Turns out, Audi opted for door number three, importing an all-new chassis to replace the destroyed R18. According to Audi, the team pulled an all-nighter to ready the new car in time for scrutineering and the second round of qualifying.
According to Autoblog staffer Jonathon Ramsey, who is on the ground at Le Mans, Audi said Duval's in-car camera stopped working about 15 minutes into qualifying, meaning the team is still in the dark about just what caused the wreck. The accident itself happened in the last left-hander of the Porsche Curves. Duval lost control, and the car "spun, went airborne, hit the wall and slid a good 80 meters," Ramsey said via email.
Because it was the defending race champion involved in the wreck, the ACO allowed Audi to bring in a new chassis and swipe its reserve driver, Marc Gene, from the Jota Toyota LMP2 team, in place of Duval. According to Reuters, Duval was precluded from driving by doctors following the crash as a safety measure. Gene, meanwhile, is no stranger to Audi's LMP efforts, having run as a primary driver for the team in 2012 and 2013. He's also won Le Mans with the now-defunct Peugeot team.
"The accident looked horrible," said Chris Reinke, Head Audi Sport's LMP efforts. "It speaks for the safety concept of the Audi R18 and the Le Mans prototypes that Loic survived the enormous crash nearly uninjured. We're relieved to see that he's well, considering the circumstances."
There's still no guarantee that the number one car and its drivers, Lucas di Grassi, Tom Kristensen and Duval's replacement, Mark Gene, will make it to the starting line. Due to the wreck, none of the drivers have completed their mandatory night laps. Were something to go wrong with the new car before that takes place, car number one could be missing from the 2014 24-hour race.
Take a look below for the official statement from Audi, and be sure to tune in to the 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans. For our American viewers, Fox Sports 1 will kick off pre-race coverage at 8:30 AM on June 14, and run flag-to-flag between FS1, Fox Sports 2 and the Fox Sports Go mobile app.
Accident of Loïc Duval overshadows first qualifying day
Audi R18 e-tron quattro #1 will be prepared again from scratch overnight
First qualifying stopped early following accidents
Ingolstadt/Le Mans, June 12, 2014 – Numerous incidents and red flags marked the first qualifying day for the Le Mans 24 Hours. After a shortened first qualifying session, Audi Sport Team Joest temporarily maintains grid positions five and six. The third Audi R18 e-tron quattro, following an accident in free practice, was not able to participate in the first qualifying session.
Last year's winner Loïc Duval lost control of his Audi R18 e-tron quattro in the Porsche Corners at over 270 km/h and hit the track barrier at high speed. Except for abrasions, the Audi driver was not injured.
"The accident looked horrible," said Chris Reinke, Head of LMP at Audi Sport. "It speaks for the safety concept of the Audi R18 and the Le Mans prototypes that Loïc survived the enormous crash nearly uninjured. We're relieved to see that he's well, considering the circumstances."
On Wednesday night, Audi Sport Team Joest began preparing a new car in the team garage so it is ready for the second qualifying session at Le Mans on Thursday. Instead of Loïc Duval, who stayed in the hospital overnight under observation, Marc Gené will be starting for Audi. The Spaniard has been part of the Audi Le Mans squad since 2011, completed several track tests with the current Audi R18 e-tron quattro and was originally planned to run in the Le Mans 24 Hours in an LMP2 sports car of the JOTA team.
The drivers of car number '1' still have to do their mandatory laps at night on Thursday in order to qualify for the race. The same is true for many other drivers, as the first qualifying session was stopped early after accidents and only 50 minutes of the originally planned two hours were available.
"That's why the lap times we saw tonight are not very conclusive," said Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. "Marcel (Fässler) set a time in free practice that was two seconds below his qualifying time. Our cars aren't optimally gripping to the track yet and have more potential than we were able to show today due to the special circumstances. The starting order will no doubt change again tomorrow. But the most important thing for the time being is that Loïc (Duval) is more or less well and can celebrate his 32nd birthday on Thursday."
The grid positions for the 82nd running of the Le Mans 24 Hours will be decided on Thursday night from 19.00 to 21.00 and 22.00 to 24.00.
Results Qualifying 1
1 Bernhard/Hartley/Webber (Porsche) 3m 23.157s
2 Dumas/Jani/Lieb (Porsche) 3m 23.928s
3 Nakajima/Sarrazin/Wurz (Toyota) 3m 25.313s
4 Buemi/Davidson/Lapierre (Toyota) 3m 25.410s
5 Fässler/Lotterer/Tréluyer (Audi R18 e-tron quattro) 3m 26.388s
6 Albuquerque/Bonanomi/Jarvis (Audi R18 e-tron quattro) 3m 26.445s
7 Belicchi/Kraihamer/Leimer (Rebellion-Toyota) 3m 33.117s
8 Beche/Heidfeld/Prost (Rebellion-Toyota) 3m 34.922s
9 Canal/Pla/Rusinov (Morgan-Nissan) 3m 38.843s
10 Chatin/Panciatici/Webb (Alpine-Nissan) 3m 39.490s