Le Mans

LEMANS

24 HEURS DU MANS

90 YEARS ON; STILL GOING STRONG
 
Less than 48 hours to the start of the 81st edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the tension at the Circuit de la Sarthe increases a tangible notch with each passing hour. Yesterday, the 55 teams were focused on Free Practice in the afternoon and First Qualification later in the night. The Audi Sport Team Joest #2 Le Mans Prototype car of Rolex Testimonee and eight-time race winner Tom Kristensen, long-time teammate Alan McNish, and Loic Duval posted the fastest lap in each period. And, with R18 e-tron quattros filling the top three slots in both sessions a repeat of last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans looks on the cards. If only it were that simple.

Kristensen exudes the confidence that comes with 16 appearances at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, racing for an exceptionally well-prepared team and possessing a record second to none at this famous race, but he knows how easy it is for things to go wrong. Kristensen takes nothing for granted: “Our aim is to win and we will do our utmost to achieve that. We need to have as strong a team as possible to beat the race, to fight the opposition, and of course the other cars within Audi.” There are apparently no team orders with the dominant marque of the past decade.

The track showed its unpredictability and teeth during the first encounter yesterday. Heavy rain had already disrupted the practice session before the Krohn Racing GTE-Am(ateur) Ferrari brought it to a premature close. Spinning off after the Dunlop Bridge, the resultant damage to the tyre wall was so severe that the session was red flagged and eventually ended.

The 2-hour night qualification faired little better. It was at least dry, but that did not prevent Pierre Thiriet in #46 TDS Racing Oreca-Nissan flying off at the second chicane on the Mulsanne Straight (Ligne droites des Hunaudières) and causing sufficient damage to the barriers to halt proceedings for the night.

For the Toyota LMP 1s, hoping to improve on their 2012 challenge, yesterday did not go smoothly. The #7 Hybrid finished qualification in fourth position, but the #8 car seemed off the pace before suffering the ignominy of returning to the pits on a truck after breaking down between just before Arnage.

The GTE class was dominated by Aston Martin Vantage V8 professionals. Celebrating its centenary this year, the British marque filled three of the top four places. A lone Ferrari managing to slip into second place. Tonight sees two more Qualification sessions that will determine the final grid positions for the 2013 24 Hours of Le Mans, which marks its 90thAnniversary this year.

At a packed press conference this morning, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, organizers of this mythical race, recognized the individuals, drivers, cars and even spectators that have played a part creating an unrivalled legend that first began in 1923. Pierre Fillon, President of the ACO, introduced the eleven cars elected the most emblematic in the history of the race, the eight elite drivers inducted into an exclusive 90th Anniversary Hall of Fame for having won the race four times or more, and Philippe Peu, the thrilled spectator whose name was drawn from a hat to launch the start of the formation lap on Saturday: confirmation of the fans elevated status at this extraordinary venue.

The 24 Hours of Le Mans has proven time and again its ability to amaze. 2013, the 90thAnniversary, looks poised to follow tradition.

The 24 Hours of Le Mans is an event that endures effortlessly. Able to captivate, to impassion and to enthuse, its legacy is ever growing and its ability to inspire teams to measure physical ability and mental capacity in a trial of man and machine is undiminished. The next chapter in its illustrious 90-year history is about to open; on the 23 June at 15:00 its twists and turns will be part of the legend.

Rolex has been Official Timekeeper since 2001 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans is a major part of its association with the cardinal elements of motor sport – endurance, speed and tradition.

A wealth of material is available for media on caracingnews.com. A dedicated Press Kit – available in English, French, German, Italian, Japanese and Spanish – explores the historic competition in further detail. An accompanying photo story charts its appeal and iconography. Tomorrow a feature piece will look at the legends surrounding the race including Rolex Testimonee and record eight-time winner, Tom Kristensen.