The 79th-running of the Le Mans 24-Hour Race takes place at the Circuit de la Sarthe this weekend and two major manufacturers are going head-to-head in an attempt to win the famous race, write Colin and James Beckett.
Audi and Peugeot have six factory-entered cars between them and the 2011 Le Mans looks set to be a battle royal between the German and French teams. Audi scored a 1-2-3 finish last year after all the Peugeot cars flamed out with engine failure.
Both manufacturers arrive for the 2011 running with new cars, Audi the R18 and Peugeot the 908 – both types of car will be powered by diesel engines.
Driving the number 7 Peugeot 908 will be Marc Gene, Anthony Davidson and Alexander Wurz. Winners of the Spa 1,000km in April, the trio of former Grand Prix drivers will be leading the Peugeot attack on the title this year.
Winner of this great race in 2009, Gene, a former University of Buckingham student, and someone who retains business interests in the town, said earlier this week: “To win Le Mans two years ago was something I will never forget. Last year we were placed in the lead when the car developed problems during Saturday evening. Despite these problems we dragged the car back into contention but it then failed on Sunday morning.”
He added: “That was not nice. This year we have a great team spirit – the best I have ever experienced. The whole Peugeot team is focused on winning this race and in Anthony Davidson and Alex Wurz I believe I have the best two team-mates I can have as we attempt to win.”
Brackley’s Davidson said: “Everything pre-race has gone according to plan. Our car went through the scrutineering checks on Monday in Le Mans town centre and we have our first run on-track during qualifying on Wednesday and Thursday (yesterday).”
The main focus of the race will be on the Audi\Peugeot battle at the head of the field, but for many the LMP2 battle will be one to watch. Winners of the smaller prototype class last year were Whittlebury’s Strakka Racing, who return to defend their crown this year with the Honda-powered HPD car.
The number 42 machine will be driven by Thornborough’s Danny Watts, Jonny Kane and Nick Leventis.
Watts said this week: “We are ready to try and win again this year. The car feels good and we know we can last 24 hours. We need some luck, of course, and a trouble-free run but we all think another win is possible. Time will tell.”
Team-owner Leventis commented: “We are looking forward to the race. Le Mans is very special and everyone who has helped us reach this race deserves a big thank you.” The Strakka car will carry the colours of the Relentless energy drink.
The Le Mans 24-Hour Race starts at 3pm (2pm UK time) on Saturday afternoon.