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Le Mans, 11 – 12 June 2011

After the usual week long build-up, with all the regular technical verifications, practice and qualifying sessions, the 79th running of the race took place over the weekend of 11 – 12 June in front of 249,500 spectators. In qualifying the works Audis just proved to have the quicker pace, with the # 2 R18 TDI of Fassler / Lotterer / Treluyer claiming pole position from the sister # 1 car of Bernhard / Dumas / Rockenfeller by a mere 0.061sec. Next up were a pair of works Peugeot 908s, the # 9 example of Lamy / Bourdais / Pagenaud just 0.272sec off the pole time, with the # 8 car of Montagny / Sarrazin / Minassian a scant 0.146sec back, with the third Audi of McNish / Kristensen / Capello only 0.009sec behind that. Only 0.107sec behind the Audi was the third works Peugeot of Gené / Wurz / Davidson, followed by the older Team Oreca Matmut Peugeot 908 HDi-FAP, so despite late regulation changes aimed at assisting the petrol powered entries get equality in the LMP1 category, it was still diesel supremacy, with the quickest petrol powered car being the Rebellion Racing Lola B 10 / 60 Coupé of Jani / Prost / Bleekemolen, some 7.145secs off the pole time! However, the race looked to be set for a very close battle between the two main protagonists, Audi and Peugeot.

In the other classes, the best LMP2 qualifier was the Signatech Nissan entered Oreca 03-Nissan of Mailleux/Ordonez/Ayari, followed by (despite a big practice accident) the Strakka Racing HPD ARX 01D of Leventis/Watts/Kane. The GTE Pro class the qualifying honours went to the works # 55 BMW M3 GT of Farfus/Muller/Werner, just ahead of the AF Corse entered # 51 Ferrari 458 Italia GT of Fisichella/Bruni/Vilander. In the GTE Am category it was the AF Corse entered # 61Ferrari F430 GTC of Perazzini/Cioci/Breslin that posted the fastest qualifying time, ahead of the Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR of Ried/Felbermayr/Felbermayr Jr.

The race started promptly at 15.00hrs on the Saturday afternoon, and immediately the trios of Audis and Peugeots went head to head, with really close and equally balanced racing, that showed just how evenly matched they were in race trim. However, less than an hour into the race, Audis prospects suffered a major blow when their # 3 car driven by Allan McNish clipped the # 58 Luxury Racing Ferrari 458 GT, whilst lapping it in the first curve on the run down from the Dunlop Bridge. Both cars disappeared in a cloud of dust through the gravel trap, with the Audi striking the safety barrier hard before catapulting along it, coming to rest upside down and straddling the tyre wall. It came within millimetres of crossing the barrier and into the service road beyond, where there were marshals and photographers, thus it could have been a catastrophic incident. One of the wheels actually ended up chasing a photographer down the road, but came to a halt before hitting him. Amazingly, Allan McNish was extricated from the car unhurt, and there were no other casualties. The incident brought out the safety cars, and it was over an hour before the barriers were repaired, and racing recommenced. The Ferrari managed to get moving again, coming off relatively lightly, and made its way back to the pits for repairs, and was soon back out on the track.

Audis hopes were dealt a further major blow in darkness late in the evening, when the # 1 car driven by Mike Rockenfeller also had a touch with a Ferrari, this time the # 71 458 Italia GT driven by Robert Kaufman, which pitched the Audi head first into the barrier the Mulsanne and Indianapolis corners, destroying the car, although, fortunately, once again the driver was uninjured, thus there was another long safety car period while the remains of the Audi were collected and repairs effected to the safety barrier. So it was down to one Audi against the three works Peugeots, which were running like clockwork, but Audi weren’t about to throw in the towel, with their remaining car trading fastest laps with the Peugeots as dawn broke, and the lead changing regularly between the two marques as the pit stops panned out. It remained this way right up to the chequered flag at 15.00 on Sunday afternoon, with the # 2 Audi of Fassler/Lotterer/Treluyer taking a hard fought victory from the # 9 Peugeot of Lamy/Bourdais/Pagenaud, by a mere 13.854secs after 24hours of racing. The # 8 Peugeot of Montagny / Sarrazin / Minassian took the final podium place 2 laps off the leaders.

The battles were equally fraught in the other classes, with a high rate of attrition, there were a number of mechanical failures, and a lot of very bent machinery filling the dead car park at the end of the race, with only 27 of the original 56 starters making it through to the chequered flag. If it was a sweet and sour weekend for Audi, then it was definitely sour only for Aston Martin, as both their AMR-One LMP1 cars were out almost before they started, the # 009 car lasting for only two laps, and the # 007 example for only two more. Both the Vantage models in the GT classes retired, and the only car to uphold the company’s honours was the Kronos Racing Lola Aston Martin of Ickx/Martin/Leinders, which finished 7th overall and was the second highest petrol engine finisher. Of the ten Ferraris that started only three saw the chequered flag, with the # 51AF Corse 458 Italia GT of Fisichella / Bruni / Vilander coming 2nd in the GTE Pro class. Smith / Lombard, whilst Chevrolet took the GTE Pro class win withthe n, with the k,but Audiweren'riert on the track The LMP2 class victory went to the Greaves Motosport Zytek Nissan driven by Ojjeh / Kimber-Smith / Lombard, whilst Chevrolet took the GTE Pro class win with the # 73 Corvette of Garcia / Milner / Beretta, with the GTE Am win also going to a Corvette, the # 50 Larbre Competition example driven by Bornhauser / Canal / Gardel.

Ferraris at Le Mans, 11 – 12 June 2011

Race # Model Chassis # Colour Entrant Driver Result OA Class
GTE PRO Class      OA Class
51 458 Italia GT 2826 Red-White-Green AF Corse G. Fisichella/ G. Bruni/ T.Vilander 13th 2nd
66 458 Italia GT 2808 Yellow-Black-Red JMW Motorsport R. Bell/ T. Sugden/  X. Maassen 24th 9th
71 458 Italia GT 2822 Red-Yellow AF Corse R. Kauffman/ M. Waltrip/ R. Aguas DNF DNF
59 458 Italia GT 2832 Red Luxury Racing S. Ortelli/ J. Melo  F. Makowiecki/ DNF DNF
58 458 Italia GT 2834 Red Luxury Racing A. Beltoise/ P. Thiriet F. Jakubowski/ DNF DNF
89 458 Italia GT 2830 White-Black- Orange Hankook Team Farnbacher D. Farnbacher/ A. Simonsen/L. Keen DNF DNF
GTE AM Class
83 F430 GTC 2626 Red JMB Racing M. Rodrigues/ J. Menahem/ N. Misslin/ 27th 4th
61 F430 GTC 2624 Red-White-Green AF Corse P. Perazzini/ M. Cioci/ S. Breslin DNF DNF
57 F430 GTC 2620 Lime-Blue Stripe Krohn Racing T. Krohn/ N. Jonsson/ M. Rugolo DNF DNF
62 F430GTC 2612 Red-White-Blue CRS Racing P. Ehret/ S. Lynn/ R. Wills/ DNF DNF

Keith Bluemel
06 / 2011