It's the most important axiom of motorsports: If your car isn't running at the checkered flag, it really doesn't matter how fast you run. Nowhere is that more true than at Le Mans. The field that began with 55 cars gradually dwindled through the night. At the midway point, the #2 Peugeot led two of the Audis with the #1 car battling back from a mechanical malady. For those of you who aren't planning to watch the race on your DVR, continue reading after the jump.
Through the night, the Audis powered on mostly trouble-free aside from a half shaft failure in the #7 car, which lost several laps in the pits getting repaired. Meanwhile, the #1 Peugeot was reeling in laps while clocking times that were faster faster than the ones it threw down on qualifying. This, as it tried to recover from a failed alternator. Anthony Davidson ran on the ragged edge for hours on end through the dark - something that would eventually come back to bite the Corvette Racing team after daybreak.
The Corvettes had inherited the top two spots in GT2 following the retirement of the #82 Risi Ferrari with a broken gearbox selection system. For a decade in the GT1 class, the C5.R and C6.R had been largely bulletproof thanks to the impeccable preparation of the Pratt and Miller crew. Over that period, the Corvettes had scored six GT1/GTS class victories in France and had never experienced an engine failure.
As they say, never say never. Sixteen hours into the race, the second-place #63 Corvette left the pits in the hands of Antonio Garcia after taking over from Johnny O'Connell. Garcia never made it to the Indianapolis corner before the 5.5-liter V8 packed it in.
The #64 Corvette was more than a lap ahead of the second-place Porsche of Team Felbermayr Proton when Davidson came upon it at speed in the Porsche curves. The Peugeot driver was desperately trying to catch the leading Audis and made an aggressive maneuver that sent the #63 Corvette spinning off into the wall, causing extensive damage to the rear bodywork. Emmanuel Collard managed to nurse the heavily damaged car back to the garage where the Corvette Racing crew showed off its incredible skills and professionalism, getting the #63 repaired and back on track in just 31 minutes. After the car was back out on the circuit, Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan told SPEED TV (we're paraphrasing), "I don't believe any other crew in the paddock could have done that."
Oliver Gavin promptly set his fastest lap of the race. Unfortunately there was invisible damage in the powertrain and before long, Gavin rolled to a stop, white smoke coming from the exhaust, and the Corvette Racing team's day was done.
Peugeot's Davidson motored on, picking up time on the Germans after the race-leading #2 Peugeot driven by Frank Montagny had retired in a blast of flame from the right rear corner at about 7 am local time. However, it wasn't meant to be for the #1 car, either. With the #1 Peugeot in the hands of Alex Wurz, a cloud of smoke emerged from that same corner just over two hours from the finish. Wurz nursed the car back to the pits, but the puddle of black oil on the pit floor as the car was rolled into the garage told the tale. All three of the factory Peugeots were out of the race, leaving only team Oreca's 908 to represent the marque on the circuit.
Unfortunately for Oreca, their gold, blue and silver 908 was equally doomed with just 75 minutes to go. A blast of flame from that same rear corner erupted yet again, and with that, the Peugeot defense of last years Le Mans victory was over.
That left the three Audi R15 TDIs to cruise to the finish, being careful not to do anything stupid. The young driver team of Mike Rockenfeller, Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas in the #9 R15+ inherited the lead when the #2 Peugeot went out and stayed there for the duration, followed by the #8 and #7 cars. After last year's disappointing loss to Peugeot, Audi had swept the podium and tied Ferrari with its 9th Le Mans victory..
In LMP2 this year, a car formerly badged as an Acura made its debut in France as the HPD ARX-01c. UK-based Strakka Racing has been campaigning the former Fernandez Racing ALMS car, and it ran largely without problem in LMP2. By the end of the race, Strakka had moved up to fifth place overall. The Highcroft Racing HPD gave Strakka a good challenge until it began suffering persistent cooling problems with about 5 hours to go. The Highcroft machine spent much of the race's last two hours in the garage before being rolled back out for the finish so that it could be classified.
In GT1, Larbre Competition Saleen S7R kept on cruising after taking the lead following the retirement of the #60 Ford GT. The ten-year-old Saleen was followed by the Luc Alphand Corvette C6.R (an ex-Corvette Racing factory car) and the Young Driver AMR Aston Martin DBR9 as the only finishers in GT1.
Finally, in GT2, the Team Felbermayr Proton Porsche 911 GT3 RSR picked up the class lead after the retirement of the #64 Corvette and held it all the way to the end. Second in GT2 was the Hankook Farnbacher Ferrari F430 driven by South Carolina native Leh Keen, with the BMS Scuderia Italia Porsche 911 rounding out the GT2 podium
The winning Audi completed 397 laps over 24 hours for 3,367 miles, the fastest Le Mans ever.