Endurance racing is seen by many as the most relevant of motorsports. Formula 1 has all of the pomp and flash, but in the 24 hours it takes to run Le Mans, cars will cover more miles than an entire F1 season. The kinds of reliability and fuel economy issues that this style of racing addresses challenge manufacturers in ways that benefit consumers , prompting Audi's racing director, Dr. Wolfgang Ulrich, to call F1 "irrelevant" in a recent interview.
The race has been dominated in recent years by diesel-powered prototypes, but this year also saw the introduction of the first hybrid prototype, the #5 Hope Racing Oreca. The car was plagued with mechanical problems from the start of the race, and was forced to retire, making it only just past the halfway mark. The car still fared better than some other more conventional first-timers. The #007 and #009 cars from Aston-Martin both displayed an inability to stay on the track, and ended up out of the race entirely. As with the past few years, the rivalry between Audi and Peugeot for the lead was the center of the race's drama.
Both teams brought three cars to the race, presumably in the hopes of securing a 1-2-3 finish, but Audi had two cars knocked out of the race fairly early on. Both accidents came as a result of the Audis trying to get past GT cars, one of which had its driver ejected from the race. The Audi drivers had already been complaining that the presence of the GT cars was unsafe, and it is unlikely that they feel terribly different about it now. The wrecks of the two Audi R18's were obviously upsetting to the Audi team, but the members of the Peugeot team were also visibly upset by the incidents. The rivalry is intense, but it is also amicable.
They both conduct themselves in a sportsmanlike manner, and neither team would want to win simply because the other team had some bad luck. The remaining #2 Audi fought hard for the remainder of the race, trading back and forth with the Peugeots for first place all through the night and morning. By noon (French time) Audi was hanging onto the lead, and in the last hour of the race, Audi was adding seconds to the gap with every lap. The three Peugeot cars did finish together, and two of them had spots on the podium, they just weren't quite as fast as Audi's new R18.
Audi didn't get the 1-2-3 finish they had wanted, but if you're only going to have one finish, it's not so bad to have it win. Peugeot will have to step up their game if they want to compete next year, especially since Audi might have better luck keeping all of their cars on the track, so we're eager to see what comes out of Peugeot's labs in the coming months. We just hope that they don't decide the cost of battling the Audi giant is too great, since the rivalry has made for some spectacular racing.
We have here a video of the #3 Audi, driven by Allen McNish, very dramatically hitting the wall. McNish was uninjured.