Saturday, June 16, 2012
ALMS Teams Leave France Empty Handed
LE MANS, France -- The 80th 24 Hours of Le Mans began in promising fashion for the teams of the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón, but finished with tears and heartbreak. Though two different ALMS teams led their category at one point, none came through with a podium finish in a race swept by the mighty Audis.
GTE Pro / GTE Am
From the early stages, it appeared Corvette Racing was the team to beat in GTE Pro. The No. 74 Chevrolet Corvette C6 ZR1 sparred early with an Aston Martin and Ferrari, but took firm hold of the lead just before a full-course caution for a scary crash between the No. 8 Toyota Hybrid and No. 81 AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia.
The trouble began after Richard Westbrook's Hour 10 pit stop, when the car lost a wheel on its out-lap. It was a lengthy repair to fix the damage inflicted from Westbrook limping the car back to pit lane. More trouble followed: additional pit stops to change a nose, rebuild drivetrain, uprights, diffuser and floor.
In Hour 18, Tommy Milner went backward into the Porsche Curves tire wall after contact with an Audi, requiring more than two hours of repair work from the crew. With no chance of making up that kind of ground, the team held the car in the garage until the final 40 minutes when Oliver Gavin jumped into the driver's seat and brought the car home for a sixth-place finish at the line, but unclassified in the official results for not completing the minimum race distance.
"Unfortunately, Richard got in and as he drove out of the pit lane one of the left rear wheels fell off," Gavin recalled. "That was really the undoing of our whole race. Many, many things went wrong after that; transmission problems and being involved in some accidents that weren't ours… contact and damage. The guys did an amazing job getting the car back together after many, many incidents.
"Fortunately, Tommy is okay after his heavy crash in the Porsche Curves. They wanted to get the car back out and put it out for the last 45 minutes and take the checkered and be classified. As many people have said, this race is physical, it's tough, it's brutal. It's a real test for man and machine and you can never take your eye off of it for one minute, otherwise it will bite you and it bit us today."
The No. 73 Corvette moved into second place when the bad luck started for the No. 74, but could not capitalize either. Jan Magnussen, Jordan Taylor, Antonio Garcia and crew soldiered through a steering rack replacement, alternator replacement and multiple battery replacements. Their fifth-place finish in GTE Pro did not match the effort put forth by the team over 24 hours of racing.
Le Mans continued to be unkind to Flying Lizard Motorsports. The team's GTE-Pro car — piloted by Patrick Long, Joerg Bergmeister and Marco Holzer — struggled with damper failures early on in the race, but it was another competitor that ultimately ended the No. 80's race prematurely. In Hour 10, as Patrick Long entered the Michelin Chicane, another competitor was rejoining the track from the runoff, dragging a sea of gravel with it. Long hit the gravel, spun and made contact with the tire wall. He was unable to return the car to pit lane, and the team officially retired the No. 80.
Things were looking much brighter for the Lizard's No. 79 GTE-Am car. Patrick Pilet qualified the car on pole and Spencer Pumpelly handed the car over to Seth Nieman in Hour Five with a comfortable margin. During Neiman's stint, the car unexpectedly snapped left, sending him off course in Indianapolis. The back of the car sustained heavy damage. Neiman limped the car back to pit lane for a long repair process. The car rejoined in ninth and eventually worked its way back to a fourth-place finish, just missing the podium.
"My second Le Mans was just as incredible as my first one," Pumpelly said after the race. "We came here with one goal, but unfortunately we came up a little short of that. The car was excellent, the guys worked hard all week, all month, to get ready for this event. It feels good to finish, last year we didn't, but still… we probably had the car to beat today. I couldn't be more proud of the guys."
Level 5 Motorsports claimed a podium finish in its maiden Le Mans last year, but knew 2012 would be a different story considering the growth of the P2 category and depth of driving talent. The team qualified the car 13th in class. Starting the No. 33 HPD ARX-03b, Christophe Bouchut had slight contact with a GT car in the early going of the race, which may have altered the car's aero slightly, as the team initially struggled to pick up positions in the race.
Finally, the team began to progress through the P2 field, running as high as sixth before disaster struck in Hour 16. The crew lost radio communication with Scott Tucker and could not relay the message that it was time to pit. According to the team, backup plans for relaying information to the cockpit were also unsuccessful and Tucker found himself stranded in Arnage without any fuel. The race was over for Tucker, Bouchut and Le Mans rookie Luis Diaz.
Competing in the "New Technology" category, the Nissan DeltaWing's groundbreaking run at Le Mans ended too soon. Recovering from early race gearbox issues and showing great pace, things went wrong in the Hour Seven during a restart from caution. The DeltaWing was hit by the No. 7 Toyota Racing Toyota Hybrid. The hit knocked the car off course, sending it into the wall. Driver Satoshi Motoyama tried valiantly, but was unable to get the car back to pit lane.
Audi Wins Overall
As for the overall result at the front of the field, the world awaited an answer to the question: can Toyota beat Audi? The answer at the 80th 24 Hours of Le Mans was 'no,' but not because of unreliability as some had predicted, based on the team's limited track time before the world's toughest endurance race. The two Toyota hybrids challenged Audi's two hybrids and two diesels with aplomb in the first quarter of the race.
The first Toyota causality was Anthony Davidson's scary accident in the No. 8 Toyota Racing Hybrid, which eliminated that car from the race (Davidson suffered a broken back but is expected to make a full recovery). Just before the accident, the No. 7 Toyota Racing Hybrid briefly led the race, but on the re-start, driver Kazuki Nakajima became entangled in traffic which damaged the car and forced a lengthy pit stop for repairs. The team attempted to re-enter the race several times, but each time the No. 7 returned with further mechanical woes. The second Toyota Racing Hybrid retired in the Hour 10, leaving no challengers for Audi.
From there, the top spot was a fight between the No. 1 Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro and sister No. 2 Audi. In the closing stages of the race, the gap between the two cars was a matter of seconds, until Allan McNish had an off-course excursion in the Porsche Curves. After replacing the nose, the No. 2 resumed the race two laps behind its sister car, effectively eliminating the late-race battle that was anticipated. The No. 1 Audi driven by Andre Lottrer, Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer won the 80th 24 Hours of Le Mans by one lap. It was the second straight Le Mans victory for the trio.
The American Le Mans presented by Tequila Patrón returns to action at Lime Rock Park for the American Le Mans Northeast Grand Prix on Saturday, July 7. The two-hour, 45-minute race is scheduled for 3 p.m. ET from the 1.5-mile, 10-turn Lime Rock Park circuit. ESPN2 airs the race the same day at 4 p.m. ET. Live coverage is available starting at 2:45 p.m. ET on ESPN3.
The Series' website offers additional content such as live in-car cameras, and timing and scoring for all users around the world. Viewers outside the U.S. can watch the Lime Rock round and all ALMS races live on ALMS.com.
Visit ALMS.com for current and future event information including tickets and area accommodations. Follow the Series on Twitter, Facebook and the official YouTube channel.
Videos from the 80th 24 Hours of Le Mans live on LeMans-TV.com