable/controversial (anybody remember the 1966 photo finish?), so are they any dark horses in the field? Possibly. For the first time this season after all, the Audis will have legitimate opposition from another manufacturer, namely Toyota Racing. The team was left with its tail between its legs recently after binning the race-ready TS 030 prototype ahead of its Spa debut, but has bounced back in style on test day. The two TS 030s were 1.3s off McNish’s session topping pace in the Hybrid R18 e-tron, true, but the fact that both Toyota hybrids outpaced the Marco Bonanomi/Oliver Jarvis/Gene Audi entry suggests that the newboys may have some surprises up their sleeves.
And why not? Six of the team’s seven confirmed drivers, for example, are former Formula One pilots, and Alexander Wurx is already a two-time winner of the event. Toyota’s prototype has yet to turn a wheel in anger, but early season test pace suggests the hybrid is a genuine contender for a podium at least. Let’s not forget Bentley what proved on its return in 2001.