Audi Sport North America
Drivers – Allan McNish – Rinaldo Capello – Tom Kristensen
381 laps completed
What to watch for in 2009
Diesel v Petrol (again)
It’s the big boys, the main event, the one you’ve all been waiting for.
Let’s face it, without a massive upset of historic men-will-talk-of-this-forever-more proportions the overall winner of the 77th Le Mans 24 Hours is going to come from the cars below. More specifically, it will probably come from a group of nine cars.
And for yet another year the difference between these nine cars and all the others will the subject of discussions and massive amount of Gallic headscratching. They are the diesels.
Since Audi’s R10 whistled onto the Circuit de la Sarthe, and past everything else on the track the Le Mans organisers have frantically been trying to balance the performance of the diesel and petrol entrants. Smaller fuel tanks, smaller air restrictors, and many other technical details have been thrown at the cars, and have so far failed completely, with diesel cars winning every Le Mans race since the R10’s appearance. The 2009 balancing will probably have it’s first real test at Le Mans with both the Audi and Peugeot works teams running very limited schedules. However, Peugeot’s only race in the Le Mans Series at Spa saw them take pole by nearly one-and-a-half seconds.
This year also marks a historic point in the current diesel vogue at Le Mans, the first customer cars. Colin Kolles – the former Jordan, Midland and Sypker F1 man – has a pair of Audi R10s, while Henri Pescarolo has moved slightly away from his eponymous chassis to run a single Peugeot as well. How these cars run, will, like the P2 Porsches depend on exactly how much of a private entry they are, and considering that both manufacturers has always been super secretive about the internals of their cars, you can pretty much guarantee there will be some works employees lurking in the garage.
Aside from the diesels the main talking point has been the arrival of Aston Martin in the top class. Moving on from the Charouz entered car that ran with an Aston engine last year, the marque have taken on a bespoke design Lola chassis. The beginning of the season has been feat of famine for the team, the car taking a victory in it’s debut at Barcelona while both Tomas Enge and Jos Verstappen have crashed very heavily in tests, Verstappen’s crash a few weeks ago may yet force one of the teams to an older chassis.
Taking on Aston for the petrol victory Hughes de Chaunac and ORECA return with two new ORECA 01 chassis and a driver that is bound to attract some attention – Bruno Senna. Pescarolo maintains one of his Courage based chassis and the underdogs are represented by a pair of Ginetta Zyteks and the luckless but plucky Creation Autosportif.
#007 AMR Eastern Europe – Lola Aston Martin
Drivers – Jan Charouz – Tomas Enge – Stefan Mucke
It’s the Aston with the different team name (there is a Le Mans rule that a team can only enter two cars, hence the linguistic jiggery-pokery with a few cars in this class)but the three drivers are the same who campaigned the Charouz Racing System last year. They were the fastest petrol car last year, being the best placed petrol in the LMS points and the only petrol to trouble the diesels at Le Mans, out-qualifying one of the Audis, and would have done better than their ninth place, had the car not had a trip into the wall at the Dunlop chicane.
However, while you cannot doubt the quality of the quality of driving line-up (despite Enge’s habit of seemingly crashing as often as he wins), it is a different car, and the class is more competitive than last year
#008 Aston Martin Racing – Lola Aston Martin
Drivers – Darren Turner – Anthony Davidson – Jos Verstappen
On paper, as far as driving staff go, this is the strongest Aston. Darren Turner is the only survivor of Aston Martin Racing’s 2008 GT1 challenge, where he won. Anthony Davidson was a strange addition to the team to me, being more recognised for his single-seater exploits. However, it is clearly a case of Dave Richards going through his little black book and phoning up friends past after Anthony’s ALMS season in a Prodive Ferrari in 2003 (alongside Darren Turner).
On the other hand the employment of Jos Verstappen is far from a surprise. The man is rapid, and a very, very good man to have in any sportscar squad, and while diesels sadly look to annex the podium once more his presence could make this car the best petrol entrant.
#009 Aston Martin Racing – Lola Aston Martin
Drivers – Stuart Hall – Harold Primat – Peter Kox
And probably the weakest Aston of the three, and a driving trio made up of Le Mans refugees from other teams. Hall from Creation, Primat was a driver from the top petrol Pescarolo last year and Kox is from last year’s IPB Spartak Lamborghini. So, they all do have Le Mans (and wider endurance) experience, but perhaps because of the lack of “wow” factor I find it difficult to picture them doing too well.
Now, presuming that AMR are taking this seriously and employing the sort of tactics that the diesel cars have mastered, don’t be surprised if this car hares off as “the hare” of the Astons the way the junior Audi team has in the past.
#1 Audi Sport Team Joest – Audi R15 TDI
Drivers – Tom Kristensen – Allan McNich – Rinaldo Capello
Recognise these names? Yep, that’s right, they’re the ones at the top, under where it says 2008 winner. Audi have taken the biggest no-brainer move to keep probably the best trio in motorsport together to defend their title. And who would bet against them repeating?
I should have given up on predicting Audi-Peugeot battles as soon as they begun (I’m 0-for getting it right) but, Peugeot’s hopes probably relied on the new car lacking core speed and reliability, which the R15’s debut at Sebring showed was completely unfounded. They are the favourites in my mind, but I haven’t got to Peugeot yet....
#2 Audi Sport North America – Audi R15 TDI
Drivers – Marco Werner – Mike Rockenfeller – Lucas Luhr
Two-thirds of Audi’s old junior team, and united, post graduation with old headed-pink helmeted Marco Werner. Simply the fact they have the R15 underneath them this team should never be too far from the front of the field, the question is where to they figure against their team-mates, the Peugeots and the customer teams.
From those you’d have to say they will probably find themselves in the top half, but behind the leading cars from both marques and, should any of them fall out by accident or technical fault, this car will be there to take it’s place. However, you’d put more money on this team crashing before most of the others.
#3 Audi Sport Team Joest – Audi R15 TDI
Drivers – Timo Bernhard – Romain Dumas – Alexandre Premat
Did you know Porsche and Audi are part of the same group? You do now. That’s why Bernhard and Premat (the final pair of Porsche works drivers) are in an Audi, alongside Premat – the third part of that old junior team.
Again if we go inside the heads of the tacticians this car is another possible hare car. However, with Bernhard and Dumas in the driving seat it might be a hare car that doesn’t stop, or (because it’s an Audi) break down, which automatically makes this car a decent shot for a podium, and a not very dark, dark horse for the overall victory.
#4 Creation Autosportif – Creation CA07 Judd
Drivers – Jamie Campbell-Walter – Vanina Ickx – Romain Ianetta
The perennial plucky tryers of Le Mans are back. They are the quintessential privateer P1 team, with their own chassis, a stance they haven’t moved from since the CA07 debuted.
They are also seemingly previewed positively every year with speed most in the car and drivers (the same can be said this year as Ickx – the only woman in the race this year – is an endurance racer par excellance), before their falter to uncompetitive-ness, often in the shape of recurring uncured technical problems (yes, that’s a problem of running your own chassis).
So in order to try and get them a decent result at Le Mans, I’m going to predict them a DNF. If they do get a DNF then I’m right, if they finally do well then I did it.
#6 Team LNT – Ginetta Zytek 09S Zytek
Drivers – Lawrence Tomlinson – Richard Dean – Nigel Moore
Another team that has made a class jump for 2009, the 2006 GT2 champions (in a Panoz Esperante) have moved up to P1, thanks to Tomlinson’s (and his LNT Automotive concern) purchase of the Ginetta sportscar company.
And his two driving partners represent the two strands that have made their way together for this entry. Richard Dean was in the class winning Panoz alongside Tomlinson in 2006 (and the unsuccessful defence a year later) and 17 year old (dear god, they’re getting younger) Nigel Moore has come through Ginetta’s raft of single make series in the UK. Overall this may be another case of too-far-too-soon for the team (and Moore) that could lead to a Le Mans 24 Hours, short a few revolutions of the minute hand.
On a lighter note this is theworks entry for Le Mans, with Tomlinson owning LNT, Dean the Ginetta Managing Director and Nigel Moore being part of the team that puts the cars together. So if they win, they can claim a massive amount of credit, if they fail, it’s their own damn fault.
#7 Team Peugeot Total – Peugeot 908 HDi FAP
Drivers – Nicolas Minassian – Pedro Lamy – Christian Klien
Another Le Mans, another Le Mans with Peugeot, another Le Mans with truly astounding driver line-ups in the Peugeots.
However, as in previous years, the problem is whether the car is good enough to keep them in the race, and in touch with the Audis. The Peugeots have always been the more troublesome of the diesels and while they often have better speed than their German counterparts the mechanics and tactics of the team have let them down.
Peugeot’s Sebring runner-up spot was a tactical misjudgement and while they won Spa there were no Audi R15s and Audi team to compare them against, so it’s impossible to really tell whether they’ve improved enough.
#8 Team Peugeot Total – Peugeot 908 HDi FAP
Drivers – Franck Montagny – Stephane Sarrazin – Sebastien Bourdais
Peugeot’s all French line-up that took that second at Sebring in March returns for Le Mans, and is yet another Peugeot line-up that has the ability to hold those who know little or nothing about sportscars.
Their second in Florida, when the R15s were present, is the best indication we have to the diesels relative pace, and that of their drivers, and there is no reason why they shouldn’t be in a similar position again with Montagny and Sarrazin being stars of previous Peugeot races, while Bourdais is a far better driver than his evil-pig-of-a-season in Formula One is showing, and so should be considering this drive his chance in the shop window for when Toro Rosso decide to show him the door.
#9 Peugeot Sport Total – Peugeot 908 HDi FAP
Drivers – Marc Gene – Alexander Wurz – David Brabham
The third Peugeot, but not necessarily the weakest, and it should be said, that unlike the other three car squads there is very little between the teams, which makes it very difficult to try and pick tactics for the French manufacturer.
Gene and Wurz are Peugeot old boys, but are perhaps the weakest of the survivors of previous outings (Villeneuve and Zonta having left the team since last year). However, they are counter-balanced by David Brabham, who you could make a case for being the best prototype driver not in an Audi this year. In fact it is a surprise he’s not in an Aston either, having been a regular part of the GT1 team in recent years.
The dilemma in the No.9 car is whether Gene and Wurz can rise in quality or whether Brabham can haul the car up himself, and against the rest of the diesels, that’s a long shot.
#10 Team ORECA Matmut AIM – Oreca 01 AIM
Drivers – Stephane Ortelli – Bruno Senna – Tiago Montiero
The first of the ORECAs and another of the teams with drivers that are going after the media exposure as much as the glory of victory, with motor racing poster boy and famous surnamed enemy of Turkish dogs Bruno Senna.
Senna’s sportscar credentials, as well as those of ORECA Touring Car driver Tiago Monteiro have yet to be proven, with Senna’s Spa 100km ending in the wall, without a lot of the rear assembly of the new ORECA 01 chassis. Speaking of big accidents Stephane Ortelli returns to Le Mans after having to sit aside last year after his huge Monza accident, and he returns as the (very) senior driver of the car, who might have to suffer watching his team-mates spoil his return.
#11 Team ORECA Matmut AIM – Oreca 01 AIM
Drivers – Olivier Panis – Nicolas Lapierre – Soheil Ayari
The second team car, and probably the one that will be ORECA’s number one car for most of the weekend. Putting Panis and Ayari together places two of the stronger ORECA drivers of past year (put Ortelli in the car and you would the perfect ORECA entry). Lapierre however, has been Panis’ regular season partner for the Le Mans Series with some success.
Now, the main concern with the ORECA 01s is the ORECA 01. It is largely a new bodywork set specifically designed for the 2009 aerodynamic regulations on the old chassis, so its mechanical reliability is unlikely to have changed massively. However, its speed can still be questioned, and that’s without considering any changes to cope with Le Mans.
#12 Signature Plus – Courage ORECA LC70 Judd
Drivers – Pierre Ragues – Frank Mailleux – Didier Andre
And one of those old ORECA chassis shows up with Signature Plus. While other teams are swapping class Signature Plus are moving from single-seaters to Sportscars, and in doing so is another team stitching together expertise and talent from other areas into one entry.
In the Courage ORECA they have themselves a tried and tested base chassis, so that stitch is fine. Two of the three drivers are also good acquisitions, with Ragues being part of the Saulnier team that got the underdog podium in P2 last year. Andre also has other Le Mans prototype experience, having won the P2 class (then called LMP675) in 2003, with two other podiums more recently.
However, the dropped stitch is the one they have brought from single-seaters. Frank Mailleux spent 2008 racing for Signature Plus in the F3 Euro Series, and has jumped disciplines to their Le Mans programme. As a La Sarthe rookie there are question marks over him that will take at least 24 hours to answer.
#13 Speedy Racing Team Sebah – Lola B08/60 Aston Martin.
Drivers – Andrea Belicchi – Neel Jani – Nicolas Prost
Another tried and tested car with history, with Speedy’s Lola being the car that Charouz ran last year. In that role it has the aerodynamics that worked last year, the engine that worked last year and a chassis that worked last year, all of which has an extra year of development behind it, especially when compared to the Astons and ORECA 01s it will have to fight for top petrol car. And it was never slow last year.
However, while the car is a known quantity the drivers are not. Belicchi, probably the weakest of the three would be better is Speedy still had its Spyker entry, Nicolas Prost is another coming from single-seaters, via a previous Le Mans in a Saleen.
Neel Jani is a driver to watch, he narrowly missed out on the A1GP title with Switzerland, and he is another driver who should consider himself in the shop window.
#14 Kolles – Audi R10 TDI
Drivers – Narain Karthikeyan – Charles Zwolsman – Andre Lotterer
This Le Mans will be the first time that two “generations” of Audi diesel have raced against each other, and, like the P2 Porsches the amount of factory involvement will have a bearing on their fate. All signs point to there being very little obvious Audi support at the track, with the team lacking the goodness that made the R10 unbeatable while it was in works hands, and if there is too much involvement there is a danger that R10 could beat R15 (admittedly this appears remote without R15 collapse).
Karthikeyan is another “black book” driver where Kolles has clearly rung round old friends. However, he obviously doesn’t have too many friends, hence bringing in two inexperienced single-seat drivers.
#15 Kolles – Audi R10 TDI
Drivers – Christijan Albers – Christian Bakkerud – Giorgi Mondini
Same song second chorus. Christijan Albers should be recognisable from Kolles’ tenure at Midland (and Spyker), and then less so from Kolles’ Audi-running DTM (German Touring Cars) team. That same link, just a year later put Bakkerud in the Kolles book, although it should be said that neither driver has looked at all comfortable in the DTM series, even amongst the drivers they should be beating. Mondini is the single-seater refugee in the team (although he has a sprinkle of GT experience), and the weak link, in a fairly weak team, and not even diesel is capable of making you a better driver.
#16 Pescarolo Sport – Pescarolo Judd
Drivers – Bruce Jouanny – Christophe Tinseau – Joao Barbosa
The increasingly venerable Pescarolo chassis gets what may be its last hurrah round La Sarthe.
If so much in this class comes down to having a car that is a known quantity then you cannot get more known than the Pesca. Since the diesel cars appeared a Pescarolo chassis, in a variety of hands, has always been the top petrol car.
And who better to put in a tried and tested car, than tried and tested drivers. Jouanny and Tinseau are both Pescarolo Sport veterans, with Tinseau being part of the team that topped the petrol cars last tear and Jouanny has experience is other cars and teams, having previously raced for Creation and Saulnier.
Barbosa brings experience from another team, the now sadly Le Mans free Rollcentre Racing, who sold their Pescarolo earlier in the year (America look out for that chassis later in the year). Look for another solid unspectacular run from the Pesca.
#17 Pescarolo Sport – Peugeot 908 HDi FAP
Drivers – Simon Pagenaud – Benoit Treluyer – John-Christophe Boullion
I am very excited about this team.
Where the Kolles Audi’s have a privateer quality team behind it and privateer quality drivers in it, the Pescarolo Peugeot has a quality team behind it and a trio of drivers who would not disgrace a works entry. Boullion is another Pescarolo veteran, all the way back to 2001 and has several podiums to his name in the Frenchman’s cars.
Treluyer is the unkown, having done most of his racing in Japan’s Formula Nippon and Super GT series, and having won those series in 2006 and 2008 respectively.
However, Pagenaud is the real reason get excited. I have become a big Pagenaud fan in the last year since his conversion to sportscars. He has adapted quickly and adapted well to two new cars this year, having taken victories in the ALMS Acura with De Ferran and at Spa in a works Peugeot. This car could be a very real challenge for class honours.
#23 Strakka Racing – Ginetta Zytek 09S Zytek
Drivers – Peter Hardman – Nick Leventis – Danny Watts
The final car in the class and yet another team that has jumped classes, with Strakka having been the team behind Vitaphone’s Aston Marin GT1 car last year, with drivers Hardman (who is also the team owner) and Leventis having driven that car as well.
The third team member is undoubtedly the strongest with Danny Watts joining the team bringing a raft of GT racing experience and recognised raw speed. However, Danny is another driver who may find himself bringing a team up to speed single handedly.
The 77th running of the Le Mans 24 Hours take place over the 13th and 14th of June, with TV coverage varying. However, there will be full, live-from-La-Sarthe commentary from Radio Le Mans (or 91.2 FM at the track if you're lucky enough to be going).
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